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.)


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!

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.

Parent Letter – Heading into October Break

I hope you are all doing well and looking forward to the upcoming break with your students. It has been quite the busy week at school. Performances took place at night. An assembly was held to raise awareness regarding chemical dependency. Confucius’ birthday was celebrated and we are hoping to end the Friday with the Terry Fox run. At the same time, student-athletes have been practicing and playing games versus other schools in this area. I would say that many of us are definitely ready for a rest.

In science, I continued to be impressed with the participation and enthusiasm of students. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we worked to bring together evidence from a few days of experiments. We found:

  • Observations from the celery lab indicated that water travels upwards through “pipes” or “tubes” (also known as xylem) from the roots of a plant to the leaves.
  • The penny drop experiment showed us that water molecules hold on tight. We thought of them as “sticky” and wondered if this helps water move from the base to the top of a plant.
  • Bags placed around leaves gave us evidence that water leaves the plant (in the form of gas?) and goes into the atmosphere.

The next step was to try to make meaning of this evidence. Using large, group-size whiteboards, we diagrammed and listed evidence and questions. Towards the end, we did an activity using our bodies to bring the pieces of evidence together. Students linked arms and lined up. What happened next? Please talk to your student about this activity for the rest of the details. Ask them what evidence was collected. Focus on the specific details before wondering what the evidence means. This conversation will help them think like a scientist!

Finally, Thursday and Friday found us again collecting evidence. Our guiding questions was “What happens when leaves come in contact with a carbon source and a light?” Please ask your students what they did in this observational experiment. Then, allow them to wonder how they can take an observation, pose a question and investigate on something related to the observation.

It’s been a great week and I hope your students have lots of stories to share. As always, please let me know if you have any questions, comments or concerns. Feedback is always greatly appreciated. Again, have a wonderful holiday!

Parent Letter (8/29): End of August – Lots of experimentation

This year, one of my goals is to open up the possibility of dialogue with the parents of my students. I feel that this connection has been minimal in my teaching practice as I only meet with parents during conferences, random hallway bump-ins or if there are issues. I want parents to feel that they are part of the learning community that includes myself and their students. I plan on writing weekly emails as a way to open up this space. In the past, my blog updates have mostly been used by students and a few parents let me know that they read it. By having a message arrive in their inbox, I hope to become a bit more present. I get the feeling that as students leave elementary school, they slowly become disconnected. Gone are the expectations that teachers email or have weekly letters. I’m fortunate this year in that I’m teaching multiple sections of the same class which allows me to focus on one short message. We’ll see how it goes.

I hope that everyone has enjoyed the blue skies of the past week. Though the days became quite hot, many mornings began with a coolness that could be a sign of the upcoming season change. We spent a little time in class talking about seasons and I encourage everyone to have discussions at home around changes you notice on the rides to school, walking about or in other places. It is powerful when students build a strong connection with the environment around them.

In science class, we have worked on several experiments throughout the past week. Students are doing a great job processing information and planning new investigations. It is hard work! They are being asked to evaluate the evidence gathered in experiments to support or refute the claim that yeast is a living organism. For many students, the expectation of designing investigations and analyzing the results is new. At home, they can be best supported by having conversations around their observations in lab and how these observations can support a claim. Ask questions that attempt to deepen their understanding. It’s OK if you don’t know the answer – just listen and keep asking questions. My hope is that students shift to longer explanations that use their evidence. Keep talking!

Again, I have really enjoyed getting to know your students and appreciate the enthusiasm and energy they bring to science class. It’s hard to believe that the month of August is at an end. As always if you have any comments or questions, do not hesitate to contact me. Please enjoy your weekend and try to spend some time outside looking for changes in the season!