Switching Course: High School Moves to Student-Led Conferences

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This year students will lead a conference with their advisor at the end of Mod 2 and Mod 5 to discuss ways to improve on each Learning Outcome, instead of getting a full progress report at the end of the mod. Parents will still receive feedback on their student’s progress, but in the form of an email from their student’s advisor describing the student’s plan for improvement.

A Mod 2 report from the 2016-17 school year. Students will not receive any written feedback on their Mod 2 reports. (Barefoot Times Staff)

According to High School Director Marc Alongi, every student will be assigned a time for a short (15–20 minute) conference with just their advisor. During the conference, students will review their current grades and Mod 1 report with their advisor and form a plan “to take steps to improve learning outcomes.” The discussion will not be limited to outcomes needing improvement, but may also extend to outcomes students have “met,” Alongi said. Extracurriculars may also be discussed, if relevant to the conversation. The advisor will then sign off on the student’s plan, and inform the student’s parents of what was discussed and agreed upon. Parents can always contact their student’s advisor if they have any questions.

Only the student and the student’s advisor will participate in the discussion, Alongi said, though if a student wanted peers from their advisory group to be a part of the discussion, that may be an option. Single mod courses will “probably not” be discussed during student conferences, Alongi said, though it will depend on the student.

Reactions in the high school community were guardedly optimistic. 11th-grader Eamon Ennis said he finds the mod reports “useful and helpful to improve in my classes.” Ennis called the conference plan “an interesting idea,” that might help him “improve more” in his classes than the regular reports. Sophomore Selina Yang said she “likes the idea” but wishes progress reports were “only sent to students” to avoid “confusion with my parents.”

Gabriel Liebeskind, parent of sophomore P.J. Liebeskind, said he “appreciates the mod reports, especially the breakdown of the various learning objectives.” Liebeskind said he finds the written feedback “the most helpful … in ascertaining where improvement was needed, if needed.” Referring to the post-Mod 2 conferences, Liebeskind said, “It’s encouraging to see that the school … is looking for ways to improve and grow.” He also saw similarities between progress reports and the conference, calling the conference “an in-person version with the possibility for discussion, and questions as well as strategies and ideas for moving forward.” Liebeskind did argue for more parental involvement in the conference process, though he also thinks it is important for students “to learn how to formulate questions about [their] own progress and ask them.” Liebeskind said he will be “very interested” in the email summary.

Because progress reports often come out partway through the next mod, Angie Duncan, parent of sophomore Lilly Higgins, expressed complaints with the current progress report system. “It’s really difficult to improve on anything from Mod 1 to Mod 2,” she said. “Progress reports come out too tardy to really make a difference.” If the conferences are done “in a timely way,” Duncan said she is “okay” with the new conferences. “I think it is good that the advisor is taking a bigger role in [the grading process], so it’s an improvement.”

One other problem Duncan has with the grading system is that students can receive a “met” on a learning objective in one mod, but receive a lower grade later in the course. “That gets a little confusing for a parent, as I’m sure it does for students as well.”

The school’s administration will schedule the conferences, and “try” to do them all during an alternative Friday schedule, Alongi said. Some may occur during other Advisory times. The alternative Friday schedule will happen on Friday, November 10th. During this schedule, A, B, and C block classes will not meet. Instead students will meet individually with their advisors during that class time. Students not meeting with advisors will have study hall. Alongi explained the importance of the Advisory program, saying “the main reason to have Advisory is because the student-teacher relationship is important. Students will have the same advisor for four years, [so these conferences will act as] a space with someone who knows the student.” Because students have the same advisor the whole time they are at the high school, Alongi argued, these conferences should be efficient.

Ronnie Bryan, math teacher and advisor, said he hopes the conferences will help students improve more and have more time to “plan to succeed.” Bryan also noted that the conferences will “take some of the burden off teachers” and have advisors “help organize” the grading and progress of their advisees. Bryan also said he has made a spreadsheet that displays the current course grades of every student in the school, so that advisors know how their advisees are doing. Most teachers at the high school also use Google Sheets gradebooks that are shared with advisors, allowing them to drill down into the components of student grades, sometimes down to the individual assignment.

Laura Haney, science teacher and advisor, said she is “hopeful that student-advisor conferences will give students a chance to reflect on their achievements and areas for improvement as a whole, rather than class-by-class.” Haney also said she thinks students will have to “critically evaluate [their] own learning” with the conferences, which will be a “good exercise” for students. Haney said she will spend the same amount of time grading student work, but will save some time since she will not be writing narratives for her students. As an advisor, she will instead be writing about her 10 advisees “in more detail.”

Students coming from the K–8 should be familiar with conferences, as they usually have one or two conferences with their parents and teachers each year. The conferences at the high school will be slightly different, as parents will not be directly involved and goal-setting will not be a major part of conferences, although goal-setting did “come up” in last year’s debrief of the school grading process, Alongi said.

Similar conferences will also happen after Mod 5 reports are sent, though the process could be adjusted between now and then, depending on how the Mod 2 conferences go.

The tenth and eleventh grade discussion about grades on September 28th. (Barefoot Times staff)

The school held a presentation on September 28th for tenth and eleventh grade students to discuss how this process will work, as well as other grade and assessment questions. For ninth graders, a similar presentation was held on October 2nd.