Where's the beef ... sorry, I misspelled "evidence."
In a courtroom proceeding: evidence matters.
In a doctor's office: evidence matters.
When testing a new pharmaceutical: evidence matters.
Everywhere in life, in everything we do: evidence matters.
Except when it comes to giving academic or behavioral grades. In that case, what seems to matter the most is "it was good enough for me when I was a kid... so it's good enough for the kids today."
My question: where's the evidence behind that belief?
A Whole Lotta Nothing
In 2016, Matt Townsley co-authored a research article entitled "What does the research say about standards-based grading." The first sub-heading in the article is "100 years, no research to support." He goes on to write a compelling case about the lack of evidentiary support behind using traditional academic grading scales (percentage based, etc.), and why a standards-based approach is better for learning based on evidence.
So, if there is no evidentiary support over the last 100 years regarding percentage-based, traditional grading practices, why do teachers, administrators, students, parents, and community members circle the wagons when discussions of eliminating those practices comes up?
Overcoming the F.E.A.R. of No Grades
Marc Scott, an Assistant Principal at Cedar Valley Middle School in Austin, Texas, recently published an article in ASCD Express titled "Overcoming the F.E.A.R. of No Grades." He writes:
Through conversations with parents concerned about their children's rank among peers and with teachers about what is fair for students' learning, I have noticed that the objections are usually based not on pedagogy, but on emotion. More precisely: good old-fashioned fear.
I have noticed the same objections: as a teacher, as an administrator, and as a School Board member. The fear is real. Much of the fear (in my perspective) comes from a genuinely good place of concern, yet that concern is often based in a financial foundation rather than a learning one. The biggest objection I hear is that "colleges won't be able to accept them." We all know this is pure poppycock... colleges and universities take transcripts from across the world, and given how different high schools within the same district can provide different transcripts and approaches to reporting progress and learning, imagine the differences when you go from the micro- to the macro- and look internationally; yet, students are and have been admitted continually over the years.
What is grounding this fear, then? Is it financial? Are parents worried that this system won't get their kids the scholarships they believe are deserved? If that's the case, it's a reasonable question to ask about the equitable nature of the traditional grading practices. To what extent are those practices equitable for all learners? To what extent do traditional grading practices favor students with means and supports over students without them? To what extent do those grades report on what was learned and understood, versus students who were highly compliant?
Marc Scott breaks down the word "fear" into four essential truths to both understanding the purpose of grades, but also challenging the extent to which those grades actually work against their very purpose. According to Scott, the four truths are:
What do you think?
So how do you use grades? Do they do what they are intended to do (validity)? Are they consistently done across all students under your control... what about across the grade span/school/district (reliability)? Given how grades have become one of the main sources of communication between the teacher-student and teacher-parent, it's beyond time that we examine whether or not that source of communication actually works.
The evidence speaks to the contrary.
But... who needs evidence, anyway?
... oh yeah... everyone, everywhere, with everything.
So, what are we to do?
The article linked in the button at the bottom of this post is from MindShift, and is all about evidence, and evidence that’s clear: later start times for school help kids. Schools help kids. In college I took a class called “Logic and Semantics” (part of my Philosohy Major requirements... yup... Philosophy Major...). So if start times help kids learn better, and schools are places of learning, then logically it makes sense for schools to start later. Right? Simple logic. It’s better for kids, so we do it. Simple. Okay... we’re done.
Except we’re not, are we?
LD 770, “An Act To Provide for a Later Starting Time for High Schools” has made its way through the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs (Maine). It currently stands as a Divided Report, meaning the Majority and Minority parties disagree, but it’s unclear at this moment which way the bill will go: Ought to Pass, or Ought Not To Pass (as of this writing, that information is not yet on the bill’s webpage). There were twelve people/organizations that provided testimony, most of whom were in favor. However, the Maine Principal’s Association (MPA) began their testimony in the following way:
We do not dispute research that suggests that later start times for high school age students may better reflect the sleep patterns of teenage students. But ...” Dick Durost, MPA Executive Director; MPA Testimony on LD 770
Now that Game of Thrones is back for it’s final season, may I present to you the following:
Nothing someone says before the word ‘but’ really counts.” - Benjen Stark, House Winterfell
So, I ask again... what are we to do?
Are we to follow the evidence? OR ignore it because changing is full of “but’s”?
I don’t believe that from one side of our mouth we should say “trust the professionals; follow the research; use objective evidence to support your decisions,” and then from the other side of our mouth say, “yeah, but still...”.
The evidence is clear. The research is solid. The facts are there. Yes, it will be messy... but there’s beauty and functionality and purpose to mess at times. If we want to do what’s truly best for kids, then schools need the support of our organizations, administration, and legislators to fund and create structures/policies/procedures that are based on those best practices and evidence-based research, and say “damn the torpedos” to the “but’s” that based on nothing more than fear or anxiety or “it’s always been this way,” or “it was good enough for me as a kid, why is now any different.”
Leadership takes courage, strength, vision, and evidence. The evidence is there... let’s focus on the other three and do what’s right for the kids.
Read the full article below by clicking the button below.
Education Committee to Take Up Repeal of Proficiency-Based Diplomas... Again
This Wednesday (April 17), the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs will hear testimony once again on repealing Proficiency-based Diplomas. I submitted written testimony as I will not be able to attend the hearing in person. Read my full testimony below.
To the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee
Testimony in Opposition of LD 985: An Act to Maintain High School Diploma Standards by Repealing Proficiency-Based Diploma Standards
April 17, 2019
Senator Millett, Representative Kornfield, and distinguished members of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. My name is Matthew Drewette-Card. I am an educator of more than twenty years in the profession; have taught pre-kindergarten, elementary, middle, high, and graduate school. I have a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Oregon. I am the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment for MSAD #46; a school board member for MSAD #75; the President-Elect for Maine ASCD; a Future Ready mentor; a co-host of a podcast, “Maine Education Matters,” that focuses primarily on explaining to educators across Maine what is happening at the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs; a parent of two children in the public school system, and a resident of Topsham. I have dedicated my life to education. I study, practice, live and breathe teaching, learning, and assessment. I am providing testimony in opposition to LD 985, the latest attempt to repeal the proficiency based diploma law, and am only testifying on behalf of myself as a citizen, parent and lifelong learner and educator, not as a representative of any organization to which I am affiliated.
You will hear plenty of testimony that will focus on areas that have nothing to do with the diploma law, but have more to do with instructional and assessment practices. 4-point scales (nothing to do with proficiency-based diplomas), and how those scales cannot be converted for scholarships or colleges (outright falsehoods, and again, nothing to do with the diploma law); how proficiency-based learning practices have led to student apathy (apathy and engagement are discussions about instructional practice, classroom management, and learning environment, and have nothing to do with the diploma law expectations); or various other Chicken Little stories that proficiency-based diplomas are causing the sky to fall. I ask you to ignore those red herrings. They have nothing to do with the law, and have everything to do with instructional practice. Leave instructional practices to the educators and professionals in the field, and do not go down the road to micromanage from Augusta how educators create learning environments. This conversation and debate is NOT about grades, report cards, transcripts, scholarships, class rank, valedictorian, honor roll, or student motivation and engagement. The conversation IS about the outcome of our K-12 system: the diploma and the law that supports it.
The Proficiency-Based Diploma Law has been in place for nearly seven years, and has been changed four times in six years. The first iteration in 2012 gave the districts five years to complete (2017). The bill was not funded, as was mandated in the original statute, so in 2013 the law changed so that the original end date was kicked back from 2017 to 2018 to give time to build in funding. In 2016 the law was changed to adjust the diploma due dates again (from 2018 to 2020), and created a tiered rollout system that, while well intentioned, made little to no sense. The law stipulated that in the first year of granting proficiency-based diplomas, only the areas of English/Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies, and Science were to be measured for a proficiency-based diploma. Every year after that, the students had to demonstrate proficiency in those four areas, and one content area of their choosing. This structure was primarily designed to support districts struggling to support students meeting proficiency in content areas like World Languages. However, if students chose World Languages as their fifth content area, then the school district would be required to meet that need, thereby not giving the districts the time desperately needed. The confusion you are now feeling reading/hearing this is the same educators have felt across the state; not because of the law itself, but because of the changes that kept shifting expectations mid-stream. In 2017 the law was changed again to include language regarding Career and Technical Education learners, and also changed the landscape for students with exceptionalities. Both changes added confusion and frustration across the state.
The debate in 2018 was focused on full repeal of proficiency-based diplomas (LD 1666), and the testimony of educational professionals across Maine was overwhelmingly opposed to repealing the proficiency-based diploma law. During the work session for LD 1666, the language was completely changed to make two diploma options for districts; they could choose a proficiency-based pathway, or a credit-based pathway. yet the Committee decided to work to find middle ground and compromise with those opposed to proficiency-based diplomas. Thus, in June 2018, LD 1666 was signed into law, and the proficiency-based diploma law was changed... again. This change led some to believe that the full repeal had taken place; others believed that this decision was an indication of the abject failure of proficiency-based learning across the state. Neither of those beliefs are accurate nor true, yet with the amount of systemic changes that have taken place over the last seven years, how can anyone be blamed for misunderstanding what happened?
My question to the distinguished members of the committee is simple: how can you expect the educators in the field to do the work you ask us to do, when you (1) do not give us the adequate time to do it, (2) do not give us the stable environment in which to work within, (3) do not give us the adequate funding to do it (the funding mechanism to support the proficiency-based diplomas was 1/10th of 1% of the district’s budget, and was cut from the law several years ago), and (4) do not require the Department of Education to fully back and support its initiatives (proficiency-based diplomas was one of the biggest and most ambitious educational reforms in decades, and only one person was overseeing this at the Department for the whole state... only one)? Also, if every year the law changes, why would districts “buy-in” to any of the changes, knowing that the next year the law is likely to change again? Why would schools and educators put in the time to try and innovate, when every year or two the expectations shift? How can districts, schools and educators be expected to work and function and improve in this environment? Simple answer: they cannot.
Many of the arguments for creating a dual-diploma system (credit-based and proficiency-based) were that it would allow districts local control to choose the direction they wanted to go in. Many of the people sponsoring this bill made those same arguments last session. So, why has the attitude toward local control and decision-making changed for this session? If you trust educators; if you believe in local control and decision-making; then my plea to you is simple: enough already. Let us do our jobs. Let us show you how amazing education can be and become. Maine is already the beacon of education innovation across the nation, and legislation like this dims that beacon. Stop changing the end goal every year. Stop attacking this issue. This committee worked to make the diplomas a local option. Support local control and let us make these decisions for ourselves. Let us do the work. Let us take the lead. Let us show you how we can innovate. Stop changing the outcome expectations. Stop moving the goal post. Enough already. We deserve that much, at the very, very least.
No... I'm not stealing the lyrics to that song from Staind...
I haven't written anything in awhile... it's been a #whoacrazycrazy kind of year. And there's still 2+ months to go! So, here's a quick recap of my year:
It's been a busy year. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Creating student-centered learning environments is no easy task. Teachers often do not receive enough quality professional learning to provide them with the time to design student-centered learning environments. The major difficulties are that they lack the ...
Read the full article at https://studentsatthecenterhub.org/blog/the-importance-of-modeling-student-centered-professional-learning/
I wrote an article for EdSurge.com on my perceptions of the four biggest challenges facing us in Maine's transition to a Proficiency-based diploma system. Much like me, the article isn't perfect, but it's honest.
Take a look, and thanks for reading:
I was fortunate to be interviewed by WABI about the journey we at AOS #94 are taking in developing and transitioning to a Proficiency-based and personalized system of learning. You can watch the pieces by clicking the links below.
Proficiency-Based Education (Part 1)
Proficiency-Based Education (Part 2)
Let me know what you think!