Why No Keystone Kid Ever Receives an "F" (or an "A"!)

Posted by Office Manager on 08/06/2018


In last week’s blog, we looked at the basic definition of a democratic citizen, which is one who is personally responsible, takes a participatory role in civic life, and who can analyze and respond to social issues around him (Budin, p.6) and how training to participate as a citizen in our society should be a major aim of education. We also looked at how education, filled with the practice of a democratic citizen, should be connected to authentic experience as much as possible. Through those experiences, students continue to get to know themselves as learners and contributors. Another way that we work to help students know how they learn and to gain an authentic sense of personal responsibility and ownership is through our system of assessment and philosophy regarding the grading process.  

Traditionally in most schools, grades are a major motivational component in learning. However, grades are not given in a traditional sense at Keystone. We see traditional “A-F” grades as, at best, a potential extrinsic motivator, and, at worst, a potentially false and often one-shot look at a student’s potential that focuses solely on the academic and doesn’t truly reflect a formative model in which mastery, an authentic sense of purpose, and meaningful learning is the aim. Dewey also talks about how grades create a false purpose for effort. He states that “at its worst, the problem of the pupil is not how to meet the requirements of school life, but how to seem to meet them—or, how to come near enough to meeting them to slide along without an undue amount of friction” (1916, p. 169). The motivation becomes the grade instead of the learning and the experience. In the traditional environment, students often struggle to find a source of intrinsic motivation or ownership over their own learning and rely heavily on outside or extrinsic motivation throughout most of the formative years. This cycle not only has negative consequences on their journey toward self-awareness and personal responsibility but can also impede self-esteem and personal pride.  

Most assessment at Keystone is formative in nature and is done in the form of a consistent, open communication among the teacher, student and parent. However, because we must eventually transition students to a more traditional setting, there must be some kind of record to send with them to that school. Also, many parents, because of the tradition, like to see some kind of formal report. Finally, a formal reporting acts as a checkpoint for the teachers to engage in reflection on every area of the student’s development. To create our Keystone report card, each teacher compiles a list of academic skills that students should be working toward mastering and a list of social/emotional skills that we want all of the students to be honing in each particular developmental age. We formally report our reflections once a semester to parents regarding whether the student is “emerging” on, “progressing” on, or has “mastered” each particular skill. This process is one that is a constant conversation among the teachers. We always include an explanation of the report as just one aspect of the evaluation of each student. We explicitly point out that Keystone recognizes that children are individuals who naturally exhibit differences in their rates of growth and development. This report is designed to summarize and communicate the unique social, emotional, and academic progress specific to your child. Research proves that children acquire skills in developmental stages -- innate steps that represent the gradual acquisition and general unfolding of knowledge through experience in a child’s learning environment. Children construct their knowledge through an intrinsic desire to learn and grow. We firmly believe that age does not represent an absolute benchmark for cognitive ability. This evaluation reflects one process through which we assess a child's development.

Therefore, Keystone's system of formative and summative assessment is designed as an authentic and purposeful set of tools to help each student grow to understand themselves as learners and in the process build intrinsic motivation to learn and a healthy sense of self-esteem. Our daily conversations with students in the classroom in our individualized approach can speak directly to those areas that need growth and development in a way that meets the student where they are. There is nothing punitive about this process. To have a skill marked in the “emerging” range is not negative, barring any negative behavioral causes or choices that may be impeding their growth and development. It merely is a marker for that moment in time on that particular skill. It is designed specifically to help students gain intrinsic motivation to learn and a true ownership over that learning process while also giving parents and guardians useful information that they can use to help support their growing learners throughout the process in a way that helps to foster this authentic sense of ownership and positive sense of self. Our aim is that, through this process, students are better able to make decisions about their life and participation in the world at large as productive and healthy citizens. 


Budin, Howard. Notes: Technology and Democracy (from conference talk)

Dewey, John. (1916). Democracy and Education [Kindle ed.].

Kahne, Joseph and Joel Westheimer. Teaching Politics: What Schools Need to Do. Phi Delta Kappa,                 Sept. 2003, pp. 34-40, 57-67.

Westheimer, Joel. Introduction: The Politics of Civic Education. Political Science and Politics, Vol.    XXXVII, Number 2, April 2004, pp. 231-246.

Post A Comment
(Will not be published)