Tag Archives: grades

Stop the Downturn: Data for Student Support

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

For many years I have been involved in student support planning. As an EdTech professional, I am heavily involved in managing and using student data. Student assessment data is normally used to make lists of students that need support.

The ideal scenario, is that students get the help they need BEFORE the grade falls below the recovery level. There is normally a point in the term where the grade cannot be recovered. The mean will be too low. If the school uses a few final exams to determine the final grade, the situation is even more dire for students who have early downturns.

Here are some recommendations for making certain that you are using student data correctly, and promptly, to support those who are beginning to have unfavorable results.

Set the Bar High

I start my trend analysis at the C+ level, or “average”, level. I look for students who have a C+, and see if they had a C+ the week before. This can be done fairly quickly in a spreadsheet with live data sets.

Students who have moved from a C+ to a C, a C- to a D, etc., would all need a weekly review.

This seems tedious, but I firmly believe interventions need to happen as early as possible in the process.

Do not Assume Students are Lazy

I am often guilty of assuming a student is simply not trying hard enough, or not paying attention. I think this is a very common initial reaction to falling grades.

Every student deserves to have the benefit of the doubt. Take the time to look at least 1-2 weeks back in the grading. Look for courses they are not struggling in, and see how the assessments differ.

Most importantly, take time to engage the student. Ask them about the situation, and listen for clues. Many times teenagers seems cagey, but they simply may not be able to articulate the problem.

Check the Class Average

Class averages often hold insight into student issues. If you have a class, and the average is 80%, and the grade distribution is on a normal curve, then prepare to have many students struggling.

That bottom group of students is going to be fighting all term for a low B or high C (80%-76%). This does not mean they need extra support, but it does mean that they need to be using their time very efficiently. The margin for error, and laziness, is very low.

Also, do not jump to make the class easier. Some topics are tough, and they should be.

Convert Standards Grades to Numbers

This is an internal process. Students and parents will not see the conversion. This is not about creating a 100 point scale. This is simply a better way for administrators to quickly review data. You can use any scale you wish.

If you have only three standard’s indicators, and you are only grading against four standards, you would generate 12 data points, per student, per assessment. That is 216 data points per 18 students, per assignment.

Assigning numbers to letters, using a simple find-and-replace function, would make it possible to run common mathematical analysis.

Require Regular Comments

End of term comments are nice, but they are useless for a true support intervention process. Teachers need to be required to tag assignments at the student level when those assignments indicate a downturn.

Many administrators are often sitting in a room without the teacher trying to understand the data. Simple comments bring clarity to assessment data. This is true even in standards-based environments.

I would even argue semester and trimester comments are useless. Action needs to be swift, and data needs to be updated weekly.

Require Teachers to Update Grades Often

Obviously, without data, no action can transpire. Data needs to be updated every 5-10 school days. If a teachers gives 4 significant assessments in a month, and updates their grades only once every 4-6 weeks, how far will the grade(s) fall before an intervention can happen?

Keep in mind there is a gap between the time the issue is discovered, and the engagement with the student(s). Every day matters. Make a point to be the annoying administrator who is sending “gentle reminders” about grading and data updates.





On Average

It’s Saturday and night and I am writing letters…the same kind of letters that so many heads and principals in international schools are writing… letters of recommendation for just about anyone we have ever worked with who wants a new job. And of course this is a valuable ‘report card’ for the schools seeking to fill vacancies. It’s a reasonable practice, if all involved remain thoughtful and ethical.

But what is NOT reasonable is the double standard that we are asked to apply to teachers versus students in this teacher form of a ‘summative’ report card.

Despite the now long standing practice of working from standards- based curriculum, that final ‘report card’ for kids is all too often an ‘average’ – be it numerical or narrative- of the learning over a whole reporting period…and sometimes over an entire year. I think we all know what averaging is; it combines evidence from the beginning of a period of learning with where they eventually arrived and everywhere along the way. It is one of those practices which NEVER should have been established, NEVER made sense and yet still today grips whole schools – even ‘enlightened’ international schools!

We in the learning business know better than anyone that learning is a process – a process of connecting the unfamiliar to the familiar, determining contexts in which those connections matter, practicing within those contexts, ‘failing’ many times, and making the new learning a routine part of our repertoire. It is a process which unfolds at a personal pace, odd and unpredictable intervals, sometimes as an ‘ah-ha’, sometimes bit by bit. -NONE of these match the ingredients needed to make averaging useful.

Averaging is not just an outdated process; it is actually inaccurate and even unethical, particularly now that learning standards are the norm. Surely we have the obligation to assist the learner in knowing to what extent a standard has been achieved, deemphasizing for the most part how long or how many times it took achieve it.

Serial ‘averagers’, (particularly those in secondary school) have a difficult time letting go. Somehow it is not ‘fair’ to those who learn early and well to allow one who learns more slowly – who EVENTUALLY learns and learns well- to end up with the same ‘grade’. Averaging values the ‘early’, more than the ‘well’. It seems more about ‘equity’ and comparing kids to others than about progress in learning. Essentially, averaging holds kids hostage to early learning attempts and teaches them that failure to learn RIGHT AWAY is a serious offense that they will pay for over and over.

I find the ritual of writing recommendation letters the quintessential opportunity to help teachers better understand why this practice of averaging MUST be fully eliminated. Pretty simple really. To those still wedded to the averaging process for kids, I reply: Yes, I will write you a letter. And it will describe the ‘average’ of the teacher you were in the first year together with all the other years -NOT the brilliant teacher you actually were when we finished our work together. Still want the letter?