Cumberland High School: Starting with Proficiency-Based Grading

July 13, 2016 by
Alan Tenreiro

Alan Tenreiro

I didn’t get a chance to visit Cumberland High School in Rhode Island, but I did have a fascinating conversation with Alan Tenreiro, CHS Principal and NASSP’s 2016 National Principal of the Year. “Standards-based grading is the linchpin, but transparency is what transforms the system,” he said to start out our conversation. “We began with transparency because you have to think about all the other pieces that have to be aligned behind the scenes to make it work. Transparency creates consistency while also creating autonomy for teachers. These are the elements that are going to create more equity for students.”

Proficiency-Based Grading

CHS has created a proficiency-based grading system that is based on student performance levels while transparently converting into a numerical grade. The performance level rubric is designed to create consistent scoring across all staff members, relying on moderate, strong, and distinguished command of the standard. Students receive feedback on how they can improve their performance.

CHS has also eliminated zeros and the D and F. A video on their grading policy describes how the rubric scores are then turned into the numerical scores used to determine A, B, or C.

Grading What? Measurement Standards

CHS academic expectations are organized around measurement standards. Students are assessed against them. There are about four to six measurement standards for each content area and teachers use common scoring guides. An example of a measurement standard might be demonstrating the use of evidence-based claims in a social studies course. Within the academic departments, teachers have worked to create learning progressions around sub-standards – what are the things students need to know and be able to do in order to meet the measurement standard?

Cumberland has developed performance-based assessments, referred to as summative assessments, aligned with the measurement standards. Students are expected to do two to three summative assessments within each marking period. The school has also created a validation process used by the Academic Council to ensure that the performance-based assessments maintain a high level of rigor. As an emerging practice, teachers of the same courses are beginning to use protocols to review assessments.

CHS uses the ASPEN learning information system (LIS) that tracks every measurement standard and every performance-based assessment. This allows for transparency within the school on how teachers are assessing student work. Tenreiro explained, “Teachers need to be able to defend their judgement about student performance.”

Learner Qualities

Cumberland High School has created Learner Qualities (LQ): attitude and mindset; quality producer; respectful citizen; self-directed learner; and collaborative work. Tenreiro explained, “The learner qualities are foundational to academic performance. They are also important so we can recognize those students who are only partially proficient in their measurement standards but are really working hard. ” The LQs are only assessed formatively, with students given the chance to demonstrate them in all of their courses. They use an algorithm to give a numerical score, which is cumulative over the four years of high school. The LQs are used in determining honor roll and virtual credit recovery eligibility. (Scroll down to the bottom for more information on LQs).

The student information system is organized so that students can see how they are doing on academic progress as well as the LQs. Students are scored as met or not met on LQs, and you can’t be on the honor roll without having met all of them. Tenreiro mentioned that they want to build up the school’s capacity to coach students in the LQs given its importance to student achievement.

Building Bridges with Middle School

At this point in time, students are still enrolling in Cumberland with gaps in their learning. The district is just now moving the K-8 system to standards, and is also moving from passing students along to becoming more responsive so that students can build all their foundational skills. There will, of course, always be students who enter high school without meeting all of the eighth grade standards: those with high mobility, those who started at a different point on the learning trajectory and still need more time to catch up, and those with learning challenges. So Cumberland still needs to be ready to respond to a wide range of skills when students enter high school.

The school district has already taken a giant step by having eighth and ninth grade teachers talk together about what students are expected to do when they enter high school. They are planning on creating a common assessment for the end of eighth grade that will be scored collaboratively to help middle school teachers and students strive to meet that level of proficiency. The common assessment also provides ninth grade teachers with an understanding of exactly where each student needs to continue their learning as they make the transition into high school.

Emerging Focus and Emerging Questions

Currently, CHS is very focused on instructional practice. Tenreiro explained, “With clear learning expectations and common summative assessments and scoring guides we are now looking at the design of learning experiences for our students. What instructional strategies are we using and how effectively are we implementing them? Are there ways we can use technology to help deepen the learning experiences? What should we be doing that we currently aren’t to increase engagement so students want to work harder, go deeper, learn more?” He noted, “We emphasize instructional practice above everything else.” (An example of their professional development can be found here.)

Tenreiro shared some of the questions that he has begun to think about, such as Can we reconfigure learning not around grades 9-12, but around our students’ individual staggered learning profiles? Can we design a system that grows students in their deficient skills by a year and three months in a single school year? He also thinks it is important to create strategies that meet the needs of “gap” students. These are the students who aren’t going to qualify for the alternative assessments available to students with special needs, but it is unlikely (and possibly perceived as undesirable by the students themselves) for them to continue trying to reach college-ready proficiency levels in all domains. Do we keep pushing for ways to engage them to put in more effort? Seek out even more effective instructional strategies? Yes we should, but in the short-run, are we not going to give them a high school diploma? That doesn’t seem fair, either. What we need is to have other meaningful credentials that can be organized around what the students can do and can lead to opportunities after high school. Career readiness is the goal, and college is just one pathway toward that end. In conversations with other educators, I’ve heard that this should be a district-level conversation, as it is possible that districts need a wider variety of school design or alternative schools for students who need more support as well as different types of structures for them to be able to thrive.

Cumberland High School

Learner Qualities

Learner Qualities reporting will allow teachers to report out on those habits that reflect students being either post-secondary or ready to pursue college and career. These Learner Qualities were established by working with multiple community groups including students, parents, teachers, and business leaders.

Sample Transcript Report of LQs

LEARNER QUALITIES

9th Grade MET 10th Grade MET 11th Grade MET 12th Grade MET
Attitude and Mindset

Collaborative Worker

Quality Producer

Respectful Citizen

Self-directed Learner

6/7

5/7

5/7

7/7

6/7

Attitude and Mindset

Collaborative Worker

Quality Producer

Respectful Citizen

Self-directed Learner

5/6

5/6

5/6

6/6

5/6

Attitude and Mindset

Collaborative Worker

Quality Producer

Respectful Citizen

Self-directed Learner

7/7

6/7

6/7

7/7

7/7

Attitude and Mindset

Collaborative Worker

Quality Producer

Respectful Citizen

Self-directed Learner

4/5

5/5

5/5

5/5

5/5

Student met 29 out of 35 Student met 26 out of 30 Student met 33 out of 35 Student met 24 out of 25
Student’s Learner Qualities indicate a post-secondary and work force readiness index of (8.96)
 

 

9th Grade MET
Attitude and Mindset

Collaborative Worker

Quality Producer

Respectful Citizen

Self-directed Learner

6/7

5/7

5/7

7/7

6/7

 

Transcripts would reflect performance on the learner qualities for each year of academics. There are five LQs that students will be assessed on. In this first example, this student had 7 classes in which LQs were reported. In Attitude and Mindset he met the expectation in 6 of those 7 classes. This student met the expectation for Collaborative Worker in 5 of the 7 courses enrolled. (5/7 for Quality Producer, 7/7 for Respectful Citizen, and 6/7 for Self-directed Learner.) In total, this student met 29 out of 35 LQs assessed in the 9th grade year.

 

10th Grade MET
Attitude and Mindset

Collaborative Worker

Quality Producer

Respectful Citizen

Self-directed Learner

5/6

5/6

5/6

6/6

5/6

 

You will notice here that this student only had 6 classes where LQs were assessed. There may be some cases where students are working independently on an online course. In those cases, LQs were not applied, and therefore would not be scored. Because this student only had 6 courses, the total number of LQs measured would be 30. For the second year of academics this student achieved 26 out of 30 LQs.

 

Student met 29 out of 35 Student met 26 out of 30 Student met 33 out of 35 Student met 24 out of 25
Student’s Learner Qualities indicate a post-secondary and work force readiness index of (8.96)
 

 

These LQs will result in an index score. This index score is a calculated number that reflects the student’s mindset and attitude towards the qualities we want all students to exhibit in all academic settings. Here the student achieved 29 out of 35 in 9th grade, 26 out of 30 in 10th grade, 33 out of 35 in 11th, and 24 out of 25 in 12th grade. Over this students membership at CHS they have achieved 112 out of a possible 125 assessed LQs. This student met 89.6% (Percentage of possible LQ). Their post-secondary and work force readiness score is an 8.96. (Index score range is 10 to 1.)

 

Learner Qualities Post-secondary and work force readiness score definitions.

10 to 9 Individual is trusted to work independently, take initiative when needed but is equipped to work collaboratively in a joint effort. Individual is trusted to be responsible at all times, use proper language, dress appropriately and respect others while encouraging others to do the same. Individual will embrace and overcome challenges but will seek support when necessary.
8.99 to 7.5 Will work independently and collaboratively when directed. Will demonstrate responsibility in use of proper language, dressing appropriately and respecting others. Individual will put forth a good effort to solve problem before seeking support.
7.49 to 6.5 Will often need guidance and/or supervision when working independently or collaboratively. Individual may produce but will need reminders about proper language and dress. Individual may need redirection back to task and challenges may impede progress.
Less than 6.5 Individual has not yet demonstrated the qualities to sustain success in a post-secondary or work place setting.

 

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1 Comment »

  1. Comment by Amy Rex 12:43 pm, September 5, 2016

    This serves as an outstanding model as to how schools making the shift can communicate and engage with their constituents to build trust, and thus productive partnerships toward a quality, equitable education for all.

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