At my school, failure is real and a regular option. We must assess students throughout the year on their proficiency in learning the grade level content. We can use a rubric when grading or simple points to percentages, but it doesn’t make too much of a difference. They can receive a 1 out of 4 on a rubric or they can receive below a 70% on a test, but they know when they have failed. We have to have a set grading system within our classes because report cards are mandatory. With our new report cards, students are labeled with either “expected growth” or “needs improvement” two times throughout the year. These phrases are better than the typical A, B, C, or D grades students used to receive. However, they do receive these grades at the end of the year and within their classrooms on assessments. I believe these phrases are an attempt to lift the negativity that can be associated with a letter grade, but most parents interpret the “needs improvement” grades as failing.
I am very careful when discussing grades with students. I never associate good grades with being smart. I always tell students they can do better on tests if they try a little harder or ask for help. I tell them I am available to support them if they need it. However, students come into my class already having an understanding that if they receive a D or F on a test that they are not doing well. I ask students to get all their tests signed by their parents so parents know how their children are doing, and students can be embarrassed to show their parents their tests. I’ve noticed it is the parents, not the students, who are more upset about the failing grades. The blame then ends up on teachers. With the new common core standards, parents get even more upset because they don’t understand the new ways of teaching and become frustrated that they cannot help. These are the problems my school faces with failing grades. It’s not that the students necessarily give up or don’t care, but the parents get upset at the grading and in turn the students see that they are not doing well.
With the pressure to get through all the content in a school year, teachers feel pressured to continue moving through the curriculum even when students are not doing well. This makes it difficult for students to reach competency and it can establish the mentality of “it’s too late to learn” in some classrooms. For example, if ten students fail the first math test, I fear that teachers write down the students’ grades, and begin teaching the second chapter because they think those students are too far behind and won’t catch up. I remember my first year of teaching and grading the first math tests. I went to my colleagues and told them how poorly some of my students did and asked how I could help them. I remember being told that if those students don’t get it now, they won’t get it, so we just have to move on to the next topic. I believe this comes mainly from the pressure to get through the content, but something should be done for students who are not reaching competency in certain areas.
As a school leader, I would establish either before or after school programs to help support students in the areas where they are struggling. The problem is, at our school, we have a large majority of students who are not reaching competency. I would make sure that all teachers are including interventions in their daily lessons to help support students. Students need to have an opportunity to reach competency and discussing the pillar “It’s Not Too Late to Learn” with my staff would be the first step to moving away from a negative mentality. I would also love to establish a competency based system, but with the expectations coming down from the district and state level with report cards, I’m not sure that is a plausible goal.
Within my classroom I do everything I can to create a recovery plan for students who are failing. I teach my classes using a rotation model. I assess the students prior to beginning a new chapter to see what students know about the upcoming chapter. I then split my class into three groups depending on what they need. One group of students who need extra support receive two days of intervention and support on background knowledge needed for the upcoming lessons of the new chapter. This is a recovery plan for these students for the previously learned material that was not mastered. Another group of students who need extra support, but not as much as the first group, get one day of intervention and support. The last group of students are the students who are ready for the new chapter because they have mastered the previous content. I then teach each group their individualize lesson once a day at their current levels. The students that do not need extra support get to begin the new chapter and are challenged. The students who need extra support get the specific support they need before beginning the chapter so they are better prepared to learn the new material. This provides individualized instruction for all students and is a recovery plan for students who did not understand the content the first time we went through it. I also always make sure I have good relationships with my students and never give up on them. This is my way of establishing a mentality of “It’s Never Too Late to Learn.”
Here are 5 things I am willing to do this semester that will make my school increase learning opportunities:
- I will give students the opportunity to retake tests to do better.
- I will continue my rotation model within my classroom to provide a recovery plan for students who did not reach mastery the first time we learned certain topics.
- I will discuss the “It’s Never Too Late to Learn” pillar with my colleagues to help them understand the effects it has on students who fail.
- I will find more collaborative tasks for my students to complete together to allow all students to share their ideas and collectively reach a goal and feel successful.
- I will continue to have good relationships with my students and never give up on a student.