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Building Essential Skills at Morton Junior High

When you look at a traditional report card, you can see how your student performs in subjects such as Math, Science, and English. What you don’t see is if your student has good communication skills, proper timeliness, problem-solving skills, work ethic and motivation. These skills are known as “essential skills;” they are crucial to a student’s success in and out of the classroom.  The challenge educators face is how to measure these essential skills accurately. At Morton Junior High School (MJHS), they have found a way to focus on these skills and help parents and students understand their importance.

We had a chance to sit down and talk with Lee Hoffman, the principal of MJHS, to learn about a new non-traditional evaluation model that is being implemented this school year to evaluate and develop these necessary essential skills in the classroom.

The idea came about at a meeting between Principal Hoffman and his team. The school conducts a survey for students, parents and faculty members which evaluates various school subject matters. After obtaining survey results from students, the categories “Academic Rigor and Engagement” and “Academic Evaluation” showed stunning results. 47% of students thought non-academic factors such as attendance, attitude, timeliness, effort, work habits and behavior should be included as part of a student’s grade. When breaking it down in terms of grades, 50% of the A/B students thought it should be included, while only 32% of the B-F students wanted it included. This is when Principal Hoffman and his team started discussing ways to incorporate these essential skills into the student’s grades.

The students are given a rating on each essential skill and the ratings are calculated into a letter grade which shows up on their report card as “student performance”. The grade is based on four essential skills: work ethic, classroom behavior, peer interactions and attendance.  By assigning a letter grade to the skills, it emphasizes the importance that essential skills have in the classroom and in real life. At this time the student performance grade is not being factored into GPA.

Originally, the school’s idea started with a rubric evaluating essential skills and found that measuring these skills as excellent or poor can be too subjective.  In order to make the rating more objective, educators are tasked with measuring how often they observe a certain behavior. This way, schools are providing parents with more specific data.

“These are already questions that parents are asking, we are just presenting the answer in a more formal way.” Says Principal Hoffman, “We’re hoping the new student performance grade will spark more meaningful conversation between parents and teachers at conferences.”

Next steps for MJHS include providing essential skill evaluations at parent/teacher conferences and providing parents with a list of how they can work on building these essential skills in the home. Through this collective effort, MJHS is creating a new model for schools in our region that will help employers better identify students who would be a good fit for their companies.

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