Staff Memo

January 24, 2014

Please Welcome

Katie Hicks is joining us for the rest of the year as she fills Amy Spears' third grade maternity leave position. Welcome, Katie. We are so glad to have you here at CRES.

Student Teachers Join Us

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Nudging our Thoughts on Grading Practices

One thing we haven't spent much time discussing is grading practices. The summary of an article from Educational Leadership below is food for thought. What do our grades mean? Do they tell the student and family what we want them to tell?

Please take one minute to read and one minute to stop and reflect upon the article below.

Standards-Based Grading Takes Hold in an Iowa District

(Originally titled “Redesigning Grading – Districtwide”)

In this helpful article in Educational Leadership, Iowa educator Matt Townsley describes the frustration he felt as a high-school math teacher with his district’s grading system. For example, if a student got a B, did that mean:

- The student understood 85 percent of the concepts?

- The student understood 100 percent but didn’t turn in 15 percent of assignments?

- The student understood 90 percent but turned in one assignment late?

- The student understood 75 percent but did a few extra-credit crossword puzzles?

Townsley decided to revise his grading system based on two axioms: first, report learning targets rather than assignments, assessments, and behavior; and second, value what students learn over when they learn it. Instead of recording grades for worksheets, quizzes, homework, and tests, he kept track of students’ current level of understanding on a 4-3-2-1 scale, revising grades if there was improvement (or regression). Students and parents could log into the class website and track progress, and final grades were based on mastery of the content. Students who did poorly on assessments were encouraged to do additional work and take another assessment, at which point their grade reflected what they attained.

Townsley’s principal supported these changes, and the following year a group of teachers formed a study group and standards-based grading spread within the high school and into the district’s middle school.

But having different grading systems in different classrooms caused problems, and when Townsley took on a district leadership role, he realized that the district needed a consistent system and orchestrated a series of discussions, which culminated in a new policy:

- Teachers’ grade-book entries counting toward the final grade will be limited to course or grade-level standards (i.e., classwork and homework don’t count).

- Extra credit will not be given at any time.

- Students will be allowed multiple opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of classroom standards, including retakes and revisions.

- Teachers will use multiple points of data, emphasizing the most recent, to determine grade-book entries, and will be able to provide evidence for their grades.

- Students will have multiple opportunities to practice standards independently and get feedback on homework and other class work.

How did it go? There was some resistance and some implementation bumps, but at the end of the 2012-13 school year, 75 percent of high-school students said they agreed or strongly agreed that, “Overall, I have an understanding of where I am in my learning and the areas in which I need to continue to learn.” Townsley says there was also a shift from students asking “How do I improve my grade?” to “Can you help me better understand this standard?”

“Redesigning Grading – Districtwide” by Matt Townsley in Educational Leadership, December 2013/January 2014 (Vol. 71, #4, p. 24-29),; Townsley can be reached at

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Cultural Competency Corner from our coaches

Each month our Diversity Coaches will submit a short article for the Roadrunner. I will also include it in our Staff Memo. Thanks to Jami and Angie for taking on this important work.

Many teachers within the district will focus on African American heroes and leaders in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month. What does it mean to be a hero? A hero is hard working. A hero is brave. A hero is peaceful. A hero never gives up. Take a moment at home to discuss with your child who your heroes are and why?

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Expectations for Project Based Learning

At our Feb. 7 Half-Day PD, you will have the opportunity to learn more about PBL or Project/Problem Based Learning. If you look at the visual above, you will see that this is about in-depth inquiry. You and your students come up with a topic or topics that cannot be answered by a quick search on the internet. Kids then research the answers and information and synthesize what they've learned in order to share it with a public audience.

I would like each grade level to bite off some level of PBL second semester. This can be done as a whole grade level or in partnerships. Kristin Hicks, Deb Carrell, Leslie Stiers, Katherine Reed, Susan Drumm, Kelly Moore, and/or I are ready, willing, and able to collaborate with you. This is not something you have to figure out yourself. Help is available. If you need time, let's look at how we can use our permanent sub(s) when they are not assigned to a building to teach in a classroom. This is at least one option.

Project/Problem based learning. Big question, many choices and ways of getting to the answer. Sharing with a public audience. This is the real deal for why we are helping our students learn. We need them to have the skills it takes to find answers to questions and plan for problem solving.

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Looking Ahead

Monday, Jan. 27 Day 3
  • Pledge - Turner
  • 1:50 Stakeholder - KG
  • 3:10 Collab - K

Tuesday, Jan. 28 Day 4
  • 8:00 Interest Group PD with Meg - PD room
  • 10-11 ISTEP Stress Test
  • 3:10 Collab - Team 1
  • 7:00 PTO Executive Board meeting

Wednesday, Jan. 29 Day 1
  • 3:10 Data collab - Team 2

Thursday, Jan. 30 Day 2

  • 8:00 Office meeting
  • 3:00 Fire Drill
  • 3:10 Collab - Team 3

Friday, Jan. 31 Day 3

  • Super Friday - Wear your favorite football shirt
  • 1:00-3:30 Counselors' mtg - Melissa gone
  • 3:00 Fire Drill if too cold on Thursday
  • 3:10 Collab - Team 4

Saturday, Feb. 1

  • 6:00 Daddy-Daughter Dance

Monday, Feb. 3 Day 4

  • Pledge - Sewell
  • 3:10 Data Collab - K

Tuesday, Feb. 4 Day 1

  • 1:00-3:00 Elementary Principals' mtg - Lisa gone
  • 3:10 Data Collab - Team 1
  • 7:00 PTO Open Forum in art room

Wednesday, Feb. 5 Day 2

  • 9:30-11:00 Budget committee mtg - Lisa gone
  • 3:10 PD Collab - Team 2

Thursday, Feb. 6 Day 3

  • 8:00 Office meeting
  • 3:10 Data collab - Team 3
  • 4:15 RtI mtg @ FHS media center

Friday, Feb. 7 Day 4

  • Tie Dye Day
  • 7:50 Student Council
  • 9:30 Assembly - Jim "Basketball" Jones
  • 12:01 Students dismissed
  • 1:00-4:400 Half-day PD - HSE21 focus