Category: school

What Are Your Feelings on Yearbooks?

Tomas is in high school now, and we just got the order form for his yearbook. Denisa looked at it and wondered why in the world they were that expensive ($60 or so?), and why anyone would want one.

Honestly, it was the first time I’d ever even asked myself that question. For me growing up, a yearbook was just something you always got. My first instinct was to say “Of course he needs a yearbook. What else is he going to be doing at the end of the year while everyone’s getting signatures in theirs?” Though of course Denisa wouldn’t know anything about that, mainly because the yearbooks I have sit on my shelf and do nothing but gather dust.

Which made me begin to question my first instinct. I’m likely going to get those yearbooks down off the shelf and leaf through them again, but I wondered what everyone else thought about yearbooks in general.

For the sake of Denisa, allow me to give a bit of background on yearbooks. They typically have a class picture for everyone in the school (freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Also teachers and administrators.) In addition, they have pictures of people in clubs and groups (music groups, sports, drama, etc.) It keeps a record of what happened in the year, though it’s primarily focused on seniors. (In my yearbook, sophomores got very small pictures in it, juniors bigger pictures, and seniors the biggest, in color.)

The last week or two of school, you get your yearbook and spend time getting signatures from your friends and (possibly) some teachers. Often the signatures come with a note of some sort. “Have a great summer” if you’re just acquaintances, and something more personalized if you’re better friends. Actually, now that I describe it, I want to check out my yearbooks even more, which maybe answers the question for me.

It’s true that Facebook and other social media has made it that much easier to keep in contact with everyone you want to stay in touch with, but yearbooks offer the chance to take a snapshot of how things were those years. I’m a sucker for nostalgia, and all that nostalgia at $60 seems like a deal.

But what think you all? Are yearbooks worth it, or are they something you’d suggest your kids just skip?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Performance Based Education Continues

I attended another school board meeting last night, and I left feeling fairly discouraged. I saw a group of very well-intended people come to a (to my mind) nonsensical decision. As a reminder, my district has been struggling with what to do about Performance Based Education (PBE). Here’s an earlier post I wrote about the topic. Here are some of my biggest concerns about the system, quote by quote from that earlier post:

  • The difference between a 1, 2, and 3 is clear and distinct. It makes sense. But how exactly a student gets a 4 is much murkier than I’d like.
  • We’re experimenting with a class or two or three of students, where teachers are learning the ropes at the same time as the students.
  • If we go through all of this sound and fury and end up with another system that isn’t really that much different than where we started, it will have done nothing but harm.
  • I think the district should have very clear procedures in place to measure whether or not its working.
  • We’ve already invested heavily into PBE. So what? It’s a sunk cost. We should ignore the time and effort already spent and make a decision based purely on what’s best for us now.

At last night’s meeting, the administration presented a “new” approach to PBE. Gone are the measurements of 1 (does not meet the standard), 2 (partially meets the standard), 3 (meets the standard), and 4 (exceeds the standard). They have been replaced by N (does not meet the standard), PM (partially meets the standard), M (meets the standard), and E (exceeds the standard). I’m not making this up. I also don’t think I have to say anything else about that “change” to lambaste it. But there were other changes made, so I’ll just continue.

After each student has been given a letter on an assignment (N, PM, M, or E), that letter will be turned into a number from 0-100 through some sort of process that wasn’t not described concretely at all yesterday, likely because it hasn’t been decided yet. Each letter will have a corresponding range. So an M might equate somewhere between an 80 and a 90. Maybe. They’ll figure out the details later. It’ll be up to the teacher to decide which M’s are 80s and which are 90s. (Though some board members seemed under the impression that this will be more prescribed than that. The administration didn’t correct that assumption. Maybe I just don’t understand it.)

Note that the 0-100 scores are not in any way really tied to traditional 0-100 scores. They’re tied to N, PM, M, or E. So what we’ll have is a grading scale that looks like the old one everyone’s used to, but doesn’t actually mean the same thing. I can’t help but think this will leave many people even more confused than they were to begin with. Especially when this change is happening the night before school starts. (That’s right, folks. My kids’ first day is today! Kindergarten, Fifth Grade, and Ninth Grade. Consider this my “back to school post” of the year. I’ll post pics to Facebook.)

I was concerned before that it felt like the administration was experimenting on a few graduating classes in an effort to get to a better grading system. That the teachers were still learning the ropes even as they were trying to apply the approach. This has only exacerbated this problem. Before, we at least had a year of the system to build on. Now, we’re trying to cobble together things as claim it’ll all work out.

I feel very much as if our district jumped out of an airplane last night, clutching only a single package that the jump master assured us was probably a parachute. Now we get to pull the cord and find out if it’s a piano, instead.

If this were the only alternative, then I believe we would have been better off simply sticking with the system that was used last year. But that ship has sailed. Let me readdress my earlier concerns, one by one:

  • The difference between a 1, 2, and 3 is clear and distinct. It makes sense. But how exactly a student gets a 4 is much murkier than I’d like. This hasn’t changed at all. All that’s different is that now the murky difference is between an M and an E.
  • We’re experimenting with a class or two or three of students, where teachers are learning the ropes at the same time as the students. As I just stated, this has actually gotten worse, not better.
  • If we go through all of this sound and fury and end up with another system that isn’t really that much different than where we started, it will have done nothing but harm. This is exactly what has happened.
  • I think the district should have very clear procedures in place to measure whether or not its working. There are no procedures in place whatsoever. Which is natural, as the actual grading approach (the line up of the letters to the 0-100 scale) has yet to be defined.
  • We’ve already invested heavily into PBE. So what? It’s a sunk cost. We should ignore the time and effort already spent and make a decision based purely on what’s best for us now.

It’s on the last concern I want to focus a little longer. One item most on the board kept coming back to last night is how appreciative they were of all the hard work the administration put in to come up with the new approach. The administration had had several all day meetings, then a couple more day long meetings with teachers to try and come up with a new approach. And they’ve spent hours and hours trying to make the transition to PBE in the first place.

I can appreciate hard work. So can teachers. Unfortunately, “hard work” doesn’t always equate to a suitable outcome, as this new grading system recognizes. I give this new approach somewhere between a PM and an N. Just because we’ve worked really hard on an answer and come up with a wrong one doesn’t mean we should keep hammering on that answer.

In the end, I hope all my worries are for naught. I’ll be working with Tomas today when he comes home from school, asking him to show me all the paperwork from his classes so we can try and figure out how each of his teachers will be grading this year. Assuming they’ve figured that out themselves.

Sorry for the negative post. I just call it like I see it. I think the board and the administration are burning a fair number of bridges in this effort, all in the name of improved education, without any real concrete proof that it will work. I hope they’re right, and I hope I’m wrong. When budget season rolls around next year, I don’t think there will be nearly the core group of impassioned school supporters ready to go above and beyond as they’ve done in the past to try to protect the budget, which is even more tragic, as I believe this will be right when we need to keep education as strong as possible.

Happy back to school, everyone!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

On Proficiency Based Education

I first really heard about Proficiency Based Education (PBE) the exact wrong way: by finding out my school was transitioning into it, and that it would be coming right away. That’s definitely on me. I know I must have read about the process in the past, but I just hadn’t paid any attention to it. There didn’t seem to be anything that I really needed to worry about, so I ignored it.

Perhaps you’re in the same boat I was. You see “Proficiency Based Education,” and you wonder what in the world it might mean. Allow me to explain.

In a nutshell, PBE moves students away from the traditional grading system (A, B, C, D, F, on a 1-100 point scale) and over to a 1-4 scale that’s based entirely around a student’s ability to show mastery of a subject. The school comes up with a number of different academic areas within each subject and in order to pass the class (get a 2.5 or higher), the student must demonstrate the ability to do that skill.

So imagine one subject area was “can tie their own shoes.” It’s pretty simple. Either the student can or the student can’t. For our district, a student would be rated on shoe tying as follows:

1: Can’t tie their own shoes at all.

2: Can tie their shoes if the teacher helps them.

3: Can tie their shoes by themselves.

4: Can tie other knots, not just shoe knots.

On the surface, there’s a lot about this system to like. The idea that each student can show mastery of individual subject areas is appealing. Each test covers a range of areas. A student might score a 2 on one part and a 3.5 on another part. Instead of having to retake the entire test, the student could just focus in on the part they were having trouble with. In the classic design, a student on that test might have gotten an 80%, but if you looked more closely, they had one area mastered to more like a 95% level, and another was just like a 70% level.

So in that manner, it’s more granular. Students can get a better idea of what they’re doing well in and what they still need help with. That’s a good thing.

The trouble arises in the application of this new grading system. A few years ago, the state of Maine mandated that all schools switch to PBE models by this coming January. It became law. And so our school began the process. Last year was the first year that the transition was completely made for Freshmen. Tomas encountered it then because he was taking Honors Algebra II at the high school, a year ahead of the rest of his 8th grade classes.

The transition was far from smooth. First of all, the messaging that went out to students was confusing. (At least, it was confusing by the time it reached me. I found out much of it at first through Tomas, until about halfway through the year, when I finally started going to meetings on my own to try and make sense of it. I think I missed out on the early meetings because they were aimed at parents of 9th graders, and I was the parent of an 8th grader. Or maybe I just spaced it. It might have been on me.)

Students were told again and again that “a 3 is a great grade.” The takeaway Tomas had from it was to shoot for a 3, and if he managed to get a 4 on something, great. But no big deal if he didn’t. As a parent used to traditional GPAs, a 3 meant a B, and I had a hard time with the concept that we’d all be shooting for B-level work. But Tomas repeated his “3 is a great grade” line often enough, that I began to believe it.

Until I went to meetings and discovered 4s were supposed to be attainable, and to get high honors, a student would need a 3.75 average or higher. Getting a 3.75 average means you’re getting 4s and 3.5s.

Then I started worrying what this would look like for college admissions boards. I was reassured that college admissions boards deal with PBE scales all the time, and it’s no big deal. Which makes sense on the surface. But it’s not the surface that matters here. It’s the underpinnings.

Because the actual application of this grading system has left a lot of parents and students scratching their heads. I get that some parents just blow off the question entirely, saying parents who worry about what college their kid will get into so early on are just being overly intrusive into their kids’ lives. Harvard or University of Maine? Big deal. Well, I suppose I’m guilty as charged.

I’m a BYU graduate. I love my alma mater, and I’d really like my kids to be able to go there. But getting into BYU isn’t a gimme. Yes, it’s got a 65.1% acceptance rate, which seems not too bad compared to Princeton’s 6.4% acceptance rate. But Princeton admitted 1,990 students last year, and 1,314 of them attended, a yield of 66%. BYU admitted 6,520, and 5,246 of those attended. A yield of 80.5%. What does that mean? It means that students who apply to BYU really want to go there. Badly. There’s a fair bit of self-selection that happens when students apply (or don’t apply) to BYU. It’s probably a topic for a different blog post, but suffice it to say getting in isn’t a cakewalk.

Which is to say grades mean something. Good grades mean something. And even setting aside my personal stake in the game, good grades mean something to our district. A district that produces students capable of going to top name schools is a district that attracts parents who want their children going to those same schools. This doesn’t mean we should have all our teachers grade easy, but it does mean we should be sure we’re grading accurately.

And that’s where my biggest frustration with PBE comes in so far. The difference between a 1, 2, and 3 is clear and distinct. It makes sense. But how exactly a student gets a 4 is much murkier than I’d like. I’ve since learned that each teacher is supposed to be very clear about how students can get 4s. What goes into it. And so this coming year I’m going to push to find that out as soon as I can, so that I can help Tomas succeed.

Because this isn’t about me. It’s about him. He wants to succeed. He wants to get into BYU as well.

This is all coming to a head because the state legislature just changed its mind about the PBE requirements. Suddenly, going to PBE isn’t mandatory anymore. And so the question arises: should our district stick with PBE or go back to the old way of grading? There are many teachers in the district that want to stick with it, because they feel it’s a better way of grading. There are some who would rather go back to the old way, because they felt it was fine.

Having read some of the back and forth around it all, I know there’s a whole bunch of parents who are very frustrated with PBE. They feel it doesn’t bring enough to the table to warrant the unrest. I personally lean that direction as well. I feel like PBE has potential, yes, but getting to that Promised Land will come with a price: we’re experimenting with a class or two or three of students, where teachers are learning the ropes at the same time as the students.

The result of this will be that we have some years of graduates who might suffer when it comes to college entrances. I don’t see any other way to put it. Teachers haven’t entirely figured out what makes a 3 vs a 4, and how to teach in a way that everyone can reach their full potential. That’s a problem.

Is it a problem that means we need to do away with PBE? I’m not sure. But I do believe we need to do something right away to fix this gap and make sure our best and brightest students aren’t harmed in the process. That might mean changing the messaging. That might mean developing clear communication channels for parents who are confused. That might mean having sit downs with parents and teachers to make sure everyone understands what’s what.

But I’ve heard of some teachers being very resistant to giving out 4s, and others giving them out more easily. That’s the exact sort of thing PBE was supposed to move away from, was it not? So if we go through all of this sound and fury and end up with another system that isn’t really that much different than where we started, it will have done nothing but harm.

I don’t want that. I don’t think anyone does. I’ve heard reassurances from the district that won’t happen, but the proof is in the pudding.

I suppose in the end I’m willing to give PBE another year. But if we do, I think the district should have very clear procedures in place to measure whether or not its working. Compare the grades of students pre-PBE with the grades post-PBE. Have they improved significantly? Are students, teachers, and parents happy with the results? I’d rather the district be surveying those groups and going forward based on facts and figures, not promises and hopes.

Because it isn’t the law anymore. So the question shouldn’t be “How do we implement PBE as best as possible,” but rather “What’s the best system for our students?”

Yes, we’ve already invested heavily into PBE. So what? It’s a sunk cost. We should ignore the time and effort already spent and make a decision based purely on what’s best for us now. Pretend all that money and time hadn’t been spent. Is PBE still the right choice?

And move onward from there.

Here’s hoping the journey only gets smoother . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Eighth Grade “Graduation”

Tomas had his eighth grade “graduation”/celebration event last night. I didn’t know too much going into it, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’m a staunch supporter of schools and teachers, and so not attending wasn’t an option, but I still wasn’t sure exactly what would happen there.

In the end, I’d have to say my reaction ended up being quite a bit more negative than I would have anticipated. I debated even writing up a response, but often I write blog posts to make sense of things myself, and so my hope is that by writing this, I can get a bit of a better handle on why I thought it wasn’t a good event and what might be done to change it.

On the surface, I can see the reasoning behind the celebration. Get all the eighth graders together, call out their names, and have them walk across the stage to get a certificate of completion. Sure, it’s about as meaningful as preschool graduation, but at the same time, making it through middle school isn’t easy, from a social perspective. It can bring some closure to the students’ experiences, and get them hyped for high school. (I suppose?) That in and of itself isn’t anything to get worked up about. It’s an hour long event. No big deal.

But at the same time, they also handed out awards to students. And this is where I began to get uncomfortable. They don’t tell any of the students ahead of time who might win an award, and they don’t really tell students what it takes to win an award at all. There are a slew of awards handed out. Each teacher of each subject gets to give at least a couple. Some areas gave out as many as 10 or 15, as I recall. It’s what took the bulk of the hour to do.

And the whole time they were doing it, I couldn’t help but do the math. There were around 150 students in the audience that evening. I’d guess there were about 50 awards given out (maybe less?). Some people got multiple awards. Some kids as many as five or six, I’d guess. So perhaps 30 of the students got an award. 20%. Which means that 80% of the students sat there the whole time, wondering if they might get an award, but ultimately getting nothing but the piece of paper that says they successfully finished eighth grade.

Which on the surface shouldn’t upset me, should it? I mean, I don’t believe in giving out awards to everybody. I’m all for recognizing hard work and effort. If everyone gets an award, then it’s about the same as no one getting an award.

But when the criteria for getting the awards are so fuzzy, things begin to blur. From an outsider’s perspective, it began to seem more and more like the teachers picked who would get the award for their class was by picking their favorite students in their class. Which, okay fine. Each teacher will have students they connected with more. Or who they felt really went above and beyond.

(And in case you think this is about me having sour grapes Tomas didn’t get an award, it isn’t. He got one. I’m proud of him, but still very uncomfortable with what went on.)

This is middle school. Rough times, indeed. And for 80% of the students, their night was taken up watching all sorts of other kids get picked over them. And the whole time, they might have been thinking, “Maybe this award will be one I get.” Because they weren’t all even academic. There were awards for PE, School Spirit, Most Improved, Art, Health, Community, and more.

That’s a lot of rejection to get in one evening, in my opinion.

How could this be changed? Well, they might switch things around to recognize groups of students. “Students who got an A in Science, please stand.” “Students who played a sport, please stand.” “Students who were on the robotics team, please stand.” The criteria there would be much clearer, so kids wouldn’t feel like they were losing anything or getting passed over for anything, and yet the ones who made extra effort in areas could still be recognized.

On the other hand they could also make it an invitation event, where students who won an award are invited to attend with their families. Then at least every student who’s there knows they’re winning something, and the “rejection” of the other students isn’t as obvious.

They could still hand out the awards, but do it when they send out report cards. So the student knows they did well, the parents do too, and yet there’s no public shaming of the ones who were passed over.

I think the evening was supposed to be a celebration. A last chance for teachers to recognize students. But because of the way it’s organized, it turns into a last chance for 80% of the students to leave middle school with a bitter feeling. “I thought Mr. _______ liked me a lot, but I guess he didn’t like me enough to give me an award.”

Once again, this is my personal feeling. It’s not based on any discussion I had with any middle schooler. They’re just the thoughts I had running through my head during the awards, and hours after. I wonder if I was the only person thinking them.

In the end, I’m just not convinced the price of the event (hurt feelings for 80% of the class) is worth the reward (recognizing the other 20%).

What do you think?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

One Vote to Rule Them All

I blog about the school budget a fair bit. Okay, a ton. And some of you are no doubt sick and tired of hearing about me prattle on about the topic.

Boy, do I have a deal for you.

If you go out and vote to APPROVE the budget TODAY, then I won’t blog about the school budget again until next year. How’s that sound for a deal? Last year we had to do this vote about . . . four times? Three? I lost count, between all the meetings and referendums. Sometimes we had to vote no. Sometimes we had to vote yes. It was an absolute nightmare, and it really strained our entire community in a very unpleasant way.

We can avoid all of that if everyone who finally turned out to show their huge support of the schools last year turn out right now. Today. To vote YES on the budget.

It’s true that the budget has gone up this time. It should. We’re falling woefully behind, and our students are feeling the impact of this. I’ve blogged about the topic (at length). Anyone who tries to start arguing that our budget is bloated and full of fluff isn’t someone who’s taken a realistic look at the cost to educate students in the modern day. We can have a discussion about who should foot the bill (the state vs. local tax payers), or what the state mandate should be for various pieces of education (special education costs, etc.), but the bottom line of that bill as it stands today isn’t really up for debate in my book. All those other conversations are separate, and should be handled in a different forum.

Today, vote yes. Approve the budget with one vote, and let’s be done with it.

Please?

Poll times are as follows:

Chesterville – 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Industry – 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
New Vineyard – 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Temple – 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Weld – 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Farmington – 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.
New Sharon – 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Starks – 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Vienna – 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Wilton – 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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