By Principal Michael Beyer, Ed.D., NBCT
Every now and then Ogden administration receives questions and concerns from parents about teachers’ grading practices. One common question asks why teachers have different grading practices, such as the frequency of when grades are entered in Gradebook, how many grades should be entered, and the weight of the grades.
Admittedly, we only have two local policies regarding grading practices at Ogden International. The first is the weighting. For example, in grades 6th-8th, formative assessments can count for no more than 35% of the final grade. Homework can only count for up to 10% or less, participation 5%, exams (or summative assessments) 20%, quizzes 10%, and projects 25%. The total is actually 105%, but this is because these are maximum amounts that can be assigned to each weight. However, this policy does not mean teachers must give, for example, quizzes. Teachers have a wide range of discretion in what they can assign and grade.
The second local policy is that Ogden teachers are required to enter in Gradebook at least one grade per student per subject/course every week. This is a low number of grades, considering many schools require three to four per week. Best practice suggest teachers should enter more than one grade per week, but in my experience, mandating more doesn’t change a teacher’s practice. When I was a teacher I had colleagues who would simply add fluff grades to achieve the quota. We want grades to mean something, and quotas won’t guarantee that.
Teachers at Ogden are also undergoing a transition. We have a small but dedicated core that are experimenting with criterion-based grading. This is similar to standards-based grading, but criterion is the IB parlance.
What is criterion-based grading? First, let’s understand the traditional way teachers have typically graded student assignments. On an assignment with ten questions, and the student answers eight correctly, this would translate to an 80%. On a ten-point scale that is the grade of a B. This is a simple way to grade, but it does not tell us if the student has mastered a skill or concept, because each of the ten questions might align to a different skill or concept. The student receiving this grade simply knows they answered 80% of the questions correctly. What does the grade tell them? Essentially, “Do better next time!” Not very useful.
Even if all ten questions align to one skill or standard, if the assignment entered into Gradebook is titled “Mice and Men Quiz”, or if the student is never told what skills and concepts are being assessed, again, the student won’t know what they need to do better next time.
Sports are a good analogy to compare best practices. Imagine if a baseball batter has an average of .250. Every fourth at-bat they get a hit. They want to improve their hitting, but how? All the batting average tells them is what the end-result is, not what is causing this result. An effective batting coach, like a teacher, will give the batter feedback on their swing, stance, and dozens of other factors. Each factor could be individually assessed and graded. The batter then knows they have to focus more on their stance, whereas their swing might not need additional attention. That is criterion-based grading.
With criterion-based grading the students are informed of the skills and concepts they have to master, ideally at the start of the unit. Students receive a rubric that describes what is required to show mastery of the criterion. The teacher, maybe with the help of the student, grades the assignment using the rubric. Lastly, the assignment is entered into Gradebook with a name such as “Compare and Contrasting Characters”, or “Solving variable equations”. The student and parents can then look at Gradebook and know specifically what skills and concepts the student needs to work on.
This is a significant transition that takes several years for a teacher to develop. It requires a lot of preparation and planning, along with a deep understanding of the content being taught and how to assess the content. If teachers are given different courses or grade levels to teach every other year, it isn’t likely they will develop this expertise.
Criterion-based grading is also a mind shift because students are given additional opportunities to demonstrate mastery of the criterion. With the traditional approach to grading, students have one shot at the assignment. Even if they demonstrate mastery of a skill or concept later in the semester, that earlier grade remains, typically preventing the student from achieving the highest grade possible.
As an example, imagine if a student began the school year in a world language course and did not know any of the language. The student struggles more than their classmates, and fails the first assessment. Then, the student improves their study habits, receives tutoring, and masters the world language at a level higher than all other students in the class. Unfortunately, their final grade will be lowered due to the earlier failure. With traditional grading, we have seen students give up because they know they can’t pass because of early failures. We have also seen students who know they can’t achieve an ‘A’, so they skate by, forced to be content with a ‘B’.
We want students to continue to learn and improve their skills, and criterion-based grading enables a growth mindset, whereas the traditional grading is a system of compliance and completion.
This is all to say that we are encouraging our teachers to experiment with criterion-based grading so they make this transition. Mandating the same grading practices will likely turn off many teachers and, while they might seem to comply on the surface, they won’t adopt the philosophy required for this new grading method.
Regardless of a teacher’s grading practices, there are three questions students and parents should ask about grades.
Is it fair? Does the student agree they deserve the grade? If not, has the student asked the teacher to explain why they received the grade? If the teacher can’t adequately explain in a manner that helps the student understand and agree the grade is fair, a parent-teacher conference might be warranted.
Does it inform? Grades aren’t simply measures of a student’s ability, they are also road marks indicating where they are in the course, and what they need to do to improve. If a student receives a grade and can’t explain how or why they need to improve, there is probably something missing in the grading process. Often it is the lack of a detailed rubric.
Is it timely? If a teacher grades an assignment long after the assignment was turned in, it is likely the student won’t remember what they did on the assignment, so it won’t mean as much if they received the grade within days of completion. Similarly, if a teacher enters critical grades a couple weeks before the end of the semester, the student is not given a chance to improve. This is difficult to rectify, since most teachers give end-of-unit tests, which can drastically affect grades for the better or worse. Yet, if the assessment is fair, it should align to how the student had already been performing. In other words, if a student has an average grade of a B in a course, but then fails the final test, were the assignments given throughout the course assessing the same skills and concepts on the test?
Grading is an imperfect science, but at Ogden International we are always here to help students and families understand how their child is learning, and how they can improve.
By Cara Kranz, Sara Schneeberg, and Michael Beyer
We’ve heard parents share they don’t understand what makes our school “IB”. Sometimes when new families join Ogden, they don’t know anything about IB, and their kids don’t come home talking about IB. As a parent, you might ask yourself, “where is this IB?” “How do I know IB is central to my child’s learning?”
IB, or International Baccalaureate, isn’t something students “do” in same way they “do” art, music, math, or reading. IB, or International Baccalaureate, is more of a philosophy of teaching and learning than it is a specific activity. There are frameworks for what is expected of students at certain stages, and ways teachers are expected to teach, all of which can be found in the various documents published by the International IB Organization. However, these tend to be technical and generally used by educators, not parents. And they certainly aren’t things a child would answer to a parent when asked, “What did you do at school today?”
The hallmarks of what makes an IB school IB is that education is constructivist and student-centered. Constructivist learning states “learning is a self-directed process—knowledge is constructed rather than directly received; instructor as facilitator; learning as a sociocultural process.” Student-centered learning is “creating multiple experiences for knowledge construction” and “creating authentic and complex sociocultural learning environments to mediate learning.” In simple terms, we want for our students to direct and engage in their learning in ways that help them develop as individuals.
It also might help to describe what IB is not. An IB learning environment does not have the teacher as the center. The teacher does not act as the gatekeeper or owner of knowledge. The teacher does not tell students what the “right” and “wrong” answers are. Instead, the teacher guides the learners to discover the correct answers through an inquiry-based process.
That’s why at the beginning of units you’ll often see classes creating anchor charts of what they know, what they want learn and how they plan to get there. It puts the student in the driver seat, instead of being a passenger.
Another key concept to an IB education is transdisciplinary learning. This can be frustrating for IB parents, because it often leads to students learning science and history without teaching those subjects as distinct classes.
For example, in a first-grade PYP Unit of Inquiry about light and communication, students might begin the unit with a provocation that leads them to ask questions about whether we need light to see or not. Then they might design scientific investigations to answer their own questions. During these investigations students apply their mathematical skills to collect data, organize it at a class and interpret their results to make meaning. After testing various materials and attempting to block out all the light from their classroom, the teacher might ask students to think of places in the world where the light is completely blocked out. From this conversation students might become interested in caves and whether they could see in caves or not. The teacher could then bring up cave art examples from history and ask students whether they would be able to see the art on the cave walls if the entrance were blocked. Students decide to make their own cave art paintings and design tests to find out. They use what they previously learned to block all of the light from their classroom and test what they might see in a cave with the door open, door closed and using a flashlight. This investigation might get students interested in caves paintings and lead them to design ways to learn more about the history of cave paintings. They might also read books about caves and write about their tests or experiences in dark places themselves. Through this example, students construct new learning opportunities in science, math, history, art, reading and writing. This is called transdisciplinary learning in the PYP because the learning transfers between the traditional discipline boundaries to make learning more meaningful.
So, even though your child may not be talking about IB specifically, they should be talking about their learning experiences at Ogden. If you hear your child talk about making choices and decisions, using materials in flexible and imaginative ways, initiating inquiry and asking questions, working collaboratively with others, finding an interest and developing their knowledge, you know IB is alive and well at Ogden.
By Michael Beyer, Principal
I knew our city had a problem with the perception there is a 'lack' of quality schools when my son was barely one year old. That summer I was in our front yard, pruning our trumpet vine, when a neighbor stopped by. His wife was pregnant and he wanted to know what elementary schools I could recommend. He was thinking years ahead of us, as we did not start considering until the year before preschool. We would have been happy with our neighborhood option, but alas, all preschool spots went to high-needs students, mainly four-year-old children from families in poverty.
Our son is 8 years old now and we're already looking ahead to high school. Now and then my son asks if I could be his teacher, and I remind him that we probably wouldn't get along so well if that were the case, but that I would like to be his principal if he attends Ogden International High School.
I'm not worried about him, or his sister getting in to a selective enrollment high school (SEHS). While we won't discourage applying, we know there are plenty of excellent options besides SEHS in Chicago. Ogden International is one of the best options., and perhaps better than most of the SEHS.
The University of Chicago produces some of the most respected research on educational outcomes. Recently, they released reports that indicate, as The Atlantic asked after reading one report, "...what if the high-school rat race is largely for naught?"
The authors of a recent study on Selective Enrollment High Schools (SEHS) find some benefits, but they are not academic as GPA is often lower for students in SEHS and, "...when it comes to test scores, attending a SEHS has no statistically significant impact. Simply put, on average, these students would have performed well on tests with or without selective schools."
Crain's take on the report, "The core conclusion-that attendance at Payton, Jones, North Side or one of Chicago's other elite high schools is a bit of an academic placebo-is disturbing. But it makes a little more sense once you consider what I'll call the small-fish, big-pond syndrome."
Parents perceive SEHS as 'better' because they start with the 'better' students. But are these students learning? Apparently not as much as we think, if students perform just as well if not better at a non-SEHS. In many cases they are losing opportunity to learn and grow, because they could have taken more leadership roles at a non-SEHS. I often wonder if parents are pushing their students to attend a SEHS for the perception of education they might receive, or for the label that comes with being accepted to a SEHS?
There might be other detriments from attending a SEHS. While SEHS are culturally diverse, students aren't being exposed to a diverse range of academic abilities. What will happen when students who attend a SEHS enter college or the job market and have to collaborate with peers or supervise people who struggle academically? Will SEHS graduates be able to relate to these people? Or will they dismiss them as 'lesser' in the same manner we dismiss the schools that serve such students?
In another report, researchers conclude IB schools with Diploma Programmes offer more rigorous learning opportunities:
I encourage parents to be confident that your child or children will be all right. In a more positive twist of 'the apple doesn't fall far from the tree', your child will be fine because they are your child. If you didn't fail, they won't either, no matter what school they attend, or don't attend.
In the mean time, join Ogden International High School at our last Open house on November 30th by registering here: http://ogden.cps.edu/admissions.html
Consider all the options, and quit the rat race.
By Principal Michael Beyer, Head of East Campus Cara Kranz, and Head of West Campus Stacie Chana
Hopefully by now, everyone has received an email or message from CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and CEdO Dr. Janice Jackson, which stated in part,
“With emotions running high after the presidential election, we want to acknowledge the responsibility we all carry as members of the CPS community.
Regardless of political affiliation, every one of our staff and students has the right to a safe, welcoming school environment where they feel valued and respected. We are proud of our District’s diversity, and believe strongly that every student, regardless of race, ethnicity, background, sexual orientation, language, religion or culture has the right to reach their full potential.
Helping students process this week’s events is both a challenge and a responsibility, but we are confident that it can be done in a way that supports their growth. Remember that this election presents us with a unique learning opportunity - a chance to teach our children about democracy while reminding them how important it is to respect each other’s differences and unique perspectives. Shortly, school leaders should expect to receive additional resources to support school staff in this capacity.
This is a time to support each other, our students, and our broader community through what may be a difficult time.”
We as administration at Ogden International have also received emails from parents emphasizing their concerns about how the election has affected their children, and their relationships with other children in school.
At East Campus, parents were concerned about how children are talking about the election during lunch and recess. My own son came home one day asking if his mother would be deported because she is from New York. I was able to clear up that misconception, but it was still disturbing recognizing he might have temporarily harbored fears of losing his mother.
We also heard numerous concerns from teachers and students at our West Campus, where they had a mock election the day before the actual election. The majority voted for Clinton/Kane, while 14% voted for Trump/Pence. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since the main predictor of a person’s views are their parents’, and Ogden’s mock election results mimic the results for Chicago.
The day after the real election, many students at West Campus had emotional breakdowns, crying at the prospect of having family members deported, and others angry about the bigotry they perceived in the election rhetoric. Another problem arose because students openly debated the candidates’ positions, so people knew who voted for which candidate in the mock election. Several Trump/Pence supporters didn’t feel welcome as emotions ran high.
Fortunately our teachers intervened and led conversations about respecting all opinions and perspectives. I read a brief statement over the intercom also stating as much, hopefully setting an official tone to help tamp down emotions. Since then teachers have begun planning how to channel students’ emotions. They want to create a quilt to highlight the diversity and unity Ogden West has enjoyed in recent years. Students will be encouraged to take action in their IB personal projects and other studies so they attack the issues from an academic standpoint.
As an IB school, Ogden International embraces the opportunity to take any real life issue or event and turn it into a learning experience, and we hope our parents embrace this opportunity, as well. We also hope our parents embrace these opportunities to learn and grow. This year we have SEED offered to parents and teachers. Although this cycle of SEED has already begun, we will be offering it again later in the year or next school year. We are taking intentional efforts at both campuses to celebrate diversity and inclusiveness. In fact, faculty at West have begun a Diversity Integration Team, which will eventually grow to the East Campus, as well.
The concepts of inclusion and respect for all opinions are built into the philosophy of IB, and we invite you to join us in our quest to improve how we welcome and embrace families of all types at Ogden International. If you are interested in helping our efforts, please contact administration with your ideas on how to improve Ogden.
By Head of East Campus Cara Kranz and PYP Coordinator Sara Schneeberg
On Thursday, October 13th, we held this year’s first prospective Kindergarten tour. Ms. Cara Kranz, head of our East Campus, introduced Ogden and shared what makes our school unique to a wonderful group of prospective parents. Then Ms. Sara Schneeberg, IB PYP Curriculum Coordinator, shared snapshots of learning to help parents understand the International Baccalaureate, and what it looks like in the Primary Years Programme from Kindergarten to Grade 5.
Following the presentations, parents had an opportunity to take a tour with our Elementary Student Council members. They visited the Kindergarten classrooms, the library, gym and beautiful roof. We are very proud of our students as well as our facility, and received multiple comments from parents and teachers alike about what a great job they did. After enjoying the tour, parents met again for a brief Q & A session. Principal Dr. Michael Beyer joined to welcome the parents and answer some questions too.
We hope to welcome all of these wonderful new families to the Ogden community next Fall. If you or anyone has a child who is ready to enter Kindergarten in 2017, please consider joining our next school tour for prospective Kindergarten families on November 17th at 9am. More details can be found at http://ogden.cps.edu/admissions.html.
By Principal Beyer
Tonight I attended the high school fair at Near North Montessori, my children’s school. Chris, their Junior High Director, had attended our high school and counselor breakfast yesterday. He was so impressed with Ogden’s high school students that he wrote on his blog informing parents about International Baccalaureate programmes. When he told me about his post, it struck me: why don’t we have a blog?
One of our biggest obstacles is helping parents understand what IB is all about, and maybe having this blog will allow us to share insight into our programmes. And so, The Ogden Blog is born!
Look for posts from administration, faculty, staff, students, and parents. If you’re interested in writing a blog post, contact Principal Beyer at firstname.lastname@example.org. The topics of our blog posts are wide open, so long as it offers insight of what the Ogden International community is all about.
Principal: Dr. Michael S. Beyer
Heads of Schools
East Campus: Cara Kranz
West Campus: Dr. Stacie Chana