Saturday, October 31, 2009

The New Online Gradebook - Trick...or Treat?

This week our first report cards of the the year goes home. What's different about this report card is that it is based on a digital grade book. Now I could fill this post with all the absurd frustrations of actually taking a large district and converting it from paper-pencil bubble sheets to digital grades or I could spew my editorial comments about how those at the top need to talk to each other so teachers wouldn't spend useless hours away from actually teaching to learn such a flawed system while the countless errors are worked out, but that really serves no useful purpose. Maybe that's just the steps that have to be climbed in this pioneering new technology age (Okay - just one more jab - it seems like if those in charge did their homework, much of the frustration could be avoided. It's not like this is the very first time in the history of education that a digital grade book is being used!)

Instead I would rather write about how a digital grade book philosophically might change the way that kindergarten teachers grade. In the past, at least in our school, Kindergarten teachers have generally given grades based on where the child ends the nine weeks. The grade reflected where the child finished the nine weeks, based on the expectation (standard) at that point in time. So let's take reading, for instance. We knew that we wanted all students to be reading at a "B" level (Fountas-Pinnell) by the end of the kindergarten year which we converted into meaning that the child was "Satisfactory" (S) by the end of the year if they could read at the B level. An Unsatisfactory (U) would be below the B level and a child would be excelling (E) if s/he performs above the B level. Our teachers worked on a "guideline" to help them have a consensus grading system for each nine weeks, so that "Satisfactory" in Communications looked the same in each of our eight kindergarten classes. We set a Reading expectation for the end of each nine weeks with a goal of reading that B at the end of the year. Communications also included what writing should look like at the end of the nine weeks and what Skills should look like. It was that combination of grades that made up the final nine weeks Communication grade. In other words, we were looking at where the student was at the end of the nine weeks, not an average of where they were over the course of the nine weeks.

However, now with a digital grade book that will open to parents, we are wrestling with the fact that the parent will want to look at grades as the nine weeks progresses and that if we put in a weekly grade for parents to see, the digital grade book would average those grades. So now, not only are kindergarten teachers wrestling with the mechanics of doing a digital grade book, they are also wrestling with all the nuances of weighing certain grades so that the final grade actually reflects what they really want to say to parents. The question becomes should Kindergarten teachers really record where a child is at the end of the nine weeks or should they simply average a set of numbers based on weekly numerical grades? This would be quite a paradigm shift for Kindergarten teachers.

In Kindergarten, of course, teachers can still override a grade that is averaged because in Kindergarten teachers are given a lot of leeway. In the past, the fact that Kindergarten is really different had been recognized in the grading system and pupil progression plan. In a "system" such as a digital grade book, that expects to meet the needs of K-12, however, that understanding sometimes seems to get lost.

It still remains to be seen if this new on-line grading and reporting system will be a treat or just a trick? Will parents who have not come to conferences and who have not been involved in their kindergartner's education become more involved because the grades are available on-line? Many kindergartners really need the nine weeks to adjust to being in school (some for the first time) and the rituals and routines of the classroom. Will parents with children who just need time become overanxious if the teacher gives grades the first week of school and their child is not performing at the parents' expectation - fears that might be better addressed in a conference? The mission will be how to take what we know about our youngest children and make sure that this step forward is developmentally appropriate in a system that is designed for the full range of K-12. Happy Halloween!


Mrs.Mallon & Mrs. Dillard said...

Excellent post dayle. This is a learning experience for the teachers, parents, and students. Hopefully, with time, it won't seem as daunting a task as it was for the first 9 weeks. MM

Anonymous said...

Are you aware it not just giving a "GRADE" in the gradebook whenever it that the grade will show like this 80/S or 59/U.