It’s Time Teachers Move Beyond the Dusty Old Grade Book

America is abuzz about education technology. Teachers trade tips about new tools on social networks; the media frequently report on how schools are using it to improve learning outcomes; and just last week, educators, thought leaders and other innovators convened at SXSWedu to talk tech in education.

From MOOCS and personalized learning to big data and BYOD, attention is on the next trend with the potential to “transform” education. However, that attention may be misplaced.

To effect meaningful change, we must push past the hype and get back to basics: what are the real (not invented) needs and challenges of schools and how do we leverage modern technology to address them? When we consider this, sometimes the most impactful solutions are not radically new discoveries, but those that improve upon existing tools.

When I began my career as a middle school math teacher in 2006, edtech had yet to catch up to the application of technology in nearly all other aspects of life. Even though I could see real-time status updates for my friends or access my bank account from anywhere with the click of a button, my students’ grades, exit slips, and test scores were challenging to access openly and trapped among a maze of tools, making it difficult to aggregate or share student progress information.
Unfortunately, this remains the system used by many schools today. Teachers log in to multiple tools that don’t talk to one another. Students and their families receive letter grades just four times a year through traditional report cards. So how do schools bring themselves up to speed?
First, we must look at the tools teachers use and optimize them for use in the modern classroom. A great example is a teacher’s most tried and true tool: their grade book.

Students are more than a collection of their quiz and test scores, but most grade books don’t empower educators to go beyond that, let alone make information visible across classrooms. It’s a problem I set out to address by creating Kickboard.

Quarterly report cards, annual test scores, and file folders won’t cut it anymore.

The platform enables educators and school leaders to capture, analyze and share richer profiles of student performance. This includes multiple assessments, standards mastery, 21st century skills, reading growth and, most uniquely, student behavior, character strengths, and personal interests.

One of the most powerful features of the platform is its ability to help teachers visualize student performance. Visualization brings clarity to what can otherwise be a complex process. And streamlined data analysis makes it easier to glean insights and create a plan of action.

When used to fuel collaboration, data visualization can help teachers work together to inform instruction and interventions. This improves consistency and alignment so students understand norms and expectations. Administrators can see the bigger picture from grade-level to school-wide performance, while parents can use it to identify where their student is excelling and where they need additional, targeted support—and with more specificity than letter grades and a few general comments. 

As a necessary component in the improvement of public schools, student performance information doesn’t belong tucked away in a filing cabinet. Technology, used to keep track of, and visualize, student progress has the power to make teachers’ work more transparent and immediately actionable.

For schools interested in advancing a culture of performance, that is critical to fostering a more transparent, collaborative, growth-minded and results-driven environment. More school leaders and educators are starting to realize this, but the transformation isn’t happening in every school.
The first step is an evolution in how we think about student performance. Quarterly report cards, annual test scores, and file folders won’t cut it anymore.

Administrators and teachers need technology to get the full look at student performance across classrooms and disciplines and report progress more regularly. If it sounds like a major shift, it shouldn’t. This information exists in schools already. We just need to empower teachers to surface and share it, providing greater visibility into student performance in and across classrooms.

It may seem simple, but it has the potential to advance transformative change.

Related Stories on TakePart:

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Are iPads and Other Classroom Gadgets Really Helping Kids Learn?

Ads on Your Kid’s Report Card? The Debate Over New In-School Advertising Heats Up

Jennifer Medbery is a former math teacher and founder and CEO of Kickboard, a web-based school analytics platform that allows educators and school leaders to capture, analyze and securely share critical student performance data. For more information about Kickboard’s school-wide solution or its free starter accounts for individual educators, visit