Thursday, May 24, 2018

Standards Based Reporting

Standards Based Reporting
A principal gives us pause with some analytical thoughts on grading

by Erik Ormberg

On May 9th I sat in on a Sociology class as middle school principal Nat Vaughn presented on Standards Based Reporting.  I had heard about SBR in passing, but my knowledge remains limited. The only way I see SBR in action, in my mind, is when I look at my 9 year old’s 3rd grade report card.

Mr. Vaughn started off by asking the class “What’s the goal?  What are you here for?”

“To learn.”

He asked the students about how easy it is for them to pick out the “easy” teachers and the “hard” teachers.  Most of those opinions are created by the traditional A-F grading scale. Simple formula….the teacher who gives the most As is “easy” and the teacher who doesn’t is “hard.”  There was general agreement about these statements.

Mr. Vaughn then went off on the arbitrary nature of letter grades (the D+ always fascinated me….”you are doing excellently poor work”) and the even more inane “Comment Section”.  The canned two-comment component has long been established as protocol on report cards at both the high school and middle school. Report cards are littered with the non-academically pointed “pleasure to have in class,” or hard-hitting, “missing work has impacted grade” or the telling, “conduct good.”

One student pushed back by saying that their parents only cared about the comments and that the grades didn’t matter.  A telling sidebar as to what some people really want to see on a report card:  honest feedback that goes well beyond a random collection of quiz grades, test grades, homework grades, lab grades combined with extra credit, re-dos, book reports, test corrections, group projects, presentations, attendance and alternate assessments.

The main area of focus, as described by Mr. Vaughn, revolved around offering “an equitable experience for kids.”  Grading lacks consistency across disciplines and, oftentimes within disciplines.  

Mr. Vaughn shared a GRADE DISTRIBUTION REPORT showing three teachers who teach the same subject in the same grade.  In terms of “As” one teacher gave 19%, another 71% and another 54%. After seeing this deviation a decade ago, Mr. Vaughn started asking some questions about that lack of consistency.

After consulting with members of the math department Mr. Vaughn asked about “acceptable variations” on grade reports.  His findings concluded that 10% would be the acceptable variation. Given how far off the variation was he started to look at reasons why:

  • Is it different expectations?
  • Different types of assignments?
  • Teaching style?
  • How teachers weigh each grade?
  • Scaling?
  • Bonus questions/Extra Credit?
  • Calculator?
  • Partial credit?
  • Quiz/Test corrections?
  • Homework passes?
  • Drop the lowest grade?

Many of us in education...teachers/students/parents enjoy the perks of the homework pass or the policy of dropping the lowest grade.  We seem to like it when it benefits us.  But when we start looking at averages and the deviations that exist all of sudden our public school mandate that states all kids should be given a FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education) is called into question.

Mr. Vaughn then started to look at those “averages”.  Can students with the same grade be completely different students?  One student is a “grinder,” does all the homework and in-class assignments, but just doesn’t test well.  Another student, with the same grade, does half the homework assigned, pays little to no attention in class, but aces the tests.  If the student and parents see the same grade what might be more important is what is “behind the grade”: work ethic, group participation, willingness to push the conversation in class, effort and self-advocacy.

There were two slides in the powerpoint that captured my attention.  The first was a slide showed how most of the New England region is embracing SBR.  Massachusetts remains the one state not embracing SBR. The other interesting slide showed what traits people in the business world are looking for in a quality job applicant.

Top three: Bottom three:
Problem Solving Numeracy
Team work Emotional Intelligence
Communication Entrepreneurship

Do grades allow us to provide any feedback on these and other life skills and learning skills?  Are we accurately assessing students on CONTENT STANDARDS and LEARNING SKILLS when we give them grades?  

In thinking about how much technology has impacted the education of Medfield students in just the past five years I can think of other skill sets that are applied each day and graded and commented on through a system that seems far more draconian than cutting edge.

Mr. Vaughn stated that he likes “push back” from students and staff and today was not the day for that.  My question wasn’t WHY?.....but WHEN? Who will be first to rip down the old grading scale and integrate what we know are more telling descriptors of student learning.

As a high school guidance counselor I give much more than a cursory glance at a student’s transcript when I am writing a letter of recommendation.  But what I rely on more than GPA, ACT and SAT is our twenty-question Counselor Recommendation Form. Here is where we ask kids about their passions, how they deal with adversity, what their strengths and weaknesses are.  That form is much more telling of who the child is as a learner, musician, athlete, community servant or thespian.

Clearly Mr. Vaughn is passionate about the topic of SBR.  During a ninety minute block period he captivated the juniors and seniors in the class.  He took questions and provided some personal anecdotes about how kids learn differently, even sharing a story of a friend who hated his schooling experience all the way through college.  That friend has gone on to lead a very successful life with a fulfilling family and job.

After the presentation another discussion was had about providing staff the appropriate amount of time to do meaningful reflection and offer meaningful feedback for students--something that goes far beyond the “pleasure to have in class,” feedback we currently provide.  Many things need to change in order for this initiative to:
  1. Be meaningful for all
  2. Be accepted wholly as acceptable change
  3. Be more than a one-year initiative

My hope is that our current grading system moves in a direction that is more consistent for kids.  An argument was made today for Standards Based Reporting and, quite honestly, there wasn’t much pushback in the room.  

One of Mr. Vaughn’s final thoughts echoed as the students dispersed, “Students can learn without grades, but they can’t learn without timely, descriptive feedback.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Courageous Conversations: ADL’s 24th Annual Youth Congress

by Matt Marenghi

The Blake Middle School Anti-Defamation League Peer Leaders made their annual trip to Boston this past Friday, April 13 for ADL’s 24th annual Youth Congress. Not only were this year’s speakers fantastic, a group of our veteran ADL Peer Leaders (Zoe, Sophia, and Freya) actually ran a breakout session.

We first heard from sisters Deanna and Mya Cook, students who had received multiple detentions at school for having hair extensions. The sisters felt that their hair extensions are reflective of their culture and identity, and thus any effort to not allow them would be discriminatory. They led a courageous fight to end their school’s discriminatory hair policy and inspired all of us in the same. “To make changes you have to make others aware. If I had stayed silent and removed my braids, the school would have continued doing it to other girls.”

The keynote speaker was Brittany Packnett, an educator, writer, and national leader in social justice that stood in protest on the front lines in Ferguson, Missouri. The passion for justice with which she spoke infected and inspired all of us. As much I was engaged, it was more satisfying to see how these speakers engaged our students. As Ms. Packnett exclaimed, “Courage is scary but silence is scarier. Never underestimate your power as students to change the world!”

A shot of fellow guidance counselor Ms. Allen and I with our peer leaders at the ADL Youth Congress
(I am flash sensitive, not asleep :)

Our own ADL Peer Leaders, Zoe, Sophia, and Freya did an awesome job leading their breakout session, giving a lesson in tolerance and understanding to other New England area middle schoolers. The rest of our Peer Leaders were fortunate to attend their own breakout sessions, getting the opportunity to connect with Peer Leaders from other area schools.

As is the case every year, I feel so fortunate to bring students from Blake to this event. It is truly a highlight for Blake’s ADL Peer Leader program.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

“Let them drive the process….”

by Erik Ormberg

Five senior parents reflect on the future planning process

In early April the MHS Guidance office invited junior parents to hear from a panel of five senior parents as they shared thoughts on the future planning process. After two future planning events, two visits to classrooms and an upcoming college fair it was time for the guidance counselors to step aside, stop talking and let the parents in the trenches shares some insights, anecdotes and trade secrets.

We had a nice mix of “landing” spots. Two of the parents had kids committed to Providence College, two more were on the fence, one with Villanova and one with Temple and a final speaker’s child was going to decide between Loyola, Maryland or High Point University. The event was moderated by third-year guidance counselor, Kathy Mahoney.

Guidance department head, Stephanie Worthley kicked things off by welcoming the crowd of about forty and quickly turned things over to the panel.

Some general takeaways:
  • Tremendous stock was put in visiting colleges while school was in session and not during the quieter summer months.
  • Get a jump on essay writing and try to complete the common application over the summer.
  • Respect where each individual kid is in the process and allow a conversation to be had, or a spreadsheet designed or an essay assignment “outsourced” to a tutor.
  • Give the college admissions tests (ACT/SAT) their due diligence, but don’t sign up to take them more than 2 or 3 times.
  • Letting the students drive the process.
That last takeaway was a common thread that tied the entire morning together. As parents of seniors began the process they were intent on guiding their child and not becoming an overbearing presence amid the challenging timeframe of future planning with it’s written and unwritten deadlines.

One parent shared how their family began the process. The student was asked to come up with twenty schools based on interest. That list was then whittled down after a few visits and further research. She went on to explain that as a junior her son “THOUGHT” he wanted to go far from home, but as the sense of urgency became more real and vivid, he tended to look at schools closer to home.

At the end of the day is was clear to the audience that these five parents were not looking to relive a visceral experience through their children. A sense of individual pride permeated the discussion. And that pride wasn’t based on competitiveness or winning any specific brass ring. The pride was based on the fact that each parent knew their child had great options ahead of them.

And the driving force behind that? They let their child drive the process.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Sophomore Parent Night Recap

by Julia St. Jean

March 22, 2018 was the first annual Sophomore Parent Night run by the Guidance Department. The evening was filled with guidance-related information for sophomores, including a thorough junior year timeline, an overview of the sophomore guidance curriculum, an emphasis on the importance of life balance, an introduction into college and career readiness tools, and much more. In case you missed it, here are some takeaways from Stephanie Worthley, Russell Becker, Kathy Mahoney, Erik Ormberg, and Amanda Padden!

Sophomore Curriculum
During sophomore year, the Guidance Department connects with the entire sophomore class in classrooms about relevant topics to keep on their radar. During this interaction, counselors address and define high school transcripts, GPA and graduation requirements. Counselors also introduce Naviance (our online college and career platform) and it’s particular career exploration tools, including a Career Interests Profiler, which asks students a series of questions in order to determine which careers may be good fits as well as help students understand and set up resumes. These classroom visits get the process started in thinking about postgraduate plans as they relate to careers and best preparing students for their futures.

What Can Sophomores Do Now?
  • Attend the TEC College Fair at Westwood High School, which will be held on Wednesday, March 28, from 6:30-8:30
  • Career Speakers are coming to Medfield High! Individuals from different professions, including a Pediatric Nurse, Psychologist, Engineer, Sports Broadcaster, ESPN Talent Producer, Business Professional, and Teacher, are coming to visit the school to discuss the ins and outs of their particular career path.
Resources for Sophomores with Amanda Padden and Kathy Mahoney

In this breakout session, counselors drove home the importance of viewing sophomore year as a time of exploration and curiosity- what are your strengths and interests? How can you complement these through various types of involvement and conversations? We then walked through different available resources that help to support that exploration, including Naviance and Big Future- particularly which careers may be a good fit, how to get there, and what courses may be helpful to take.

Balance with Erik Ormberg and Russell Becker

Guidance Counselor Erik Ormberg and Adjustment Counselor Russell Becker focused on the importance of balance for high school students, encouraged families to discuss how they define success and how to accept and learn from stumbles along the way. They also spoke about mental health statistics in the greater Boston area and different mental health resources available to students and families, including speaking with our School Adjustment Counselor and reaching out to the Interface Helpline at 1-888-244-6843, which helps to connect individuals to therapists in the area.

Breakout Sessions: 
Guide to Postsecondary Planning for Students with Disabilities with Kathy Mahoney
Alternative Future Plans with Amanda Padden
Postgraduate Planning for Artists, Athletes, and Musicians with Erik Ormberg

There is an academic, educational, and career path for each student. While the process may feel daunting (which is very normal!) it is also incredibly exciting. Part of this juxtaposition of feelings is the hefty amount of options for students: what support services are available? What are my options once I receive a high school diploma? What if my college application requires a portfolio? These are all great (and common!) questions. As a Guidance Department, and school, there are resources, and people, here to help, and to hear, your questions, goals, and dreams, which will be unique and subjective for each student. Come visit us in Guidance to speak more about these topics!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

GAP Year Programs

by Amanda Padden

       On Friday, February 2nd, Gap year representatives from Dynamy Internship Year, EF Gap Year, Rustic Pathways, and City Year spoke with interested 10th-12th grade students and their parents. A Gap year is an "experiential semester or year typically taken between high school and college (or whatever your future plan may be) in order to deepen practical, professional, and personal awareness." Below you can find a summary of what each of the programs has to offer.

Dynamy: This program provides students an opportunity to explore potential careers and learn to live independently. Students live in Dynamy provided apartments in Worcester with other Dynamy students and attend their internship site roughly 28 hours a week. 200+ internships are offered, in careers a such as animal care, business, film, radio, and teaching - there’s something for everyone. Depending upon the whether students choose the full year or semester option, students will have between one and three internships. Mondays are workshop days where students learn about communication, independent living, and professional skills. They also have a chance to participate in college seminars offered through Clark University and earn up to 12 college credits. College counseling is available as well.

At the beginning of the program, students spend a week in Maine on an outdoor adventure retreat where they bond with staff and other students before the Gap year begins. Dynamy offers need based financial aid and has rolling admission throughout a student’s senior year until spots are filled.They also offer tours and informational interviews. Check out their website at

EF Gap Year: EF is the same company that Medfield uses for its China and Italy trips. EF Gap Year offers students a chance to travel, learn or continue a world language, participate in community service, and intern in a field of interest. The program starts with an orientation at a castle in London (seriously!) where students get to know their cohort of Gap year students. As part of the orientation they will travel on a welcome tour to London, Amsterdam, Paris, Rome and Barcelona. After this, students will spend six weeks taking language courses at one of EF’s seven language schools in cities like Paris, Barcelona, Tamarindo, and Tokyo while staying with a host family. Next, students will participate in a six-week service learning project in one of six international destinations like the Dominican Republic, Nepal, Peru or Tanzania. Students return home for the holidays and have the option to attend a college application seminar.

When they return from break, students travel on a three week cultural immersion tour in Australia and New Zealand. After that students will start their business internship (offered in eleven international cities) where they will live with another EF Gap year student. The Gap Year ends with a Leadership Academy at the castle in London where students learn leadership skills followed by a tour of Scotland and Ireland where they practice those skills.

If students choose to participate for one semester they will only choose two of three options (service, language, internship) and will not travel to Australia and New Zealand. Applications are rolling until May 31st or until spots fill up. Students can enroll as early as their junior year, but most apply during senior year.

Rustic Pathways: This program offers students an opportunity to travel abroad and participate in community service. Students pick a region of interest and will travel to various countries within that region while participating in different service projects. There are typically fifteen students in a group, two program leaders, and local guides in each destination. Examples of programs are Spanish Immersion and Service and South Pacific Service and Ocean Skills.

Other specialized programs like “Come with Nothing” offers an experience where students bring one carry on bag and five items and have to shop for clothes and other supplies at a local market to sustain them throughout the trip. Students will live, work, and participate in community service.

Dates vary depending on the program destination. Rustic Pathways also offers summer programs if students do not want to participate during the academic year. Scholarships are offered and program applications deadlines vary. Check out their website at

City Year: This program is for students interested in dedicating a year of service to students who are at risk of dropping out of school. City Year volunteers focus on student attendance, behavior, and the their ability to access the curriculum. City Year volunteers are assigned to a classroom where there is a primary teacher. Volunteers build relationships with the students in the classroom who are most at risk. Volunteers will be trained for one month before they are assigned to a site. Volunteers can choose to live at home or be assigned to a site in another US city and live in an apartment. Volunteers receive a stipend of roughly $630 every two weeks and can apply through City Year for food stamps to pay for groceries. Volunteers are in the classroom Mondays through Thursdays and spend Fridays with their City Year cohort.

Upon completion of the program, volunteers earn a financial award called the Segal Education Award of roughly $6,000 which can be used to pay off college debt or be put toward future schooling. City Year partners with colleges like Wheelock and Bentley which offer students incredible financial aid awards to City year alums. The application process includes talking with a recruiter, filling out an application, and having an interview. There are various deadlines throughout a student’s senior year with the next deadline coming up in early March, 2018. This is a well known program that has a huge alumni network. Many graduates of City Year are later hired by City year alums. This is a great opportunity for students interested in careers in education, helping professions, and working with youth.

       Guidance counselors are available to work individually with students on the Gap year application process. See your counselor if you are interested in a Gap year or stop by the guidance office to explore the brochures. We want students to know that college is not the only option when it comes to future planning. As always, the guidance counselors look forward to helping students find a future plan that is both exciting and a great match for their skills and interests.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Welcome Ms. St. Jean

We would like to congratulate Mrs. Anne Lodge on the birth of her baby boy, Thomas Edward Lodge! While Mrs. Lodge is out on her maternity leave, we would like to welcome Ms. Julia St. Jean to the MHS Guidance Department. Ms. St. Jean is a graduate of Boston College and was a Mater's Level Research Assistant at Northwestern University. Most recently, Ms. St. Jean has been working as a Guidance Counselor at Bishop Fenwick High School. We are excited to have Ms. St. Jean join our department. Please welcome Ms. St. Jean to MHS!