Data Analysis Reveals Grade Improvements at WHS

Data Analysis Reveals Grade Improvements at WHS

Christina Freiberger

During the Walpole High School faculty meeting on March 5, Principal Stephen Imbusch presented a PowerPoint presentation about the Term and Semester Grades of all 2011-2012 high school students in comparison with grades from the previous two years.  Interestingly, Principal Imbusch noted that there had been a substantial increase in the number “A’s” across all 2011-2012 grades, while the amount of all other letter grades – “B’s” and “C’s” and “D’s” and “F’s” – had decreased.   Principal Imbusch pondered the causes of these improved grades: Were they due to better students? Better teachers? Improved grading practices? The renewed focus on student learning?  The implementation of Professional Learning Communities or the new Tiered Intervention System?  While he refused to credit only one cause, Principal Imbusch did not complain about the effect.

Since Principal Imbusch took his Principal position at the high school, he has begun analyzing data. He said, “Without looking at data, [our school] can’t improve.”  The amount of F’s in the first two terms of 2010-2011 was 212 but decreased by 27% to 130 in the first two terms of 2011-2012.  Principal Imbusch has seen similar patterns for D’s, C’s, and B’s, with 14%, 11%, and 3% decreases, respectively. The A’s, on the other hand, increased from 1973 to 2447, a 20% increase.

Principal Imbusch also said that there are no records of our school having drastic grade changes, but that is mostly due to the fact that our school has never analyzed data in the past.

After introducing the concept of these improved grades to the staff through a PowerPoint, Principal Imbusch also stressed that he hopes that these grades are an accurate reflection of the skill and knowledge the students know. Since the beginning of the year, Principal Imbusch has encouraged teachers to review their grading practices to ensure that their grades accurately assess student learning.  For example, he believes teachers should place a greater emphasis on major assessments that reflect student knowledge rather than on “nominal assignments” (smaller assignments such as homework, classwork, etc.) that may reflect only student behavior.  While Principal Imbusch never mandated any change in grading practices for all teachers, he believes that by focusing Professional Development time on creating meaningful grading policies, teachers may have individually improved their own practices.

Professional Learning Communities seems to also be a main contributor to the grade increases because it allows teachers to  collaborate more. The next step for PLC is for teachers to make “smart goals” for their students and to make formative assessments. The goals will be both long and short term, from goals for a class average grade at the end of the term to MCAS score goals.  Formative assessments will also be created, so teachers can compare assessment results to measure and compare evidence of student learning.

While some may argue that teachers are inflating grades in order to appease Principal Imbusch, other recent tests corroborate this recent improvement. The 2010-2011 AP Tests had a record number of participants and had increased scores. For the English AP exam, not one student scored below a 3 on the exam, which is an exceptional accomplishment for the group. MCAS scores from 2010-2011 also have shown improvement for the English and Science Tests. Similar to the data analysis Principal Imbusch completed, the MCAS advanced scores have increased, while the failing scores have decreased.

Both the students and staff should be proud of the increased number of A’s and decreased number of lower grades.  Since Principal Imbusch is aware of the data, he can encourage students and teachers to keep the strong effort through the spring season. If anything is to be learned from the most recent data gathered, it is that analysis is important because it keeps our students and staff aware of these improvements and reminds them that there is always room for improvement. Principal Imbusch said, “[Our school] can’t improve unless [we] have data to show [us] the direction to go.”