By Debora Land, parent of Ogden 6th grader and parent volunteer
Ogden International School is an International Baccalaureate World School. Our school mission states that Ogden International provides a world-class education to students who will become leaders of change within the global community in the 21st century and beyond. Ogden International is committed to providing a distinctive, high-quality international education which cultivates intellectual inquiry and global engagement.
Simply said, what we really want is for our kids to be able to navigate successfully in a diverse world after they finish their education. They need the skills which will enable them to do whatever their job may be, but equally important they need to be able to work with co-workers, suppliers, and customers who come from different backgrounds, judging them on their abilities and contributions rather than their cultural and family history. (continues below)
How is Ogden International doing in this area? We can look at the Illinois Board of Education data and see that we have a very diverse student body in our Middle School and High School (2016 data shown). We are probably one of the most diverse schools in Chicago.
That part is easy - the kids are here. But in order to look at how we are doing with our mission of creating global citizens, we have to look at how the students integrate together. Teachers can assign a mixed seating chart in their classrooms, but if you want to really see the proof of how well our students have internalized this global culture, the true test is to see what happens in the cafeteria and on the playground when they are not forced by staff to mix.
I have had the opportunity to spend over 100 hours this school year as a parent volunteer working as part of the security team during our lunch periods in the cafeteria and on the playground at the West Campus. You might expect that students would seek out friends based on ethnic background during free time. What I see during my time with all the students during the lunch periods, for both the Middle School and the High School, is that our students integrate themselves, hanging out with a diverse group of friends when they have the choice of who to spend their free time with. Students pick their friends based on shared interests and experiences and not just based on family heritage. The proof is in the pictures - taken on December 19, 2017 during one of my volunteer shifts. These are candid shots, lunch periods 4-7, taken with permission of the students photographed.
Our Administration and Staff have set the tone for fulfilling the mission of creating global citizens. The measure of success is how well our students live this mission as part of our daily school culture. Academics is only one part of the equation for success in life after school. As a parent who has lived and worked in many parts of our country and abroad, I know that the ability to function effectively in a diverse, integrated group is equally important. Well done, Ogden!
*Editor's note: The title of this post is a riff on a well-known book on education, "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations about Race" by Beverly Daniel Tatum. Ogden, like all schools across our country, grapple with issues of bias and we do not claim to be perfect, but we are very proud of the inclusive culture exhibited by our students.
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 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.
This blog has contributions from a variety of faculty and staff at Ogden International.