Kudos for “Schools as Safe Havens”
You are to be commended for the October 1997 issue of Educational Leadership, "Schools as Safe Havens." I am in my 25th year of working with young people in the Newark secondary schools. My staff and I are constantly assessing our academic, extracurricular, and support services programs to determine whether we are meeting the needs of our students. The challenge to do so is almost overwhelming.
Schools must do more to address students' social and emotional needs. It is virtually impossible to get to the cognitive if the pieces are not in place for the affective. Creating a safe school climate to enable teaching and learning to occur requires the collective effort of the entire school community. My staff and I must be ready to address whatever our learners carry to the classroom: family problems, crime, substance abuse, and even weapons. We struggle with strategies to help our students help one another—and interact in a manner that is positive and productive.
Thank you for publishing articles that effectively address issues of physical and emotional safety.
—Mary G. Bennett, Principal, Malcolm X Shabazz High School, Newark, New Jersey
Up with Put-Ups
Regarding "Down with Put-Downs!" (Oct. 1997), our school has virtually eliminated put-downs by requiring two put-ups for each put-down. When put-downs occur, the offending student or teacher must acknowlege their indiscretion by making two put-ups to the offended party. A put-up is a sincere compliment. Children at our school inserted the word "sincere" to focus the response in a positive way. Our school no longer tolerates put-downs. We've also shared this idea with families to support our school culture.
—Peter D. Vermilye, Lower School Principal, Via Internet
A Rousing Response to Rubrics
Editor's note: "What's Wrong—and What's Right—With Rubrics" (Oct. 1997) generated numerous messages to author W. James Popham from three continents, including...
Rubrics that Focus on Growth
I found your article interesting. I would add, however, that too many rubrics provide low-level descriptions that only inform learners of what they are NOT doing. Although teachers sometimes cannot avoid negative descriptions, we need to get away from the "deficit" model of teaching. We need to inform students of what they are doing well and then go on to describe what will make the performance even better.
—Lois Lanning, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, & Assessment, Plainville Community Schools, Plainville, Connecticut.
Making Rubrics Applicable
I want to compliment you on an excellent article. As an instructor and consultant on authentic assessment, I have seen these same errors many times.
I would add a fifth common flaw that I have often seen in rubrics, and unfortunately, see a little bit of in your example. To simplify the process of creating a rubric, teachers will often cram many criteria into a holistic format. They will then select levels to indicate that the performance has met all the criteria completely, somewhat, or not at all.
Teachers then run into a problem applying the rubric when a student meets some of the criteria completely and others not at all. For example, how should the teacher apply the rubric in your article if a student constructs a completely accurate task-prescribed graph but provides many inappropriate labels?
As you know, there are ways to design a holistic rubric to avoid this problem, but educators will sometimes try to force a square peg into a round hole.
—Jon Mueller, Professor of Psychology, North Central College, Naperville, Illinois.