Preparedness: What does it mean to you?

11/2017

By Hunter Dutton and Andy Gasal

There have been some questions about the concept of preparedness, and how it’s used in practice (in MHS's proficiency-based grading system). Students have questions about where it originated from, and why it was implemented. Parents wonder how it affects their children’s grades. Some teachers wonder if it is the best path for the school to go in. We interviewed Michael McRaith to get a better idea of the origin and the intended use of the preparedness standard.

“Schools, for a long time, have wanted to take behavior and separate it out from content knowledge”, he said. “[We are] trying to make a distinction between those things as two different skills. Being able to be timely about things and complete things is a different skill than actually being able to do the work”. He believes that teachers being able to customize their preparedness assignments helps with this. “I think [preparedness] is used in different ways. It’s one of the areas that teachers have more flexibility to decide what they’re going to emphasize in preparedness… So, that is up for some interpretation for teachers and I think appropriately so. What’s really important to me is that teachers are clear about what their expectations are for preparedness”.

 How the Preparedness grade appears in PowerSchool for students.

How the Preparedness grade appears in PowerSchool for students.

To get a teacher’s perspective of the preparedness standard, we discussed the topic with Joseph Carroll, our school’s Latin teacher. His opinions on the preparedness standard have changed over time. At first, he thought that the system was great and supported things that teachers typically value. But now that the state is switching to proficiency-based grading, which emphasizes being able to show that you have a certain set of skills and doesn’t calculate things like the preparedness standard, he thinks that we should definitely assess preparedness, but not calculate it into the grade. He also sees in his classroom how the preparedness standard affects students. “I think for some, it is a motivating factor, because they care about the actual grade so much that anything that would dock their grade is an ‘external motivating factor’. But I think for other students, unfortunately, it just reinforces an already existing negative cycle”. He then went on to give an example of how preparedness could negatively impact a student. “In other words, say that a student is late for eight classes. That’s a problem - I’m not saying it’s not. But what if that student also get fours on all of their skills? How am I then to say to that student, ‘Oh, proficiency-based learning says you’re great, but your preparedness score, which is twenty percent of your grade, will bring your 4.0 down to 3.7’? Maybe it seems like not a big deal, but I think it’s weird that we have to calculate it in.”

We also decided that we should get another teacher to contribute their opinions, so we asked Cathy Butterfield for her input. She told us that she supports the preparedness grade because of the habits that it supports, such as timeliness and enhancing understanding of the content. She believes that it is especially important that, with the amount of confusion around the preparedness grade, students can have helpful resources to go to if they are unsure about the system. “This very human struggle prompts me to be clear, fair, and compassionate in the face of confusion so that we can all get over this learning curve gracefully.”

 A sample of how a student's grade is constructed with Proficiency-Based Grading, with the Preparedness grade in the bottom row.

A sample of how a student's grade is constructed with Proficiency-Based Grading, with the Preparedness grade in the bottom row.

Students, who are arguably the most affected by the preparedness standard, also have some very strong opinions about the grading system. We reached out to a student, who preferred to stay anonymous, who told us their opinion on the subject. “I do think [preparedness] goes against the core belief of proficiency-based learning, which is about the student being able to customize their learning.” They went on to say that “the preparedness grade can be a student’s best friend or the destroyer of all happiness”. They agree with some points of preparedness, such as how it helps the students to form a habit of responsibility, but they also think there are some flaws in the system, like how the preparedness grade can change so much between different classes. “I would call upon the school’s administration to organize the idea of preparedness and institute it in a way that is clear, effective and the same across all classes. I think that would resolve a lot of the frustration surrounding preparedness.”

Another student, Julian Stoller, told us that he actually supports the preparedness grade, to an extent that when asked if he thought preparedness counting for 20% of a student’s grade was fair, he said that overall it was a fair grade, but he believes that we should make the preparedness count for even an even higher percentage of grades. His argument for this is, “The fact that the content of our work habits and our ability to consistently understand subject matter and hand in good work was weighted as only such a small percent of our overall grade threw me off. I could just have one bad day on summative week and just like that, my will to do homework would then mean nothing in the eyes of the gradebook.”

In conclusion, there are definitely some different opinions on how the preparedness standard should be included in the final grade. Some people believe we should not have it count at all as a grade, while some people believe it works as a great system now, while others think we should have it count for even more. If one thing is certain, it is that we need to talk about matters like the preparedness grade and try to understand the opinions of people who may not agree with you, rather than just dismissing them.