Several years ago, we decided to design a more comprehensive way of evaluating our students’ success in our middle school. We acknowledged that grades are just one measure of how students can experience success in school. In addition, we needed a more holistic way to determine if a student should be retained or promoted to the next grade. We created the Student Accountability Program (SAP). We brainstormed a list of all the ways students can demonstrate success in school. We decided on the following categories: grades, attendance, discipline, a standardized test called Acuity, reading test called STAR, and a bonus section for extra curricular activities. We put all of this together in a Google Spreadsheet we call the SAP Checklist.
Each category is weighted with a different point value. We established benchmark point levels for each category. For example, 48 points are possible in the grades category (above) by the end of the year, but 20 points is the benchmark (“C” average). The sum of all the categories total at the bottom of the checklist (below). The total number of possible points is 90, but the sum of the benchmarks establishes our passing score of 46 points. Multiple formula functions quantify their data and add up the points for them. Students fill in their data in the yellow cells and update each category at the end of each grading period. After the grading period, one of the teachers in each grade sits down with each student one-on-one and the student presents their SAP Checklist.
The SAP has changed our school. Our students are aware of where they are in their education experience, and have ownership in the process. Almost every student knows his or her grades, attendance, Acuity and STAR score as well as overall points. Students, parents, teachers, and administrators are crystal clear about whether a student is on track to pass or fail. The SAP is our homemade RTI (response to intervention), which allows us to identify students who are in danger of failure so we can take corrective measures. This system serves the full spectrum of students. We award “Honors” medals to those above 80 points and a special medal to the highest score in each grade– the valedictorian.
This has been a grassroots process by our staff that has evolved each year with feedback from students, parents, teachers, and administrators. We are constantly assessing our own assessments because so much of what we do in education is driven by how we assess. This year students in 7th grade are making digital portfolios, with their checklist embedded into their portfolio (ex. 1, ex. 2, ex. 3). We are currently working on a skill-based evaluation tool called the Apache Learning Essentials (left) that will likely change our SAP Checklist. One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Will Richardson, “If we don’t assess what we value, we will will end up valuing what we assess”.
Justin Vail teaches 7th grade social studies at Wabash Middle School in Wabash, Indiana. He also provides instructional technology support in his 1-to-1 school district, currently in its second year of 1-to-1 implementation. He blogs about 21st Century education reform practices with his fellow math teacher Joey Till at http://www.educationshift.net/. They also share a Twitter account at @ED_SHIFT.