Tracking your Child’s Progress

It’s hard to believe that we are already half way through our first quarter of the year! Our teachers have spent much of this time getting to know their students and introducing our big question for the year, “What’s Your Mark?” Each class is diving into this question in different ways and students are beginning to explore their unique passions and talents while they develop their academic skills. 

I hope you are beginning to see just how different your child’s school experience is to what you may have experienced as a student. We are intentional about designing learning environments and opportunities to meet the needs of students today and this often means that it’s different than what you remember about school as a parent. 

In today’s blog I’m going to explain a little more in-depth about our assessment and grading process at GCA. When you enrolled in our new student-centered program you learned that we are focused on MASTERY and that means helping each child grow from where they are now to master the essential knowledge and skills at each grade level in the Ohio Academic Content Standards. 

Later this week you will receive information about your student’s progress. At GCA, we call these progress notes. Progress notes are all about COMMUNICATION and FEEDBACK. I encourage you to continue reading more about what to expect and why we do assessments and grading differently. 

The Big Why?

Ultimately, what will matter is what you know and can do!

Our focus is to make sure your child masters what they need to know and do at every grade level, so we can’t settle for points and letter grades that tell us nothing about their actual knowledge and abilities. As many of you have heard me say on the tour, when your child someday sits in front of an ACT or SAT test, their GPA will not matter. What will matter is what they know and can do! Too many students find out too late that they are not equipped with the knowledge and skills to be successful.

Our approach is different for those of us raised to pursue, calculate and average points as a measure of how we were doing but it is driven by research and what has been proven to lead to long-term student achievement. We have to work as a team to stay focused on what matters most for your child - mastery of essential knowledge and skills. One of our tools to work as a team is through progress notes.

What are progress notes? 

Progress notes are a way to communicate what your child is working on and how they are doing. These notes are specific and detailed and are used as a springboard for future and ongoing conversations with parents about each child’s progress. 

The feedback shared through progress notes is critical to parents and teachers being on the same page about each student’s path to success. Each student’s journey to mastery may look different and teachers will use progress notes as an opportunity to communicate with parents about their child’s route to success. 

Progress notes do two things: 

  1. Describe what students in the class have been learning. 

  2. Offer feedback about an individual student’s progress to indicate if the student is on-track or needs help accelerating progress on certain skills. 

You have a progress note, now what? 

Progress notes are a great tool to stay informed about your child’s growth. Please take the time to read your child’s note when it is posted. Soon after progress notes are shared, teachers will begin scheduling parent conferences so that you can sit down and discuss your child’s progress with their teacher. 

We believe that parents, teachers and students are a team and we all work together to help a student build the skills and knowledge they need in order to be successful at GCA and beyond. 

How does a progress note help me know about mastery? 

The progress notes leading up to each report card provide parents a glimpse of whether the pace of their child’s progress is on track or needs some extra effort to keep moving toward mastery on schedule. 

Each student begins the year at their own level and works to achieve mastery of the essential Ohio Academic Content standards. No child’s progress looks the same. Teachers design instruction all year with this goal in mind for each student and plan what progress looks like and what milestones of mastery will be measured on the way toward mastery of the grade level standards. (Students in a blended age learning environment are tracked on progress on the content standards for their current grade based on their age.) 

What does “mastery” mean? 

When students master content they are going beyond simple, rote memorization and recall for tests. Grant Wiggins, well-known author and expert on mastery grading says, “students have mastered a subject when they are fluent, even creative, in using their knowledge, skills, and understanding in key performance challenges and contexts at the heart of that subject, as measured against valid and high standards.” (Wiggins, “How Good Is Good Enough?,” 2014). 

Here is the key to the research about what really matters: mastery is all about applying knowledge, not simply being able to reiterate information on a test.

The concept of mastery has existed since the days of apprenticeships and was first applied to the modern education system in the 1970s by researcher Benjamin Bloom.  Bloom believed that all students can attain mastery of any learning task if provided with enough time and favorable learning conditions. (Guskey, Anerman, “In Search of a Useful Definition of Mastery,” 2014).

That is what we strive to do at GCA with our mastery-based learning approach. We have created learning environments that give students responsibility, flexibility and creative outlets, we provide extra support to students when needed and engage students in their interests while teaching the standards students need to master.

How do teachers measure mastery? 

In a true mastery-based learning environment like GCA, teachers are continuously measuring student’s progression toward mastery through many assignments and opportunities for students to apply their knowledge through a variety of tasks and projects. Students are given ongoing feedback throughout their assignments and have multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency and mastery. We do not expect students to take one test to determine if they have mastered content.

Just as coaches run plays with their athletes over and over until they have mastered it before a game, our teachers allow students multiple opportunities to work on tasks until they achieve success. Timely and consistent feedback is key to this process. If a coach never communicated the areas of weakness in the play, the team wouldn’t be able to successfully execute the play on gameday. In the same way, students need consistent and timely feedback to guide them toward mastery so that they can be successful.