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Lessons from Outcomes-Based Grading: North Queens Community High School

In a traditional point-based grading system, research has shown that often a student’s final grade is more reflective of the number of hours spent in a classroom than that student’s depth of learning. Outcomes-based education seeks to redefine the way student achievement is measured by making grades directly reflective of mastery of specific learning outcomes. In January 2011, teachers and leaders at North Queens Community High School (NQCHS) enlisted Eskolta’s help to implement an outcomesbased grading system. Before starting, Eskolta Senior School Developer Jessica Furer introduced the staff at NQCHS to educators at East Brooklyn Community High School (EBCHS), where teachers have been using outcomes-based grading since the school opened in 2009. Through this cross-school conversation, NQCHS had the opportunity to ask questions and learn from EBCHS’s experiences.

At the joint session, East Brooklyn staff shared their experiences. Outcomes-based grading pushed their thinking about what to expect from students. Using this grading system, explained one teacher, forced her to clearly articulate expectations. In turn, students were able to easily understand why they were not doing well and the skills they needed to improve. Building on these insights, Jessica worked with a small group of teachers to identify new ways of reporting grades to students to gradually move to an outcomes-based system. She then worked with them over the course of several months to test out these ideas with a small group of students. Overall, keeping the pilot small made the project less daunting and allowed time for feedback and reactions.

The staff at NQCHS took away valuable lessons from their work. They found that choosing overarching outcomes, rather than outcomes that varied from class to class, helped them maintain clarity for students. Further, they found that rooting these outcomes in broad objectives for students also helped to connect the outcomes to learning. For example, one set of outcomes related to the objective of helping students have more meaningful conversations about their learning. Using these insights to transform their grading policy, NQCHS went on to gradually shift to an outcomes-based grading policy schoolwide in the 2012–13 year, and with support from Eskolta continue to find effective ways of helping students understand their own learning.

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