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NFS LogoA Plan for Evaluating Student Achievement

Although we try to make grades as transparent as possible, so that you can understand exactly how your children are doing in our programs, narrative evaluations and letter grades do not often tell the whole story of a student's academic situation.

Just as colleges do not look only at grades to determine a student's achievements, neither should you, as parents, decide that an "A", or a "D" defines your child's status. What we have found in the past ten years at the NFS is that parents of students who do poorly contact us & carefully peruse the comments/individual percentage scores for further information; parents of students who come home with an "A" or a "B" at the top of their grade reports accept that letter grade as a definitive statement, even though the separate percentage grades in the report may be quite low, or our narrative evaluation contradicts the apparent perfection of the grade.

Parents who choose the NFS do not do so out of a desire that their students attend class in an academically-competitive environment. What we offer is an introduction to the concept that, in order to learn something of value, a student must work hard. Our graduates, who have all done well in their English courses at extremely competitive colleges such as Dartmouth, Middlebury, The University of Pennsylvania, and Carleton College, would all say that the work ethic they honed in their NFS courses has allowed them to succeed in their highly-challenging academic environments.

All of the NFS teachers have discussed the grading issue at length, with each other, and with parents of current graduates & of 11th graders, to determine what situation best reflects both the values of the school and the desires of the students/parents. Everyone feels that it is entirely unfair to ask students to come to the NFS to do much more challenging work, in greater quantities than is required at the public schools, and then to be given a grade to put on a MDHS transcript that reflects only competitive achievement standards of private college-prep schools. If the NFS were to grade under that standard, there are two, perhaps three, students each year who would be receiving "A's". Approximately five would receive "B's", and the rest would receive a "C" or lower.

Does this mean that our grades are "watered-down"? Not necessarily. The curriculum certainly is not. As parents, you watch the progress that your children make as they do the homework they are assigned by NFS teachers. You can see that they are learning, and that they are challenged by the curriculum. The curriculum is designed to stretch the limits of what they believe they can do. Every student meets the requirement of completing all assigned pieces by the end of the year. This achievement alone makes many of them feel successful, having accomplished a seemingly-impossible task.

While standardized test scores do not give a complete picture of student progress, they do indicate achievement & a type of academic ability that can be measured, and they show improvement over the years. The average test scores of our classes do improve significantly each year. However, the real perspective comes home in Final Folders full of writing: writing that you can trace from its uncertain beginning drafts in September to the confident final essays of the year; writing that tells its own history in draft after draft that is edited and revised and placed, in order, in the Final Folder for you to see.

In view of this goal of developing a strong work ethic in our students, we have structured our grades to reward hard work: thus, effort is weighted more than achievement. We believe that a student who is naturally brilliant, but lazy, should not be rewarded with automatically high grades for innate talents; in the same way, a student who struggles, but who is willing to work extremely hard to meet grading standards, should be rewarded for that effort. This is not a capricious decision. Capable students must work hard and produce more pieces to develop the necessary academic traits to succeed in a larger, more competitive, academic world. Students who struggle find that they struggle less with each successful finished piece; their effort is rewarded in a sense of competence.

For this reason, we have found that very bright students, who are not particularly academically-motivated, and who have been used to receiving easy "A's" in the public system, have the hardest time at the NFS, where they have to work hard for the same grade. Conversely, average students who chip away at assignments daily, bringing in revisions on a regular basis, seem to do well at NFS, and to appreciate the NFS experience as much as those students who enjoy academics. As you look at your child's grades, please be aware of two facts:

1) quarter grades do not affect GPA; only Semester grades are placed on MDHS and NFS transcripts;

2) grades are a temporary picture of part of your child's progress; it is essential to take into consideration standardized test scores, direct writing assessment scores, and other objective testing measures, to look closely at the number of drafts your child needs in order to have a piece put into his Final Folder, and to understand the full narrative comments of each teacher before you will have a complete view of your child's capabilities.


The following explanation of English grades should help you understand how your child received the quarter grade s/he chose to receive. Students are very aware that it is their hard work that determines their grades. Parents of 1st Year students should know that, as part of an introductory year to many of the stresses of NFS academics, some 1st Year grades are simply satisfactory/unsatisfactory, to ease the way into the world of percentage rankings.

NFS English grades are determined by evaluating both effort and achievement. The EFFORT grades include:

Participation/attitude (30%)

-- this is a purely subjective grade, based on my perception of each student's participation in class discussion, preparation of the literature and of writing assignments, and attitude toward class, toward classmates, toward homework assignments, and toward academics in general. I am usually very generous in this area, unless a student makes it very clear that he does not care about these details of his academic life. This is the part of a grade that can adjust a B- to a C+ .

Revisions (20%)

-- this is a completely quantitative grade: I expect an average of two revisions/class day per quarter. Students who complete pieces in two-three drafts must create their own writing goals to meet the standard; students who need to do many revisions to complete a piece can turn in as many drafts as possible to balance lower percentages in other, more objective (achievement) areas.

[Students who are doing "A" work (on an absolute scale) usually finish pieces in two- three drafts. Students who take eight or more drafts to finish pieces are doing work that would be given an achievement grade of "C" or lower.]

Editing (20%)

-- this, too, is a completely quantitative grade. Students must complete eight written edits and four email edits for other students per semester. The quality of the edit does count; I do not accept scanty, vague, or shallow suggestions for editing credit. Students must use their own skills lists & do a thorough, helpful job on each edit.

The EFFORT grades alone put a student who completes all the basic requirements of class into a "C" grade. As everyone gets some points from vocabulary & timed essay tests (below), a "B" is potentially achievable by every student.

The ACHIEVEMENT grades include:

Vocabulary (15%)

-- an objective measure of how hard//how efficiently your student studies. Often, this grade also measures procrastination. We NEVER give surprise vocabulary tests. It is amazing how many students simply do not study for tests that they know are coming.

Timed Essays (15%)

-- younger students are permitted to revise timed essays as they learn the required elements in our grading rubric. Only the revision grade counts.

Older/more advanced students are graded on what they write in class. Often, two people will grade the essay -- the final score is an average of the two grades.


The toughest aspect of teaching history is grading and evaluating students. Much of NFS History does not involve multiple choice, true/false or fill in the blank tests. How can a debate, trial reenactment, research game or test questions that require reading, creating a thesis and writing a short essay be objectively graded? The answer is that they can't; it's inevitable that some grades are very subjective. However, we always find ways to reward hard work. The following explanation may help you understand how your child earned his or her grade.

1) Geography (10%)
Students take a geography quiz during the first history class of each week. The geography quizzes are required so that students know where in the world the culture they are studying was located. For practical reasons, students learn modern countries, physical geography and capitals instead of the historical empires or countries that may no longer exist. Students can then apply their knowledge of geography to the history they are studying (i.e.: Sumeria is now present-day Iraq & Kuwait).

2) Timeline Facts (10% - First Quarter only)
This year, students in both classes are required to send by email a fact for the class timeline. As the year progress, the timeline will reveal the connection between ancient and modern history and will provide a visual example of how events do not happen in isolation. This is also an exercise in consistently completing a required task. I am amazed at the number of students in both classes who regularly forget to send a simple fact. For several of them, it brings his or her letter grade down.

3) Study Guides (not graded)
The Study Guides are provided to students in order to prepare for tests. If your child completes the study guide and reviews it before tests, he or she should receive an "A". Except for analytical essay questions that cannot be studied for in advance, all test questions are included in the study guide.

First Year Students: Specific questions are assigned for each class period and are checked and reviewed during class. This is the only class during the three year program that follows the text throughout much of the year. During the last quarter, the unit on the Middle Ages is taught with lecture and outside readings.

Third Year Students: The study guides in the third year program contain the people, events and topics that students will be tested on. However, consistent with academic standards for high school students, I no longer assign questions to complete for each class period nor do I check to see that they are writing answers for the topics on their study guide. However, completing the study guide is still expected. A good student at this age needs to take the initiative and do his or her best work in preparation for a test. As always, I welcome phone calls from students when they need assistance.

4) Tests: (15 to 25% of quarter grade)
Tests usually include a combination of matching definitions & people (students love these types of questions), short answer and an essay question. Several tests in the three year program are take-home essay questions. In short answer questions, I look for concise answers with specific information and examples. General or vague answers earn low points. Essay questions usually involve reading one or more short articles, analyzing the information and writing a clear, well-organized essay that incorporates information and quotes from the article(s) to support the thesis. This type of essay is required on AP tests; however, questions for the first year program are created for 7th grade writing levels. The questions become more complex as students move through the 2nd and 3rd year programs. In the 3rd quarter, World History students write an essay on a topic taken directly from an AP preparation text.

5) Debates & Trial Reenactments: (5 to 10%- grading is very subjective)
I am amazed at how much information students learn and retain from these activities! Clear directions for the debates are provided and all plays have a script that requires students to research the background of the person they are portraying. I look for preparation before the debate or reenactment; I can always tell when a student is "winging it".

6) Research Games: (15 to 25%)
Research games are just that; research assignments put into the form of a game. I've found that students will usually do more and consistently better work when they can earn points and win a game. Some games require students to work together on teams; some require essay answers and some are verbal. I do grade and score each student's work individually; even if your child is on the low scoring team, it does not necessarily mean that his or her work is substandard. Grading is based on the number of assignments completed and on the complexity of the assignments. I do notice when students are attempting to cruise through a game when they should be working. Although I sometimes return essays to students for correction, during research games I do not have students rewrite each essay question until it is perfect. The research skills are combined with writing when students write a formal research paper of four to six pages in the 2nd and 3rd year programs

Card Games & Jeopardy -- (sometimes 5%):
In my continuing effort to have students enjoy history and not find it, as many adults tell me, "the most boring subject in junior high or high school", I've created card and jeopardy games to review information and to prepare students for tests. In Jeopardy, some students try very hard while others let their fellow students carry them. This is one reason I have begun using card games; each student has to be responsible for his own work. Card games and Jeopardy include all of the information that might be gone over when reviewing for a test. If you would like to see any of these, I'd be happy to share them with you.

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