Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Outcome (Standards) Based Reporting

"In a standards based system, a student does not move to the next level until he or she can demonstrate competence at the current level.  In a standards-referenced system a student's status is reported (or referenced) relative to the performance standard for each area of knowledge and skill on the report card; however, even if the student does not meet the performance standard for each topic, he or she moves to the next level."  Formative Assessment and Standards Based Grading, by Robert J Marzano, page 18.

Two years ago, our math department was outcome-referenced (I will use outcome instead of standards as our provincial curriculum is by outcome).  We were reporting on the student's progress for each outcome.  However, we still looked at simply a "passing" average of these outcomes when determining if a student was to receive the credit.  We encouraged students to meet at least the level 2 of understanding on all outcomes, but it wasn't necessary to move on.

After reading the difference between standards based and standards references, we started to question whether we could make the move to outcomes based.  We wanted to, but were a little afraid of that step.  We had already made so many changes to our philosophies and to our policies, we weren't sure we could handle another large "shift".  We still had colleagues in our PLC that were still trying to understand and make the shift to outcome referenced reporting.  We tossed around ideas of students having to be level 2 on a certain percentage of outcomes, or certain "essential" outcomes.  After some debate, we finally decided as a group, with support from admin, that we would move to outcomes based.  We made this change this past year.  We communicated it to all students and their parents.  We informed them that in order to receive the credit at the end of the semester, the student would need to have at least a level 2 on EVERY outcome.

I'd have students ask me "do you mean I'm going to fail if I just have one outcome below a 2?"  My reply would be "no you will not 'fail', but you will have to continue working on that outcome before the credit will be assigned."  We were not asking the student to repeat the entire class.  I would explain that this made more sense than the "old" way as now they would be better prepared for the next level as they would have met a basic understanding of ALL outcomes.  I asked them to reflect on where they were currently at with their feelings towards math.  If they struggled with math, I asked them to reflect on whether they felt they had "passed" all parts of math in the past.  We then talked about if you don't "pass" everything, then the next year it is harder to learn the new outcomes, which in turn means you may "fail" more outcomes again, which will lead to more frustration at the next level.  When explained this way they nodded and agreed that outcomes based made sense (even if they didn't like it!).   Outcome based also means a student can't ignore an outcome that they are finding difficult and still pass the class.  They HAVE to do the work!

We are very fortunate at our school (it is a large school - approx. 2000 students), to have an extensions campus.  Students are able to take courses on their own, by completing work through modules, or online, etc.  So it was pretty easy for us to say that if a student had not met the requirements by the end of the semester, they would simply enroll with the extensions campus to complete the required outcomes.

We also realized that many students would struggle with continuing to work on an outcome they were  struggling with on their own, so we set up some structures to assist them.  Our school hired a grade 12 student who was strong in math, to provide free tutoring 3 hours a week after school (1 hour a day, 3 times a week).  For our grade 9 students, the math 9 teachers rotate through 2 days a week of noon hour extra help.  For grades 10 - 12, teachers provided their own noon hour extra help.

Another teacher and I joined forces to allow our students two noon hours a week for help and to reassess.  We each supervised one of these days a week.  We also set up guidelines to help students organize their time.  We didn't want them to all of a sudden, at the end of the semester, realize that they needed to reassess a ton of outcomes.  We came up with a policy and had student support dates.  On these dates, any student who had an outcome below a level 2 would be put on a "contract" and given 3 - 4 weeks to ask for help and reassess.

The first semester we implemented this we knew we may end up with some unhappy or surprised parents/students.  We communicated it over and over, and sent out letters to parents reminding them of the policy.  One of the things we stressed in our PLC group was that we had to stick to our guns and the final progress report could not have any current levels below a 2 if we were assigning credit to the student.  The minute you break what you have stated, it no longer holds weight.  At the end of the semester we had a number of students who had not met the criteria.  We made the appropriate phone calls to parents informing them that their son/daughter was not receiving the credit at this time and recommended one of two options to them.  If we felt that the student actually did need to repeat the entire class with a teacher, then we told the parent this.  We had very few students fall in this category.  With all of the support provided along the way, there were not many students left in this position.  The other option presented was that their son/daughter would register with the extension campus to complete the outcomes, and once successful the credit would be applied.  We were pleasantly surprised as to how many parents and students were thankful for this opportunity.  "You mean I don't have to repeat the entire class?  Thanks!"   There were very few unpleasant conversations.

The second semester with this system went a lot more smoothly.  We found a couple of things second time through.  One, the students now believed that we were going to follow through and they knew they had to work to achieve a certain level of understanding and then maintain or improve this level.  Two, we found that teaching the next level was far easier than it had been in the past!  Instead of having to re-teach a skill that was necessary for a new outcome, I only had to review it!  Since all students sitting in my class had met the basic level of understanding in the previous class, I wasn't speaking Greek to some of them!  We were able to go deeper with outcomes as the time was there to advance instead of back up.

It was interesting as we met after semester 1 to reflect on how things went, that the issue of "grades" came up.  We still have to convert to a percentage at the end of the semester (grades 10 - 12 only) for the Ministry of Education.  We only converted if the student was receiving the credit, which meant they met the requirement for all outcomes.  If they hadn't then there was a "blank" on their report card where the grade would have been.  The comment a teacher made was that their marks seemed quite high and their class average was a lot higher than before.  I had to grin.  Yippee!!!!  That means you had students who LEARNED and are proficient with what they are supposed to be!   Dylan Wiliam says "we should set a goal of proficiency for all, excellence for many, with all student groups fairly represented in the excellent" Embedded Formative Assessment, page 22.  We need to stop norm referencing and thinking we can't have a lot of students at the top of the class!   Also, because we were now only assigning "grades" to students who had achieved EVERY outcome, there were no "failure" marks being factored into the student's grade.

We have learned from this year that it is very important to communicate regularly with parents on how their son/daughter's progress is going so there are no surprises.  It is also important to realize we are still dealing with kids, and they need help organizing their time.  We work on having students track their growth and take ownership for their learning, but we guide them with structure and provide reminders (contracts) to help them achieve.

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