How do we measure learning?
Grades vs. Standards of Excellence
If you or your child has experience in the traditional education system, you’ve probably received report cards. What do they mean and what do we know for sure when we look at grades?
I’ve had conversations with parents who are confused because their child brought home report cards filled with As and Bs, yet they underperformed on state achievement tests like the Florida Standards Assessment or the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. How is it possible?
Experts like Ken O’Connor studied this in depth and presented the hidden formulas and meaning behind traditional grading. O’Connor (2002) showed how many teachers take grades on a variety of assignments across a quarter. If students have little understanding of content at the beginning of the quarter and gradually increase their knowledge, or if they are under-motivated and have zeros in the grade book, averaging their performance does not adequately describe their end performance and knowledge. For example:
Student #1 started with knowledge of 60% of the content, but they are diligent about assignments and they finished with knowledge of 80% of the material for the unit based on the final test.
Student #2 scored well on tests, but is likely under-motivated by assignments. They finished by showing mastery of content on the final test, but earned a C grade overall.
In this example, the student with broader knowledge earned a C grade, while the less knowledgeable student earned an A because they have better work habits. This is one example of how the traditional grading system can give deceptive information.
Rather than asking about grades, a better question is – What content has my child mastered? How will we know that they learned every element in 4th grade math? Using tools like Khan Academy can give that information. Learners are engaged in learning videos, practice and mastery tasks. You can be sure that when they’ve finished a course, they truly mastered the material. This is the beauty of self-paced, learner driven studios and classrooms.
At Acton Academy, we measure progress and celebrate hardwork with additional tools, including:
- Weekly Points: 20 points equals an hour of intense work. We realize that intense focus can vary at different times of the day and across days, but this measure tracks overall focus, weekly.
- Badges Earned: Each badge represents a real world accomplishment reviewed against rigorous standards of excellence, culminating in a project or a body of work.
A badge is approved as “excellent” based on one or more of the following standards:
- If this is the first time: Is this your bestwork?
- If attempted before: Is this better than last time?
- As work quality soars and plateaus: How does it compare to a world-class example?
- Finally: Have you won a contest or been approved for a public exhibition?
- 360 Peer Reviews: Feedback and comments showing how an Eagle is building character, supporting peers as a running partner and developing as a leader.
At Acton Academy Palm Harbor, learners are the heart of our studio. We set the stage for deep learning, mastery and character development, and we clear the path of tasks that do not lead to inspired mastery for the hero's journey.
O’Conner, K. (2002). How To Grade For Learning.