Written by Dr. Alexander McGregor, Deputy Head of School
Roulette is a game of chance. Chess is a game of strategy. Alligator wrestling is a sport of risk. Risk, ironically, is a game of strategy.
Around this time of the academic year, schools collate predicted grades for their students in Grade 12. Predicted grades anticipate the outcome of the students’ final IB results for each subject and are useful indicators for students and their families when making choices about university options. They are also useful indicators for universities themselves when deliberating over applications. Teachers have a complex task when anticipating a student’s future attainment. After all, they must do so quite publicly, in full awareness of the implications for their students and without the mystery of a crystal ball or an ancient prophesy to hide behind.
Teachers must also determine this predicted grade perhaps seven months to a year in advance of the final results. In fact, when teachers anticipate the final IB results, the process requires an analysis of sometimes contradictory qualitative and quantitative data. After all, the student is still learning. Simultaneously, teachers must then account for a student’s projected growth and development. Let me put it this way, teachers predicting grades is a little bit like a medical doctor predicting your future health. The doctor can look at your previous health records. The doctor can look at your current state of health. They can take into account your determination to live a healthy life in the future and your pledge not to eat all the Kit Kats. They can consider patients similar to you that they have treated in the past. They can and must consider all these possibilities for change and continuity: for binging or purging all the Kit Kats. In the end, your doctor must acknowledge the chance and risk factors and ultimately give you their best professional judgement on your prognosis. In short, they are strategic. The key takeaway here is that teachers may not be able to empirically predict the future with absolute certainty but with nuanced evidence and the subtlety of experience, they can narrow the angle to a most likely outcome.
So if devising predicted grades is primarily about strategy, how do we think about it here at UWC ISAK Japan? Few schools seemingly determine and communicate predicted grades in the same fashion. Some schools choose to keep these grades confidential from students and parents. There may be an argument that confidentiality allows universities to better trust the prediction: but that argument requires an assumption that an open predicted grade may have been interfered with. More important than confidentiality is accuracy. If we inflate grades, universities will learn quickly not to trust us. Grade inflation will permanently affect a school’s university acceptance rate. However, an openly communicated but broadly accurate grade will be to universities what throwing the One True Ring into the fires of Mount Doom was to Frodo Baggins. That is to say, a most welcome relief. Moreover, one of our core values at UWC ISAK is transparency, and so it is our fervent belief that this data should be shared with students and their families. We trust that our community wants to understand how this information can support the students’ growth and we also trust that no one in our community would seek to interfere, influence or indeed negotiate the predicted grade. As such, parents and guardians of Grade 12 students can expect to receive an email on the 16th of October from their child’s advisor informing them of their child’s current predicted grades.
Some schools may release predicted grade information to students and parents but in a form that merely presents the information as a pre-determined fact that requires no explanation or conversation. Another of our core values here is student autonomy. If students have more access to information then we believe they can make better informed choices. As such, throughout the last two weeks students have been engaged with their teachers in reflection conversations. Teachers have coached students through a process of self-prediction using the same strategy that the teachers employ themselves. With this process, not only can we avoid any unpleasant surprises for students when the predicted grades are released on the 16th of October but students now have a clear idea about what they need to do to consolidate and/or move forward. Consequently, we have made the predicted grade process not a closed judgement but an open, invitational opportunity to learn and advance. For the same reasons, we are also highly intentional about the language we use. The predicted grade is not a judgement upon the student as a person. It is a prediction based on the evidence supplied by the student’s work. So in our conversations, teachers actively avoid terms such as ‘you are a 6’ in favour of phrases like ‘currently the work suggests a 6, to move forward we need to think about…’
Hopefully, our strategy is clear. We strive to determine accurate predicted grades. We also want to use the process of collating predicted grades to involve students in meaningful conversations about their own learning. If we are serious about these conversations then it is vital that we provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate new growth and development. This is why we collect predicted grades in June of Grade 11, again in mid October of Grade 12 and one more time in late November of Grade 12. This positions the student at the centre of their own learning and in control of their decisions about their own future; it allows us to manage the stress of an ultimate judgement being made upon the student by a force beyond their control; it also allows us the chance to give students time to reflect and take positive action.
That may be our philosophy, but how do we actually determine the predicted grade itself? Our teachers use the following principles to inform their thinking.
- Previous attainment record on Report Cards – using not the average of the report card grades but rather the mode and progression. This gives the teacher a benchmark.
- IA Grades – noting that IA grades are not certain until moderated externally. This gives the teacher an indicator of up to 25% of the final mark
- Practice Exam Grades – considering this only one piece of data not more significant than the others. We know students can struggle in practice exams for a variety of reasons and can improve dramatically following the experience of mocks. These give the teacher a sense of how the student performs in exam conditions.
- Any Other IB Relevant Assessments – This allows the teacher to consider additional evidence.
- Grit and the Growth Mindset – factoring in the determination and resilience of the student, their work habits, openness to feedback and capacity for growth. The teacher likely now has a number but this principle allows the teacher to anticipate growth on the basis on evidence.
- Professional Judgement of the Teacher – The teacher now has a number based on current attainment and project future attainment. This last principle allows them to confirm this prediction with their professional experience.
One can see our strategy: we ask teachers to collate a wide variety of evidence and to evaluate that data so that it is weighted appropriately. We strive also to account for chance and to limit risk, the so-called known unknowns. And we are committed to valuing students’ demonstrated potential for improvement and progress. Our ambition is to take what could be an onerous, closed judgement on a student’s future and transform it into an open conversation about growth and opportunity that enables the student to be the chief strategist of their own potential.