Educating our children is a whole community effort. Schools need families to support and understand the learning that is happening in our shared spaces. Because families trust us to care for and educate their children, we have an obligation to ensure they understand how we assess and why, especially if it is a new paradigm that differs from the one they experienced. 

As schools shift toward a mastery approach, it is incumbent upon a school or a teacher to make sure this practice is shared with families before the school year begins and ongoing communication exists to ensure concerns are always being addressed. Students and families will see quickly that this new way of discussing learning is far more detailed and can offer more support in how we can work together for success.

There are several ways schools or teachers can share this information with families. The first is by writing a letter home that explains the why of the shift and what they can expect to see and when. This letter will serve as a means for opening the conversation with those invested parties. 

Below is an example of one such letter.  Note the clear explanation in each component of this letter:

Revising Grading in Form VI Science and Math

Dear VI Families,

For the last two years, Science and Math classes piloted a program in standards-based grading. Had COVID-19 not interrupted the end of our school year, we would likely have expanded the pilot and adopted this system in additional classes and forms this year. Unfortunately, we did not have that opportunity, but we are thrilled to be able to offer it to your student in science and mathematics again this year. This system of grading provides more detailed feedback to your student about his or her progress while still providing a final percentage grade at the end of the year. 

What is standards-based grading?
Standards-based grading measures your student’s mastery of a set of clearly defined learning targets called standards. It communicates how well your student understands the course material. Within a class, the material covered in each unit is divided into identified standards and learning objectives. The goal is to identify what your student understands or can demonstrate, in relation to the defined standards – as opposed to averaging scores over the course of the grading period. Throughout the year students are assessed to see if they truly know the material using a variety of tools. 

This approach will provide your student, his or her teacher and you as accurate a picture as possible of his or her learning. Additionally, as your student’s understanding of the material evolves, further assessments will provide new information regarding his or her conceptualization of the content. 

How is standards-based grading different from traditional grading?
In traditional grading systems, student’s grades are typically based on the student’s performance averaged together. These include work assigned and non-academic factors, such as preparation, participation, and effort. Early assessment scores that may have been low would traditionally be averaged with later scores that reflect a better understanding of the material. This would create a lower overall grade than might accurately reflect a student’s current mastery. Similarly, a student’s exceptional work on a project in an area the student has evident mastery, would not be averaged into the grade in a way that inaccurately hides gaps in other areas of the curriculum. This system is prioritizing the most recent and consistent performance by the student based on the individual standards. Students who may struggle at the beginning of a unit when first learning the new material, will still be able to demonstrate mastery by the end of a year.

How will students and parents receive communication about student progress?
For graded assessments, your student will receive a mastery score reflecting his or her mastery of the standards covered. These grades will be recorded in the MasteryBook along with the identified standards. This grading system should facilitate more detailed and accurate ongoing feedback.

How will the end of year grade be determined?
At the end of the year, you will receive a printed copy of your student’s progress in the MasteryBook along with his or her traditional grade card.  You will see a grade for both math and science on the grade card that becomes part of his or her official records through MyBackPack. We wanted to take this opportunity to explain how we converted the number of standards mastered and reported in The MasteryBook into the grade reported for the official records.  Here is the breakdown of how we weighted each level of proficiency:

We look forward to our partnership with you this year. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out through email.

Educators can also send this as an email, create social media for increased communication and also have it posted on the school website. 

Each family has a right to understand the way we are teaching and assessing their children. The more transparent we are, the better we can ensure the needs of stakeholders are met.

What are your concerns about parent pushback? What have you done to help support folks during the transition? Please share

Mastery Portfolio

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