Episode 144 – Look to the right

Good day everyone and welcome back to another scintillating episode of the IT Babble podcast. This episode is pretty darn good. Check out the talking points below.

As always be sure to subscribe to us on iTunes, follow us on Podomatic or subscribe to us using your favorite podcasting app.

  1. The buzz be gone!
  2. Kiddom – A newish LMS for the classroom
    1. www.kiddom.co
    2. An overview video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpwIXxd3nHI
    3. A Silicon Valley startup is quietly taking over U.S. Classrooms by Kia Kokalitcheva from Aixos
    4. https://www.axios.com/a-silicon-valley-startup-is-quietly-taking-over-u-s-classrooms-2511356737.html
    5. Standards driven
  3. Why Perfect Grades Don’t Matter – A Youtube video by The Atlantic
    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=82&v=KShfEMy8UZQ
  4. What is STEAM Education and Why It is the New Engine of the Future Job Market? By Karol Górnowicz CEO of Skriware
    1. https://blog.daftcode.pl/what-is-steam-education-and-why-it-is-the-new-engine-of-the-future-job-market-1c0430587bbf
    2. https://skriware.com/
    3. MIT Fab Lab – http://fab.cba.mit.edu/
    4. Lucid Chart – https://www.lucidchart.com/

You can always download the episode here or listen below.


Grading should be transparent!

Good day reader. Today, I’m going to write an opinion piece about something near and dear to many of our hearts – grades. I believe that grades should be transparent. Doesn’t that sound nice? You bet! it does but what does it mean? Here is what I’m talking about. Of course, I’m still not a fan of weighted grades, but that doesn’t mean I hate all grades.

Students, parents administrators, and, of course, teachers need to know how grades are collected and calculated. It sounds simple enough, but you would be shocked how many of these stake holders have no idea how grades are calculated. This ignorance can cause big problems when parents or students question their grade and the person or institution who is reporting it can’t explain how it came to be. It’s also a little embarrasing too.

I’ve worked in a fair number of schools and in all schools, without exception, there have been a substantial number of people who have no idea how grades work. Shocking – but true. Here are some questions I’ve had to field.

  • If I don’t turn this in, what will happen to that grade?
  • So, this assignment is worth 10 points, does that mean that the final grade will go up 10 percent?
  • When I calculate the grade I get something completely different – is there something wrong with the gradebook?
  • I got this grade on an assignment and my friend got the same grade, but his grade went up more than mine. Why did that happen?
  • I have weighted grades and I got an A- on my quiz and my grade dropped even though I had an A!

The list can go on, and these questions have come from students, teachers, counselors, administrators and parents. It really doesn’t matter who asks the question, the fact that they don’t know boils down to that this person wasn’t taught or didn’t bother to learn and what’s worse is that they are stake holders. So let’s dig deeper.

Don’t point fingers!

When people don’t understand something and it affects them, they become confused, often frustrated and don’t know who to turn to for help. It’s easy to point fingers and start blaming people but this is usually counter productive. Check out the blame game below.

  • Parents can blame teachers for not explaining it to them
  • Students can blame teachers for not explaining it to them
  • Counselors can blame the IT people or the Student Information People for not explaining it to them
  • Administrators can blame teachers for not properly communicating with parents
  • Parents can blame administrators for not forcing or standardizing how grades are reported
  • Students can blame the school for not making it clear how it works
  • Teacher can blame the administrators for not explaining it to them

It can go on and on but one thing that we all know here is that this only makes the situation worse and angers people. It doesn’t work towards the goal that everyone wants – which is a clear explanation of how grades work.

First move – write a policy

Decide what type of grading system you want. Is it going to be weighted, averaged points or a set number of points that all teachers must use. I am sure there are other options out there, but the school needs to settle on one and the entire teaching staff must abide by and use it. No odd one’s out. That way students, teachers and administrators know the basics of all grading in all classes.

This way if there is a parent meeting about grades, the “how question” has already been answered, understood and can quickly be addressed. Even if the parent isn’t familiar, if the administration can point to documentation sent home and visible policies regarding grading, it will move the conversation onto more important questions such as “Why?”, “What can be done?”

Next – Identify an expert

Now that policies have been set there needs to be an “expert” in the school. Someone where students, parents, other teachers or administrators can go to ask about grades and handle these unknown questions. This person should have the ability to at least view everyone’s gradebook. In short it this perosn is a point of contact.

They should also be someone who is very available to all stakeholders. I tend to think that counselors should be this person, if not a counselor, then an IT coordinator or principal. Definitely an educator for sure. Someone who knows the kids and is familiar with working with parents.

True story. I was at a school and had to mark a students quarterly grades as incomplete. I didn’t know how to do it and emailed a few people, but no one got back to me, so I went ahead and submitted my grades thinking that someoone would catch it and fix it. The next day I received no less than seven emails telling me to change it and was visited by five people telling me the same thing. When I asked how to do this – no one could answer. I was upset, frustrated and the knowledge base for the program did not address this issue. In short, I was being asked to do something from a group of people and no one could give me an answer. I later learned that I needed to go to the IT department. Since no expert had been pointed out, something that should have been answered in an email took three days to figure out.

Training and testing the staff

Yep – you read it correctly – training and testing the staff. I’ve sent out all staff emails with important information before only to have that important information ignored. You can’t trust people to read their email or follow a set of directions. There needs to be a workshop and accountability. This should be run and organized by the “expert.”

It should not just be a workshop where someone walks the teachers through the grading policy. There should also be a test. This is to ensure the administration that the teaching staff not just knows but understands the policy and how it applies to their specific class.

Communication – with students

Students need to also understand how grades are calculated. Again, it shouldn’t be a handout or a teacher standing up there talking at the students. They should be shown how to access their grades (if that is an option) and make sure they actually can.

They should also know who to go to if they lose access to that system. That person is should the grading “expert” or maybe it is an IT person since it deals with an IT system.

Students should also be given or shown how to create their own gradebook on a spreadsheet. While having access to their grades online is good, it often does not give them a deep understanding of their grades. Having them to keep track of their own gives them a deeper sense of ownership and the ability to “play” with their grades to see how certain assignments can benefit or hurt their grade in certain situations.

Also, if students understand how grades work, they can work with their parents, thus making their parents a larger part of the educational and learning process. Usually a very good situation.

Communication – with parents

Parents also need access to the online grades (if your school has it). This is usually done through email, but there should also be an opportunity when parents can come after school for a workshop. Again, this should be organized by the “expert.” It gives a face to a name and is a gesture that is quite often appreciated by the parent community and this goodwill goes a long way.

Parents also need to know how to calculate grades. Trust me, this will save a bunch of emails later on in the year if parents understand how grades work.

Post info online

Finally, guides shou ld be created and posted online. These guides should be available to anyone. If you can point parents, students and others with basic questions here, this will save lots of time and confusion.

Wrapping it up

This is a long post, I know, but it’s important. This is a lot of work to be done at the beginning of the year, but if everyone knows where the expectation is and if people know what they are expected to know – it gets a lot of procedural questions out of the way and lets everyone get down to the important business of teaching and learning.

How a ‘C-‘ Can Be a Good Thing

It’s about getting things down to one number. Using the stats the way we read them, we’ll find value in players that no one else can see.~ Moneyball 

I often take ideas and assign a numerical scale to them, in order to compare them to other things. I always tell people that they can “make their own math”. Most people just stare at me blankly, and others just laugh like I am joking.

Believe me, all that math you may have partially studied in school is useful. Somewhere along the line someone forgot to add a few key points to the math textbooks. For example emphasising  that if a bunch of people sitting in a room can decide if a movie is a G, PG, PG-13, etc., then any group of people sitting in any room can do the same thing.

Even though they do not realize it, educators do this all the time when they make decisions about grading, grading scales, and standards. Recently I have been looking at grading scales for a Shanghai Primary School, a Shanghai Middle School, a year 9-10 IGCSE program, and a year 11-12 IB program. In my current position I am involved in implementing these scales among a common population of students.

These students will start on one scale and finish on another. They will go from letters, to numbers, to different letters, and back to numbers.

It is perplexing when considering the transcript and the key needed to decode the transcript.

I think the way schools report progress is a bit insane. It seems logical to give a student a number or letter and say, “This = Good and That = Bad” . However, over the course of time, the standards connected to these metrics change. So the logic does not hold up.

Trying to report the standards seems logical, but the number of standards per student, per subject, and per grade overtime would be overwhelming for most people to read and interpret.

So how should schools get things down to one number, using the information the way parents and students need to read it?

I suggest the answer is to stop reporting numbers and letters, and to start reporting trend lines. 


Trend lines not only show a student’s performance  overtime, they clearly show if the student is on a steady, moderate, or rapid incline or decline. A trend line can group categories of things into single points, and those points can be reviewed quickly. Any points of concern can be expanded for conversation.

The most interesting thing is that a student who previously had an ‘F’ in science, but now has a ‘C-‘, will appear to be improving (Which is good, because they are improving). A grade of 55 that is now a 71 shows a 30% improvement. If this was a mutual fund, you would be smiling.

Currently, what do parents and students see in this situation? They see an ‘F’, and a ‘C-‘.
That does not seem like much of an improvement when the grade is explained as below average and described as needing significant improvement.  An 81 changing to a 91 looks great, but that is just a 10% improvement.

The truth is, the trend line would show not only improvement but some degree of effort. Effort that is not calculated by someone’s opinion, but through the interpretation of data.

Tony DePrato