Friday, November 9, 2012

Kickstarter launch of simCEO

Hi all,

I've just completed a  video for Kickstarter to try to raise funds for the development of a virtual student environment for simCEO.

Hoping it brings a smile.
Hoping you see it's potential as a new way that technology can enhance learning.
Hoping you can share it.
Hoping you can support it.


Friday, November 2, 2012

AISB High School grading policies

One of our major initiatives at AISB (American International School of Budapest) over the last year has been our research, discussions, and development of new grading guidelines.

We did this through the work of a Task Force which was one of the most rewarding things I've been a part of in education. We quickly realized how poorly our grading system aligned with academic achievement, and we needed to move closer to an eventual standards-based grading system. We are just beginning Year 2 of this 2-year task force.

The outcome of this process was a 9-page document that the Task Force finalized in April of 2012. (Some pieces of that are copied at the bottom of this post. If anyone desires the full document, email me.)

The new policies were put in place in August, and the results have been a continuation of some very important conversations. Putting this in place has helped to initiate some very meaningful conversations during our common planning time - as teachers try to move toward a more consistent approach to something that has traditionally been a very independent endeavor.

In the process we've also created a one-page classroom poster version of the important points of our guidelines (below0 to help educate/remind students and parents about the changes.

It has truly been a change in culture for everyone, teachers, parents, and students. We'll continue to have discussions, raise awareness, and continue to cross unanticipated barriers along the way. We're not there yet, but I imagine no organization ever is.

I share this in the hopes of ... well, sharing !  And, I welcome any input from others who might be further down this road, or just "pulling out of the driveway".

 One - Page Classroom Poster:  Bullet Points

  1) Grades should convey how well students have individually achieved standards. Unless otherwise indicated in a standard, skills and behaviors such as group/cooperative skills, punctuality, organization, work ethic, etc. will be reported but will not affect the academic grade.

  2) The primary audience for the message conveyed in grades are students, parents and AISB teachers; grading policies should aim to give them useful, timely, actionable information. Administrators and other educational institutions are secondary audiences.

   3) Grading policies will support student motivation to learn. We will aim to minimize situations in which a student’s failure is inevitable. 

·       A student’s grade should be a true representation of his/her academic achievement in meeting the AISB benchmarks.
·       Classroom culminating performances represent the best way for students to demonstrate what they know. This is similar to athletes or musicians who demonstrates their ability in the game or performance. These performances of academic Achievement will equal at least 90% of your grade in each course.
·       Academic Performances will always be pre-announced. They are not surprises. They measure individual achievement of the benchmarks.
·       A student’s grade, through the evaluation of Academic Performances, represents a teacher’s judgment of a student’s ability a particular point in time.
·       A student’s responsibility to complete homework and class work are extremely important for skill development. They allow students to receive feedback – just like a practice. We call them Academic Practice.
·       Without Academic Practice, teachers – as coaches – cannot give feedback in order to improve.
·       The purpose of Academic Practice is to get experience and feedback for Academic Performance. It is for growth, not to earn a grade.
·       Students who show consistent effort and growth should have the opportunity to demo­nstrate that growth through revisions or alternative Academic Performances aimed at our benchmarks.
·       If an individual student struggles with a summative assessment, it is his/her responsibility to inquire about a possible re-assessment. We believe a student’s opportunity for a potential re-assessment should consider the following actions:

o    Require that the original (previously graded) assessment be corrected or rewritten by the student as formative feedback;
o    Require that a re-assessment only be offered for a student who has “worked consistently and in a timely manner to complete and learn from formative assessment along the way;
o    Require that a re-assessment will only be offered for a student who has completed supplementary formative work in the areas in which he/she showed a lack of understanding;
o    A teacher’s professional judgment regarding whether an alternative assessment is needed to protect validity of the assessment/learning.
o    Any combination of the points above.

Summative assessment (academic performance) aims to measure, at a particular point in time, student achievement relative to content standards. Summative assessments:
·       Are scheduled in advance with clear expectations for students,
·       Occur after students have been presented with adequate instruction, practice, opportunities for feedback and time for preparation,
·       Try to measure a student’s unassisted, independent achievement and
·       Can take numerous forms (traditional exams, authentic assessments, problem-based learning, etc.)·        
Formative assessment (academic practice) informs both teaching and learning. Effective formative assessment allows for timely adjustments to teaching and learning. It will affect what the teacher and the student do next. It is concerned with providing accurate and helpful feedback to students and teachers on the kind of learning taking place and the nature of students’ strengths and weaknesses. One distinction between these types of assessments is to think of formative assessments as ‘practice’. Generally, formative assessments do not affect a student’s grade

Some of our guidelines: 
items copied from the full Task Force Guidelines

History and Background

During the previous school year, a task force of high school teachers was set up to investigate best practice in grading and reporting.

This was prompted by the need to align the dual grading structures currently in use in the AISB HS, the A-F letter scale and IB 1-7 number scale. The desired outcome was to ensure a common understanding of grades and grading policy among the AISB school community. After extensive reading on the subject and contacting other leading schools, the task force developed a statement of philosophy about the nature and purpose of grading. This document contains essential belief statements that are research based and intended to guide teacher practice ensuring a consistent approach to grading and reporting in all HS classes.

Issues surrounding school grading policies had been sat the center of our professional development last year. There were presentations at CEESA by keynote speaker and assessment expert, Tom Guskey and the book club study by the HS Subject Coordinators of Ken O‟Conner‟s How to Grade For Learning, K-12. These professional learning experiences motivated the faculty to set up the task force to research this area more extensively and then to translate the theory into our AISB routines.

Selected Excerpts

1. AISB grades student work using criterion-referenced grading (not norm-referenced).
2. The teacher grade book will contain two categories (which can be sub-divided if needed): Formative and Summative. Barring exceptional circumstances (mid-year arrivals, etc.), all summative assessments must be taken by all students in the course.
3. For the 2012-13 year, formative assessment will contribute between 0 and a10% of the overall grade. 

* Violations of Academic Honesty will result in a “V” under the Desire to Learn category of the report card.

8. Late Work:
a.     Late summative assessments will not be penalized for being late (except in cases of unexcused absences and academic dishonesty, see below). Student achievement will be graded and the tardiness of an assignment will be reported.
i.      Students who repeatedly miss summative exams (or make-up exams) with excused absences should be referred to the office where a date for the assessment can be determined (in partnership with the teacher) and the following information is shared in advance with parents, student and teacher:
a.     The make up date and place of exam
b.     The “grade” consequence for missing the newly agreed upon date
ii.     To protect test validity, teachers should consider trying to administer all make-up exams prior to the exam being handed back to the rest of the class. Students who need to make up an exam should expect to face a different exam.  

b.     Late formative assessments will not be penalized for being late.  Once the formative assessment deadline is missed, it is scored with a temporary zero. But the teacher will provide an additional window (e.g. “before the summative exam date”) whereby the student must complete the formative assessment and earn an achievement score (if indeed the formative assessment was scored for all students). It will be noted as late in the grade book. If the student has not turned in the formative assessment after this date, the formative assessment earns a score of zero, assuming of course that it was graded for all other students. 
i.      We encourage teachers to clarify to students that formative work is there to provide practice and feedback for the eventual summative work, not necessarily to earn points directly.
ii.     Students who turn in formative work late close to the date of the summative assessment should understand that they can expect more limited feedback on that work since the student has not left enough time for the teacher to mark and return the work with the same level of feedback; we encourage the teacher to involve the student in deciding which part of the work he/she would like feedback on.  It needs to be clear that a major consequence of late work = potentially limited feedback.
c. Assessments (formative or summative) that are not completed due to Unexcused Absences or violations of Academic Honesty would receive an automatic “V” (Violation) on the Report Card and have the grade reduced by 40% of the actual achievement grade. (E.g., A student skips a class and misses an assessment. When the student finally takes the assessment, he scores a 90%. Because it was an unexcused absence, the score will be reported as 50%, and “V” would go on the Citizenship category of the report card.)
Repeated violations will be treated as serious behavioral violations instead of academic behaviors, and could affect the right to attend AISB.

Suggestions:  High School Grading Practices for 2012-13
The three Fundamental Belief Statements have potential implications for the way in which we as a high school handle many issues.

Aside from what has previously been mentioned above, as a high school we are not recommending any additional guidelines to be drafted. However, teachers should be aware that the Belief Statements do have the potential to alter the way in which we handle day to day issues. More staff-wide discussion in 2012-13 is needed to proceed.  Meanwhile, teachers should look for opportunities to set up practices that are consistent with the Fundamental Belief statements.

We suggest consideration of the following issues.

1.     If many students in one class struggle with a summative assessment, suggested actions include:
·       Work toward common assessments to insure consistent, quality assessments
·       Determine if the test questions were valid, and remove those invalid from the grade calculation.
·       Offer re-teaching of the needed material and/or differentiated instruction for students with varied levels of understanding and consider offering re-assessment of the needed material.

2.     If individual students struggle with a summative assessment, suggested actions include linking the opportunity for a student’s potential re-assessment to:
·       Require that the original (previously graded) assessment be corrected or rewritten by the student as formative feedback;
·       Require that a re-assessment only be offered for a student who has “worked consistently and in a timely manner to complete and learn from formative assessment” along the way;
·       Require that a re-assessment will only be offered for a student who has completed supplementary formative work in the areas in which he/she showed a lack of understanding;
·       Offer a non-traditional assessment (which may save the teacher’s time but still give valid feedback on the student’s understanding of the benchmark). Example: A “re-test” that consists of a one-on-one discussion based on a teacher’s prompts/questions;
·       Any combination of the points above.

3.     To assist students with the completing of work, the following interventions and strategies are suggested:
·       Set clear and reasonable timelines for assignments.
·       Ensure that the expectations for the task/assignment are clearly established and understood.
·       Support the students who will predictably struggle with the task without intervention.
·       Find out why a student’s work is late.
·       Contact their parent(s) about the missing work.
·       Require the student to complete the missing work at school, such as during academic assist, study hall, lunch, before school, after school, a free period, or during class.

4.     Best practices for grading suggest that grades should not represent a mathematical process, but an exercise in a teacher’s professional judgment. For 2012-13, this will be a challenge as we are clearly still determining a grade by using a mathematical calculation (online grade book) as the primary driver. However, other models do exist, and would be supported by the Principal. The following suggestions can help reduce the dependency on a mathematical model of grading.
a.     The use of most recent evidence in evaluating a student’s current level of achievement. (This would involve over-writing the ‘final grade’ mathematical calculation that the computer may produce.)
b.     The over-writing (or erasing) of a student’s poor score on a previous summative assessment for that skill or standard that is covered in a future assessment. E.g.: A student scores poorly on the science skill of writing a “lab write-up with correct format and detail” in September. However, subsequent labs in November and January prove that the student has now achieved proficiency at a much greater level.  To help facilitate possibilities for this to occur, teachers are encouraged
                                       i.     to include multiple opportunities (throughout the year) for students to demonstrate achievement of important standards. For example, offering a Unit 6 exam which includes a few questions from Unit 3.
                                     ii.     To consider which benchmarks or standards might be deemed more important than others (‘super-standards’ or standards that are vital to the course) and try to include these super-standards as the elements that will be re-assessed throughout the year to reinforce the learning as well as give multiple opportunities.
c.     Reducing the possibility that and clarifying the process by which a student would earn the score of a zero.  Zeros, mathematically, are not consistent with the rest of our percentage grading system (60-100) and substantially impact a student’s grade. To help reduce the possibility of earned grades of zero, we suggest:
                                       i.     Grading formative tasks with descriptors (“E” = excellent) instead of numbers.  (This also keeps the student’s focus on learning in the formative stage instead of the grade.)
                                     ii.     Setting clear make-up dates for a missed summative assessment, which balance a teacher’s need to have students master previous material in order to move on with additional material with the student’s desire or need to have enough time to make-up missed formative work, receive formative feedback, and feel prepared for a summative assessment.
                                    iii.     Providing formative feedback (grades or descriptors) that are not influenced by being late.  Feedback should be offered on the quality of work. If the work is handed in late, that is noted elsewhere and points (or descriptors) should not be influenced.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Simulations That Move Students Beyond Decision-Making And Into Evaluation

Picture students as they run the simulated Lemonade Stand. They are faced with a myriad of entrepreneurial choices. Should they order more lemons?  Raise prices? Produce quantities in bulk?  Whether in business or biology, educational simulations aid the shift from students’ recall to the application of knowledge through decision-making.  Research backs up the increase in student learning.

While these types of simulations advance learning, they need to go one step further.

The nature of their set-up and programming is algorithmic. Good choices are rewarded; poor choices punished. Assuming that the decision in question has a guaranteed ‘correct’ choice, this is helpful in allowing students to practice decision-making, and then receiving the immediate feedback.  However, real-world decisions are seldom so black and white. We need to tap into web 2.0 technologies to develop these simulations further -  allowing a student to make decisions and then be immediately evaluated by peers (and the public),  while simultaneously allowing the student to act as an evaluator of his peers’ ideas. We need to mimic the real world where decisions are judged by the public for their merit and feedback does not exclusively rely upon a pre-programmed equation (or on one teacher’s judgement).

More importantly, with such a premise, tomorrow’s simulation can more effectively place students in nuanced, messy scenarios in which student options do not seem to have a clear ‘right option’. These are the environments that our students will encounter in the real world. Algorithmic simulations, by their nature, only provide feedback on the black and white issues, never venturing into the complex areas that Problem-Based Learning proponents have been advocating for years.

For example, the entrepreneurial simulation simCEO ( asks students to create their own business plan and then adjust to dynamic news. These student-created businesses form their own “classroom market” and each student is presented with $10,000 dollars to invest in the businesses of his/her choice.  Strong ideas are rewarded as peers buy more shares. Meaningful adjustments to the business plan along the way are rewarded similarly. Of course, the inverse is true as well.

In our fictional Lemonade Stand, the student is focused on ‘outsmarting the simulation’ by making the correct decisions.  However, in a simulation that stresses evaluation, understanding content (in an academic sense) is not enough.   Students must analyze the full scope of the situation and communicate sound decisions, backed by knowledge, in a way that persuades their peers. After all, isn’t that a better metric for ‘simulating’ the real-world?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Are we bold or old?

My thanks to Patrick Larkin for his blogpost  Are We Teaching To The Modern Definition of Literacy.  It shared a great video from Will Richardson

In it, Richardson speaks to teachers at Proctor Academy. Have a listen.

What I love about these literacy standards is just how clear they are in terms of differentiating themselves from what literacy meant thirty years ago.

They are relevant to me because at the American International School of Budapest we are revising our Walk-Through Observation professional growth process.

This week, we had a visiting consultant Alan Leis in to help us so we were able to devote a significant amount of time to trying to make it better. The discussions are moving us in the right direction.

We've agreed to revise our walk-through instrument, and I'll share the revised version when it's completed. But one great take-away is that all of the principals (and ?all? of the teachers) felt that despite its imperfections, the process was the most effective we had ever used.  (So, we need to celebrate that little victory and keep the process improving.)

I can't help but think that the aspects of the literacy criteria described in the video could play into that observation process to help us be more specific about the types of learning that we want to see for students.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Observing Student Behaviors in Walk Through Observations

As a short follow up to my recent post, it is worth sharing the great work of Stephen Barkley.
He blogs at and I was lucky enough to hear him at our EARCOS Conference in Lisbon earlier this year.

Steve's a very dynamic presenter, but his message struck a chord in me that caused me to re-think the way we at the American International School of Budapest were conducting our Walk-Through observations for professional growth by principals in addition to the criteria that we're trying to develop to help guide our Peer Observation process.

In short, he shared the following diagram and highlighted a missing piece in our process - and I would think in other schools' processes as well.

 Steve walked us through a simple process which I believe could be repeated in many schools.

1. Examine your mission and/or vision statement for learning, and ask staff to list student behaviors that would exemplify the statements in these documents.

2. List a few, our quick list included actions such as "Students who..."
  • respectfully question each other and the teacher
  • naturally self-assess
  • take academic risks
  • pose their own challenging questions about content
  • collaborate and come away with deeper understanding
  • make predictions
  • connect content and construct personal meaning
As he pointed out, a group of educators could quite easily develop a list of 20 student-actions similar to these in about 30 minutes.

3. Put these characteristics into the "look-fors" for any observation tool.

His main point: These student behaviors should be the basis for our observation and follow up discussions. 

If we want to change student achievement, and we want to change it in regards to the criteria that are stated in our mission/vision statements (as opposed to simply our test scores), then we need to be examining the opportunities when we could engage students in this type of learning.

We need to be having discussions about how to increase their frequency.
We need to be talking about whether these opportunities are having an impact on student achievement.

At AISB, our current walk-through model was developed last year and we are looking to evaluate its effectiveness. It does include "Student Behaviors" such as:
- listening
- listening with notes/worksheet
- group work
(and many more)

But a limitation of this is that these student actions are based on general activities without trying to be more specific with the types of learning and thinking that are taking place for the students.  For example, group work can consist of a wide variety of tasks and it is a rather limiting piece of data to say that students are "working in groups."  It gives a snapshot of the classroom activity, but not a good snapshot of what type of thinking students are engaged in.

Are there models out there which have already been developed that look at these types of aspects?
If anyone out there currently utilizes a similar system, what the benefits and potential pitfalls?

Before signing off, there is one other element I love about the way the diagram is depicted. It is neither top-down nor bottom up.
Each of us has a role and can have an influence. But the adoption-flow of this process can start with an individual in the classroom and expand outward to others who wish to be involved, or it can start from the furthest point from student achievement (leadership behaviors) and work its way towards influencing individual student behaviors, and eventual student achievement.