Sunday, November 10, 2013

Reflections and Connections: Standards Based Grading and A1c's

This week, I had the opportunity to attend the AMLE conference- a conference for middle level educators. The theme of the conference was THRIVE.  Those that know me, know that sometimes my self-diagnosed ADHD kicks in and my mind is like the book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.  Eventually, like the mouse, I do end up back on track but in the mean time, I sometimes manage to have a few good insights and make some obscure connections.   This is an example of one of those times!

Standards Based Grading (SBG) can be defined as measuring student achievement based on well defined course objectives.  As Rick Wormeli states,  "It is about measuring what the student knows, not the route it took to get there."  With SBG,  teachers and students need to be constantly examining what we know and where we need to go in our course.  We need to make goals to reach our target and then change those goals based on the evidence, not the extra credit.  Our evidence is the students' work.  It is what they produce daily.  As simple as a quick question, "Why did you chose to do this?" to more complex projects involving application of skills,  we are measuring the distance to the goal.  We call this "formative assessment."  We use this information to drive our decision making.   I have heard many times over the course of this last year and the course of this conference that the "targets should be visible."  Never have I heard that the target should be easy to reach.

At this point, you are wondering why on Earth she is writing about school in a diabetes blog.  Just like the mouse asking for a straw for his milk, bear with me as this will connect.  The A1c measures the average blood sugar over a period of time.  It is the target for control.  We always see that target, but it is not always easy to reach.   Like grades in school, we look at the numbers, we look at our practices and we set goals and make changes to achieve mastery.  I watch my children poke their fingers up to 10 times a day to measure their blood sugars; formative assessment.  This information drives our decision making.

In both SBG and diabetes management, we can't just roll the dice and hope for the best.  That would not be fair to anyone involved.  Instead, we take what we know, based on evidence, and we make informed decisions.  In both cases, we should never lower our target or our expectations.   I live with three children and who fight a battle for their lives daily.  If I told one of them that she didn't have to check her blood sugar today because she worked so hard at it yesterday or because her room was clean, I would be doing her a tremendous disservice.  Lowering her  target to this level would be the equivalent of saying, "Today, your life is less important."  We do, however, very often need to change our route, add some steps, or sometimes even turn around and start all over.  Along the way we meet frustration, we meet success, we get bumps and we get bruises.  Shouldn't it be the same with education?  To me, allowing a box of tissue or a parent signature to count as "extra credit"  is the equivalent of saying, "Today, your life, your education, has less value."  In either case, settling for a "C" is not an option.  I want mastery or better!

SBG is best practice, it's what's good for the kids.  From experience, I can tell you that I was more than a little nervous about this school year; new job, new grading system, new team.  Now, one quarter complete, I can't believe how fast it has gone, how much I have learned and how valuable SBG is to the educational system. It makes school "real" and evidence based.  Yes, there are glitches in the technology.  True, not everyday is easy nor is every person happy.  Absolutely, I have to work hard and make some changes to lesson plans I have used in the past.  Is it worth it?  Without a doubt.  Student-led conferences turned into a formative assessment for me this year.  Listening to my students talk about their learning allowed me another opportunity to reflect on my teaching.   I realized that many times in the past, I had settled for something because I was using an arbitrary measuring tool and never asking the tough questions.  I was cheating my students.  The same can be said for diabetes management.  I will admit there are days that I don't want to ask the tough questions of my kids.  There are days that I want to give them a "day off" because I, like them, just don't want to do battle anymore .  But is that fair?  Rick Wormeli says over and over, "Fair isn't always equal."  Fair isn't always easy, either.   Helen Keller states, "We couldn't be brave or patient if there were only joys in the world."  I would assert that without challenges, we could never THRIVE.  Do you see that?   Like the mouse, we have come full circle, right back to that cookie!  Conferences like AMLE and JDRFCC, are opportunities to connect with like minded people: they demonstrate the power of people committed to progress and positive change.  That reminds me of a team...

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