I’m excited to take part in #IMMOOC, another brilliant and innovative idea by George Couros! This blog post is in response to the blog prompt “How are you embracing change to spur innovation in your own context?”
Two years ago Vermont enacted legislation requiring high schools to use proficiency-based graduation requirements rather than carnegie units and seat time. At this time, our faculty was reading Mindset by Carol Dweck. The result of this whole faculty book read was a lot of questions about the teacher moves and the school-wide systems and structures that did not communicate the message of a growth mindset. One such system was our grading and reporting system.
Proficiencies and Grades Don’t Mix
As teachers began to transform their classroom practice to be more explicitly tied to standards as well as demonstrate a growth mindset, they became increasingly frustrated with the constant tension between grades and learning. We were telling kids we wanted them to keep at it, failing was part of the learning process, and that it was okay to fail but then we were putting grades into our grading system “at least every two weeks” in order to make sure parents could keep on top of progress. The idea of proficiency-based learning is that there is a target that students can continue to work toward until they meet it and there is an expectation that students will learn. While failure is an expected part of this process, it is not an option as the end game. Grades always have a time factor attached, an ending point that isn’t attached to learning in any way.
Do We Have Three Heads?
I work with a lot of teachers and I was hearing them complain about this dichotomy day after day. Grades are so ingrained and so much a part of what school is, nobody was even considering what things could look like without grades. So, I embraced the change to proficiency-based learning and the tension people were feeling with grades. I asked, “what if we didn’t have grades”? Since that time, we have searched high and low for models of schools with no grades especially examples in public schools. In case you are wondering, there are none. None that don’t have some sort of choice attached anyway. This has led us down a path of trying to figure out how we could report progress in a proficiency-based system without the use of a grade. We are close. People look at us like we have three heads when we tell them what we are trying to do. This is because most people are starting to make the switch to a proficiency-based system by starting with their reporting system. I am predicting that in five years, as classroom practices really make the shift to proficiency-based learning, people won’t think we are so nuts. Maybe that makes us innovators?
When I see opportunities that people think are not possible or crazy; when they list all the reasons why not? I ask, how could we? What if? And that’s how I embrace change and spur innovation in our little corner of the world.