This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
This year the School District of Philadelphia has made dramatic changes to report cards in elementary grades. Instead of three report card periods, we now have four. This adds one report card conference for families and teachers. How teachers submit final grades to the report card system has changed as well. Teachers will be able to put all student grades over the course of a marking period into an online gradebook that will in turn send the final averages to the report card system.
GradeSpeed Gradebook by SchoolNet, at its most basic, is the digitized version of the classic vinyl-covered gradebooks that teachers have used for decades. Instead of marking students’ grades with paper and pencil, teachers can enter grades online.
- Teachers create categories of grades that come from our grade-specific guidelines in the student progress record books (SPRBs), more commonly known as the "spare ribs." The weights for each category will be determined by the new SPRBs as well.
- Within each category, teachers list the assignments given to students throughout the marking period.
- As teachers enter the grades students earn on each assignment, GradeSpeed averages the scores. Teachers can factor in dropped grades and scores for retakes as well.
- Progress reports can be generated throughout the term, including current grade average and comments about academic performance and behavior.
- At the end of the marking period, teachers can verify the grades entered and override the grade if necessary.
- Once verified, the grades are sent to the report card system to generate paper report cards.
This year, it is mandated that teachers enter final grades through the GradeSpeed system. Teachers can use the other features as they see fit. Next year, it is planned that teachers will be reporting student grades throughout the marking period. It is also possible that families may be able to access their child’s scores using FamilyNet. This would give families considerably more information on their children’s academic standing throughout the year than ever before. Administrators would also be able to see how individual students are performing just by going online.
I believe teachers will be slow to embrace the coming changes. GradeSpeed Gradebook could provide an unprecedented view of how each teacher is assessing his or her students. While physical gradebooks could always be inspected upon request, at least teachers knew the inspection was happening. Having families know how their child is doing week to week or month to month could be very unsettling for some educators. Every experienced educator can recall an overly pushy or adversarial parent who complained about grades.
Teaching can be a very individual practice, and having many sets of eyes on what you are doing can be intimidating. The standardizing of teaching that started with the core curriculum is sure to advance with the full implementation of GradeSpeed.
Could GradeSpeed be a positive? It depends very much on the culture that springs up around it. Many districts use Charlotte Danielson’s teacher evaluation framework, but Philadelphia implements it in its own way. Teachers reacted negatively last year when rumors spread that teachers weren’t supposed to receive a ‘4’ rating and more teachers needed to receive unsatisfactory ratings than in previous years. It seemed as though the evaluations were more about weeding out weaker teachers than about providing feedback on performance.
GradeSpeed will be embraced if:
- it is used to make teachers’ lives easier.
- it is used to spark discussions among grade groups and content specialists about how assessment is taking place.
- it allows for families to take proactive steps to help struggling students.
- administrators can use GradeSpeed results to counsel teachers about improving their practice.
My fear is that this tool could be squandered like other interventions Philadelphia has implemented in the past. Hopefully, all parties can use this well.