The Ins and Outs of Grades in Quest Forward Academies
What does it mean to do well in school? Most of us immediately think of getting good grades. This is shaped by our own high school experiences — aiming for the A+ to boost our GPA, getting enough points to squeak by with B or C, or fear of getting a bad grade and having to repeat a course or grade. We spent much of our time thinking and worrying about grades and points instead of focusing on learning, developing new skills, and improving.
At Quest Forward Academies, things work differently than they did for many of us and for many high school students at other schools.
Think about the last time you went to the doctor. She probably told you how you’re doing in a few different areas (e.g., weight, blood pressure, cholesterol) and suggested ways to stay healthy (e.g., eat less red meat or sugar, exercise daily). She didn’t give you a single number or grade, because that doesn’t actually help you to improve.
Feedback on learning should work the same way. However, we recognize that external organizations, such as colleges, have expectations about how performance is communicated, and so we do provide grades on transcripts. And because end-of-term reports are the building blocks of transcripts, we provide grades there as well.
Grades in Quest Forward Academies
Here are a few facts about grades at Quest Forward Academies:
- Our grades are about where you’re going, not where you’ve been. Therefore Term Reports 1, 2, and 3 contain projected grades. If the student keeps doing what they’re doing, they’re likely to have that final grade at the end of term 4. If the student doesn’t like the projected grade, mentors encourage them to take actions to improve — by engaging more, putting forth more effort on artifacts, demonstrating learning skills, and staying on track with completing their work.
- We only calculate projected grades and grades for Term Reports and transcripts. We want to be transparent about grades, but we also don’t want them to be the focus on a day-to-day basis. We don’t keep gradebooks or a secret document with everyone’s grades listed on it. We don’t keep track of points or percentages.
- Grades on Term Reports are based on student learning and growth. Projected and final grades in 2020-21 are determined by a weighted average of learning, work processes (e.g., effort), and progress through courses.
- Grades are generated based on demonstrated results seen in student work products and processes. Grades are determined by students’ progress through quests and journeys and data mentors generate through feedback and assessments provided to students based on the quality of their work. Mentors review and adjust them if needed to ensure they’re accurate.
How We Talk About Performance at the Academies
If you want to know how your student is doing and how they are performing, ask about their engagement, learning outcomes, skills growth, and progress through courses. Doing well in school and good performance at a Quest Forward Academy looks like the following:
They’re engaged. Engagement on average is “medium-high.” (A few off days won’t count against them — they don’t factor into the grade).
They’re demonstrating the intended learning outcomes. Learning on artifacts is “sufficient” on average.
They’re showing growth. Students are showing growth on skills checks and are approaching “proficient.” (While this isn’t factored into grades this school year, it will be in the future.)
They’re working efficiently. They’re creating artifacts on time, putting forth an appropriate amount of effort, and getting an appropriate amount of support from others.
They’re progressing through the course. Students have completed the quests identified as their goal for the term. For most students, that means completing all core and minimum number of choice quests in a journey.
If students are doing these things, they are likely on track to get an A. If a student is looking for the minimum amount of effort that will move them from B territory to A territory, then they are worrying about the wrong things. Focus on learning and the grades will take care of themselves.
We want grades to paint an accurate picture of our students. But they are an oversimplification of student learning and progress. 90% or A- doesn’t tell you anything about how much a student is learning and growing. A more accurate picture will always come from looking at the different dimensions of student performance separately rather than meshing them all together, just like it does when you get feedback from your doctor.
We believe this approach helps students focus more on their learning, skills, and improving, rather than making school all about the grades.
Jolene Zywica, PhD
Dr. Zywica is Opportunity Education's Senior Director of Learning Strategy. She ensures that the resources, tools, and experiences designed for teachers and students effectively support teaching and learning. Prior to joining the team in 2014, Jolene dabbled in teaching both high school and college students, was a high school literacy coach for 5 years, and has spent over 18 years designing and studying the impact of learning programs aimed at engaging students through active learning and technology.