High School Grades: What exactly do they mean?

What do HS grades measure?
Many of of our high school classes now use a fully standards-based system to evaluate student progress. While many standards-based high schools use “word” indicators similar to those AISB uses in Elementary and Middle School, our High School program currently uses the familiar letter grade system (A, B, C and so on) to provide a summary grade for the course, with information about student mastery of individual standards in a narrative comment. In essence, the letter grade is a summary of the extent and quality of a student’s performance during the assessment period.

But what does a letter grade mean, in a standards-based system?
In a standards-based system we do not “average” student performances over the the quarter to calculate grades; rather, we look holistically at the student’s work in entirety, and assign a grade based upon the most relevant, most current and best information available. With each assessment, a student is able to demonstrate his or her mastery of the standards -- that is, of the knowledge, skills and understandings currently being taught and assessed.

How do we assign grades?
Students receive feedback on their progress, (often in the form of a formative “grade”) on an ongoing basis throughout the year, and they use this information to determine where to focus their energies and improve their learning. Towards the end of the assessment period (the unit or quarter) teachers look holistically at each student’s work and evaluate the extent to which the student has demonstrated mastery of the unit standards. Quarter and semester grades, like unit grades, are not assigned according to averages or “scores” but rather on a holistic evaluation of the student’s mastery of the standards and readiness to move on to new material.

What counts as an “Assessment”?
Everything that a student does to provide evidence of his or her learning counts as an assessment. This might include comments made during a class discussion or informal written practices, more formal assignments such as projects, seminars, presentations or essays, or traditional pencil-and-paper quizzes and tests. AISB students are encouraged to view their regular assignments both as opportunities to learn, and to demonstrate evidence of their learning. Furthermore, students are encouraged to take every opportunity to demonstrate where their mastery is improving, and may re-submit assignments or propose new ways of demonstrating their learning whenever practical.

What are Summative and Formative Assessments?
Formative assessments are those assessments that take place during the learning process. Teachers use formative assessments to gather information: to gauge students’ learning, to determine where students need more practice or re-teaching, where they might have misconceptions or are ready to move on to more complex work. Formative assessments are an opportunity for the teacher to provide feedback, and for the student to learn. Formative assignments may take the form of practice sets, discussions and classwork, assignments and “homework” of many kinds. Formative assessments are not used to determine a student’s grade, except where an assessment incidentally provides the best and most relevant insights into a student’s learning for that assessment period.

Grades are assigned based upon summative assessments. These are the assessments that take place after a student has had multiple opportunities to learn, practice and reinforce his or her learning -- typically at the end of a unit or set of units. Summative assessments are typically substantial, and ask students to apply all that they have learned in a unit or a given assessment period. In this way, summative assessments demonstrate the “sum” of a student’s learning for that period.

You will find summative letter grades defined for a standards-based system on this document. The descriptors are rather technical, although we have tried to avoid jargon; we’ve tried to strike a balance between accuracy, efficiency and clarity -- not such an easy task, actually!

Please don’t hesitate to come and chat with us about our standards-based approach and the ways in which it supports your child’s learning. We’ll be glad to see you.

 AISB Performance Indicators: Working for a delicate balance

The purpose of the descriptors is to support student learning and empowerment, and to summarize student learning as clearly as possible, for students and parents.

But there is no single perfect way to characterize a student’s learning using only one or two words! AISB’s indicators vary by division, and are designed to be reflective of the needs of our students. They are also more or less typical for international schools around the world. Our overall goal, through the indicators, is to help parents understand something about a) the way AISB teaches and measures student progress, and b) the way students of different ages learn.

We have provided explanations of the descriptors in the links below. Your child’s teachers will also be pleased to provide you with specific illustrations from your child’s work, to show you just what we mean. (Our ultimate aim is for your child to be able to do that, too; look elsewhere in this newsletter on Student-Led Conferences at AISB.)

Elementary has adopted the indicators Independent Performance, Instructional Performance and Introductory Performance to describe student performance of the standards. An elaboration of the Elementary descriptors may be found here.

In Middle School, student mastery of the standards is indicated using Proficient, Progressing Towards the Standard, and Needs Development. You’ll find an elaboration of the MS descriptors here.

High School students receive the familiar A-B-C “letter-grades.” You’ll find an explanation of those here.

“I can” statements: Empowering students to take ownership of their learning
You’ll also notice that in some subject areas, students’ mastery of the standards is expressed using “I can” statements. These statements capture the essence of learning in those subject areas using language that helps students recognize and take ownership of their learning.