Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Standards-based case study

Feb. 6 | Summative writing project due in class of eighth graders. Of 29 students, 22 submit the work on time, and 28 of 29 deliver within a week. One student's work remains missing in action.

Feb. - Apr. | From time to time, I check in with the student, during reading time as class starts or via email. "How's your progress on that missing assignment?" I ask. In response, I hear stories about how busy the student is. I tap dance between validating those stories and coaxing towards a plan for catching up. I point to lame leverage like, "You know this missing work is keeping you on what I'd call the wrong side of the pass/fail dividing line."

May | I ramp up my communication as May 14 approaches (which includes copying parents on emails to the student). That May date is a partially arbitrary one I've announced as a last chance for students to turn in missing work before the end of the school year. It affords me time to clear any backlog before teachers are expected to finalize grades for the semester.

May 14 | The crucial piece remains missing, so I toggle electronic grade-book marks for the student's work from missing -- a.k.a. 0% along with a weekly email notification home from Infinite Campus -- to 50% (as stipulated by standards-based practices by which I operate). Officially, the student fails.

May 19 | I see this tweet, on which I ruminate, from a history teacher in Indiana:

May 20 | I sweep through Google Classroom, to review work for a different class on my to-do list, when I notice a turned-in assignment I'm not expecting to see from that February task. It's the writing I've been asking that one student about for four months. In my head, I hem and haw: Should I make an exception and still accept it? Should I hold a firm line in service of enforcing consequences and teaching responsibility? After near Hamlet-level equivocation, I choose to review the work and update grades accordingly. The student passes.

May 21 | I receive this email from the student:
Hello Mr.Rozinsky,
Thank you so much for grading my work on Growth Challenge 4 so late in the year. This really brightened my day. Next year at my new school I will strive to do my best in school. If there's one thing I learned from your class is that I need to make time for the things I love and school to live a fulfilled life.  I will carry that lesson with me for the rest of my life. Thank you so much for being patient with me throughout this year.
Will that one thing the student learned lead to changed habits? I don't know, yet I remain hopeful.

Postscript! I traded direct messages today with Kevin Cline after sharing this blog entry with him. We revisited the context of our previous Twitter chat and clarified newer ground, too. Among the key points I'll spotlight: Age matters. For instance, what I expect of the eight grader in this story versus what Kevin expects of the juniors and seniors he teaches may necessarily differ. There are tightropes to be walked -- sensitive to, yet independent of students' ages -- that account for individual cases while still communicating expectations underscored by purpose. Accountability and compassion need not be mutually exclusive.


  1. I have a student like this. We are a proficiency based school so cannot score down for behavior (i.e. lateness) On the one hand, I agree. On the other, it is frustrating. Like you, I hope the student learns the lesson.

  2. Hooray! You have left your mark, Brain, and this student is most appreciative for your guidance. That must make you feel wonderful at the end of the school year. I understand that guidelines are necessary but so is compassion.

  3. Wow! That email shows how far your compassion reached. It seems that your caring reached further than you'll ever see.

  4. This is inspiring! I enjoyed traveling through this piece anticipating a happy ending. It's good to hear of these fulfilling moments from the higher end of education!

  5. I have more than one student than this and so I completely understand! What a nice email that your student shared...may this student grow from this experience!

  6. Far & wide the influence/reach, catalytic or otherwise, of the teacher/mentor is remarkable! !no yrraC
    PS Procrastinate no house boy responsibilties! !sguH