SBG explained to Parents

I work in a school that has a 1-5 grading scale yet many practices are aligned with a percentage / grade letter model. We’re working towards a more common understanding that may eventually shift descriptors but in meantime I find that there are many inconsistencies throughout the school. This results in parent confusion and questions. In the following, I attempt to begin with the school’s reporting scale and explain my version to parents. This process is a continuation of my efforts to write frequently (still managing a weekly email!) to parents to increase communication. Obviously, I struggle a bit with being succinct in my explanation. Suggestions? How do you provide a good description of your system to parents in a way that they will read and understand?

——to parents—-

As a teacher, I am sometimes asked what guides the units and reporting in class. Units are created in collaboration with other members of the Science Department so that students can reach a level of understanding appropriate for middle school. The standards used to develop student learning targets come from the Next Generation Science Standards. Over the course of the year, I hope to be able to provide you with detailed information regarding these standards and how they help guide the science work of your student. In the meantime, please feel free to look at the standards and let me know if you have any questions.

The following information has been copied from the school handbook regarding reporting:

The 1 to 5 scale describes a student’s growth in learning for that learning period. The scale numbers are not an average of a student’s scores for that learning period, but an evaluation of their overall achievement of the material studied. The learning periods that will be evaluated are the first quarter, the first semester (including both first and second quarters), the third quarter, and the second semester (including the third and fourth quarters). The five levels are described below:

1 to 5 Grading Scale


  • Minimal understanding of the required concepts, knowledge, and skills. Only able to apply these with high levels of assistance.
  • Limited understanding of the required concepts, knowledge and skills. Able to apply them with some assistance.
  • Fair understanding of the required concepts, knowledge and skills. Able to apply them in a reasonable number of situations.
  • Good understanding of the required concepts, knowledge and skills. Able to apply them consistently and accurately in familiar situations.
  • Excellent understanding of the required concepts, knowledge and skills. Able to apply them consistently and accurately in familiar and unfamiliar situations.


The scale above is written in a general form as it applies to the Middle School as a whole. For your student in Grade 7 Science, the scale has been modified to best fit the needs of students.  Assessments are a form of communication between teachers, students and parents and helps to describe a student’s understanding of concepts. Therefore, feedback needs to be directly related to a student’s progress on the topics.

Learning targets are broken down into levels of understanding that correspond with the 1-5 reporting scale. The general overview is provided below:

  • A “1” indicates that the student has provided little or no evidence to support their understanding on a topic.
  • A “2” indicates that the student is progressing but needs some guidance and support to explain foundational items on a topic.
  • Level 3 corresponds to the foundational information on a topic. This can be vocabulary, general topic understanding or a broad explanation of a concept. A “3” on a Level 3 concept indicates that the student has shown foundational understanding of the material. (On a Level 4 concept, a “3” indicates that the student has basic understanding of a concept but is still working to fully develop ideas related to the topic.)
  • Level 4 relates to the development of a good understanding of the material. At this level, students are asked to use the foundational ideas and vocabulary (Level 3) to connect concepts and fully describe their thoughts.
  • Level 5 indicates that a student has moved beyond what we are directly discussing in class and can apply his or her understanding to more challenging scenarios. Students are able to make thorough connections between concepts and connect ideas using a variety of examples.

Is homework a necessary part of a student’s performance? Homework can be beneficial to student improvement though it does not factor into the grade of the student. It is time to practice, to put thoughts together and to develop questions. It is not part of a grade.

The table below provides a more broken down description of the levels described below:

Level Indicators include…
Level 5.0
  • I fully understand the content/skills and can explain them in detail.
  • I can explain/teach the skills to another student.
  • I can have a conversation about the content/skills.
  • I can independently demonstrate extensions of my knowledge (go past what was taught in class).
  • I can create analogies and/or find connections between different areas within the sciences or between science and other areas of study.
  • My responses demonstrate in-depth understanding of main ideas and of related details.
Level 4.0
  • I understand the key points about the content/skills.
  • I am proficient at describing terms and independently connecting them with concepts.
  • I understand not just the “what,” but can correctly explain the “how” and “why” of concepts.
Level 3.0
  • I have a general understanding of the content/skills, but I’m also confused about some important parts.
  • I need some help from my teacher (one-on-one or small group) to do the skills correctly.
  • I do not feel confident enough to do the skills on my own and need my handouts and notes.
  • I can correctly identify concepts and/or define vocabulary; however I have difficulties making connections among ideas and/or independently extending my own learning.
  • My responses demonstrate basic understanding of some main ideas, but significant information is missing.
Level 2.0
  • I need lots of help from my teacher (one-on-one).
  • I have low confidence on how to do the skills and need more instruction.
  • I need my handouts and notes at all times.
  • I do not understand the concept/skills.
  • I cannot correctly identify concepts and/or define vocabulary.
  • I cannot make connections among ideas or extend the information.
Level 1.0
  • I do not provide any responses for which a judgment can be made about my understanding.

(Note on the table: I wish I could remember where I found it. I thank the individual(s) who provided many of the indicators.)


Plate Tectonics – Group preAssessment

Today, I’ve gone fishing. Next week my 7th grade science classes will shift their focus to geology. Personally, I’m rather excited about the topic and ready to get talking about the movements of the earth. But…what are my students bringing with them to this topic?

The room was a buzz with conversations as students worked in groups of three or four. Once reassured that my goal was solely to collect information regarding current understanding to help plan for an upcoming unit, student groups dove into working through a series of questions. Honestly, I was quite surprised by the level of engagement and felt good about the decision to give a group pre-assessment rather than individual questions. The collaborative nature of the task – talk to each other about topics you might or might not know anything about – stimulated vibrant conversations.

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The questions came from the Project 2061 work on the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) site. The work has led to a series of questions based upon researched misconceptions. A wide range of topics are available and a user can create question banks based on need. Multiple choice solutions are based upon possible misconceptions. As my students worked together, a support hand-out was provided so that students could identify unknown vocabulary and put down questions relating to ideas.

I wonder if the strong level of conversation and exchange of ideas came from the fact that many choices “making sense” to students were available. At that point, they had a starting point to discuss. In the end, I will have a general overview of groups and will later work to tease out the understanding of each student.

Weekly Email: Cells, Parent Conferences & Looking Ahead


Thanks so much to all of the parents who traveled to school for the days of conferences. It was rewarding to talk to you about your students’ progress, successes and challenges. I believe that a strong foundation has been formed in science class and look forward to the rest of the year with your students. I’ll end this email by giving a brief overview of the remaining units for this year.

If you had walked by the classroom the day before conferences began you would have likely stopped and wondered what in the world was happening. Students were gathered in a circle around the center of the table and each making different sounds and motions. What was going on? Well, as students entered class that day, each was given a potential role performed in a different part of a factory. For example, some were the powerhouse, providing energy to the factory, others were the headquarters, giving directions to departments in the factory, while others may have been storage tanks or disposal systems. In seven minutes, they were asked to describe their area of the factory and make a sound and motion. We shared ideas and then got the factory running, so the sounds and motions one would have seen when passing the room were of our factory in full operation.  Controlled chaos!

The purpose in this short exercise was to provide a tangible introduction to activities found in different parts of a cell. The powerhouse links to the mitochondria of the cell whereas the headquarters represents the nucleus. We then watched this amazing animation of someone’s interpretation of activity inside a cell. In both our class example and the animation, it was evident that a lot of activity happens at once inside a cell.

This was the jumping off point to the current project. Students have been asked to create a project that describes the organelles and activity of those organelles in a way that does not simply give a description. My factory analogy was an example. Each role in the factory corresponded to a cell organelle. I look forward to seeing the projects of students as they have been given a wide-open range of options. (This project is due next week – please discuss with your student.)

What’s coming up next?

1. In a couple of weeks, we will begin an integrated (Mathematics, Humanities and Science) unit. In Science, our focus will be in the realm of Earth Science. We will study plate tectonics and how constructive and destructive forces have interacted with and helped form today’s landforms.

2. January – Human Body systems

3. Spring Break on – Force and Motion

As always, please let me know if you have any questions, comments or concerns. It was great talking with you and I hope that everyone has a wonderful weekend!

Student Feedback – Challenges

As the quarter wraps up, I asked students to complete a brief reflection that will be shared with their parents during upcoming conferences. Typically, I end units/quarters up with surveys through Google Drive. Unfortunately, current internet connectivity has left this great tool a bit unreliable. I’m still hoping to find a way to get more in-depth feedback from students. Here’s a start!

Feedback questions:

  1. Describe an activity or series of activities that you enjoyed in science this term. As you describe the activity, please explain what made this enjoyable.
  1. Describe work that has been challenging for you. Please describe both the work itself and explain why it was challenging.
  1. How can Mr. Frank help you with your challenges?
  1. How can your parents help you with your challenges?
  1. What is your primary science goal for the rest of the semester?
  1. What are three things you will do to achieve this goal?

Student responses & observations:

Q1: Throughout the quarter, students have so far had two large experiences. The first was the creation of an ecosystem column that we’ve returned to a few times to collect data. The second was a series of investigations designed to collect evidence to support the claim that Yeast is a living organism. Some of the investigations were observational in nature and some were designed by students. At the end, there was quite a bit of processing to pull together evidence. I found it interesting to note the distinction between students who found each project enjoyable. Typically, students who have been more engaged found the yeast investigations more enjoyable whereas more passive students generally wrote that they enjoyed the ecosystem column more and several wrote because it was more crafty.

Q2: Challenges – student responses:

  • Writing the yeast lab summary was a bit challenging because I was not used to the style and format of writing like a scientist. I often had to reread what I wrote and make it third person instead of the first person perspective.
  • I think was has been most challenging for me is writing scientifically. Because when writing my science report, I took a long time to try to make it good and I still thought it could use some improvement. I think scientific writing is hard for me because sometimes I have trouble writing my exact thoughts into words and making it sound OK.
  • I think the challenging parts are recording observations.
  • I thought working in a group of people who don’t really don’t work was challenging because sometimes when we really need to do something they might just be messing around doing other things.
  • I am used to writing in first person, so it’s kind of hard to change it.
  • Sometimes, when you ask questions what you are asking isn’t very clear.
  • I don’t understand some instructions and some words, so I can’t do good work in that activity.
  • Sometimes, what is the most challenging thing for me is distractions.
  • Writing the science report about yeast was challenging, because I’m not used to putting evidence in my writing, or using science words.
  • I was afraid to make a mistake.
  • I know group work is vital for us but sometimes it gets a little frustrating.

Q3: Help with Challenges – student responses:

  • I think if a group is having trouble, he should come over and give us some clues without giving the answer away.
  • Have more practices sheets with answer keys.
  • Let us get more used to the style of writing.
  • Give us some reading assignments to read from the textbook to see how other people write.
  • Explain experiments a bit more because I sometimes don’t know what the experiment is about.
  • Give me an example of a good report.
  • Give us reviews.
  • It has been challenging to identify the dependent variable. It makes me confused every time.
  • Speak a little slower.
  • I realize that I need to overcome my problem with working with others.

Q3: Parent help with Challenges – student responses:

  • I think it is really great that parents help. My dad asks me every day what I did in science today.
  • Practice with me if I’m confused and do homework with me.
  • I can talk to my parents about what I did in science everyday, and they can ask me questions about the experience to make me think more about it.

Upcoming Parent Conferences

Well, a week holiday to begin October helped recharge the batteries as the first quarter comes to an end. Parent conferences are around the corner. It’s a quick process – 80 families in 10 minute slots. Here’s my weekly parent email that hopes to add some structure to the conference:


I hope that all families had a wonderful October break. It was nice to reconnect with students after the holiday and hear their stories. In my homeroom class, we went around the room to share out one word that described a person’s current mindset. Some of the words that captured the mood of the day and week in that (and the other) class(es) include:






It is hard to believe that a quarter of the year is finishing up this week. In science, I have been quite impressed by the development of students in the little bit of time we have shared so far. Deeper thinking is beginning to happen. Students are connecting evidence collected in labs and other activities to science concepts as they explain ideas. This week, we wrapped up ideas about photosynthesis though we will continue to check in with this important concept throughout the year.

Parent-Teacher Conferences – These will take place next Thursday and Friday. I hope you have already signed up. If not, please do so. Conferences are 10 minutes long and I hope to be as efficient as possible in those 10 minutes. As you schedule, please give time to move from class to class. My actual classroom is Room 2630, which is located beside the MPR on the second floor. During conferences, I will need your help to stay on time. Please help me respect end times. Thanks!

Goal of Conference: I want each student to have the most successful year possible and this takes work between myself, the student and you. As the first quarter ends, let’s celebrate the current science foundation that your student has and look for areas that need improvement.

Flow of Conference: The following general flow will guide us through the 10 minutes:

  1. Review of Student Reflection – Prior to conferences, students will complete a reflection based upon the past quarter. It is important to hear their voice regarding performance, successes and challenges. This will be a springboard for discussion. At the end of the conference, please take the reflection form with you so that you can also follow-up with your student.
  2. Areas of Improvement – What can be done both in and out of the classroom to help your student be successful? Please help me anticipate your questions and/or concerns by answering the items below via a return email.
  3. Follow-Up Plan (if needed)

Parent Feedback

  1. Please provide input regarding how your student feels about working in groups during class.
  2. Do you feel that your child is working in a safe environment that allows him/her to be successful? If not, what additional needs does your child require to be successful?
  3. What challenges does your child have in science?
  4. How can your child be best challenged in science?

Thanks so much for your thoughts. Ten minutes is a short time but I hope we can have a good conversation regarding the learning of your student.