The Growth Narrative: Official Notes, Effort Grades, Numeric Grades, and Conversations

Posted by Scott Allenby


With November 6 quickly approaching, the word ‘midterms’ sparks an immediate reaction: an opportunity to change course. Operating on a trimester system, Proctor has officially passed the midpoint in the Fall Term, and with that achievement, numeric and effort grades have been assigned in each course. Last weekend’s parent/teacher conferences afforded a valuable check-in on each student, and today’s release of mid-term grades should reinforce the larger dialogue around each student’s growth.

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Proctor’s educational model sits somewhere between traditional and alternative, with a distinct lean toward the latter. While we are not planning on getting rid of numeric grades anytime soon, our focus as a school lies on the growth narrative for each student, not a single number assigned at an arbitrary point in time. Our internal struggle around how much to emphasize, or deemphasize, numeric grades has long plagued our faculty who know their students, and their students’ growth, on a far deeper level than merely an assigned grade.

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In the 1970s, Proctor introduced the concept of effort grades in an attempt to broaden the paradigm of assessing each student. The faculty understood the assessment of a student’s “learning”, especially given Proctor’s incredibly diverse learning population, must extend beyond numeric performance to include effort and engagement.

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Around the same time, Proctor introduced the NTA (Notice to Advisor), brief, student-centric updates from classroom teachers to advisors that were carbon-copied to dorm parents, coaches, and parents. These NTAs have evolved over the decades into Proctor’s Official Notes system, a periodic check-in from classroom teachers (or others in the community) to each student’s ‘team’ of adults. While numeric grades are often mentioned in an Official Note, the goal of these communications is to provide a holistic view of a student’s overall growth using specific examples from class related to desired academic behaviors: preparation, participation, collaboration, responsibility, initiative, and resilience.

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This combination of effort grades, Official Notes, and numeric grades seeks to provide a comprehensive narrative for each student that not only provides feedback on the immediate, but charts a course forward. Midterm grades are merely a piece of a much larger picture.

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We love how this robust narrative informs our conversations with parents, however, the single most powerful aspect of this feedback loop is the opportunity to engage each of our advisees, athletes, or dorm residents in face-to-face conversations. In a world where technology empowers instantaneous communication, the impact of a face-to-face conversation with a student about what is going on in his or her life will never be replicated.

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Our advice to parents as midterm grades are published is the same advice we give ourselves each term: take a moment to reflect on the feedback you’ve received coming out of Fall Family Weekend, add in these midterm grades to the picture and engage in a face-to-face conversation with your child where our primary role is that of listener. And then, only after we have listened to what our advisee/student/child has to say, work with your child and his/her team to develop a plan to move forward in his or her own personal journey. Grades capture a moment in time, and as this post from last week discussed, we want to communicate momentum, not just the moment.

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