At Bullis Charter School, FreshGrade transformed communication between students, teachers, and parents

About Bullis Charter School

School type:

K-8 public charter

Location:

Los Altos, CA

Enrollment:

~900 students.

Funding:

equal mix of state subsidy and parent donations

Demographics:

37% white, 37% Asian, 20% two or more races, and 6% Hispanic or Latino.

Bullis Hero Image 3

Summary

Bullis Charter School wanted to share student learning with parents without using a percentage or grade. They needed to document progress while also allowing students to own their learning. However, they needed one tool that would unite all the voices. After rolling out FreshGrade, everyone had a chance to join the conversation.


Assessment was frustrating

As educators documenting authentic student learning, the staff at Bullis Charter School encountered logistical challenges with organization, time management, and communication.

Lisa Stone, an eighth-grade ELA/History teacher at Bullis Charter School, remembers how hard it was to gather all the evidence she needed from students. She didn’t have a way to let her students take charge of this process. Left to her own devices, she went through the time-consuming task of meeting with each of her students on a regular basis to keep track of their learning.

Dan Gross, a sixth-grade teacher at the school, notes that the paper trail in a pre-digital learning environment was a burden. He explains that it was easy to become overwhelmed by all of the “artifacts that just pile up over time in the classroom when you’re trying to document student progress and student growth.”

Jessica Morgan echoes Dan’s struggle to track and communicate progress when beholden to stacks of paper.

Jess

Before FreshGrade, I would have these big binders that had lots of artifacts. It wasn’t a living, breathing tool for a student, teacher, and parent to monitor, celebrate, and have conversations about.
JESSICA MORGAN, FIFTH-GRADE TEACHER

Wanny Hersey, founding Superintendent of Bullis Charter School, explains the problems that were inherent in using a percentage or letter grade to communicate student learning. “Parents were saying to us: ‘we don’t understand how my child has either improved or not improved,’” she says.

Not only did parents struggle to understand students’ learning, students struggled to communicate it, too.

Jessica remembers the common ways her students responded to a traditional grading process. They’d say, “‘Oh, my parents don’t believe me,’ or ‘I don’t have really good evidence that people can see. I just rely on little numbers on a sheet of paper, and it’s frustrating. It doesn’t show my growth.’”


Clear benefits and easy adoption

From an administrator’s perspective, adopting FreshGrade was smooth. Wanny explains that FreshGrade’s user-friendly platform made it easy for staff at Bullis to see its value. Today, there are seventy-two teachers at Bullis Charter School with active FreshGrade accounts.

Wanny

Teachers were able to immediately understand how this platform was going to fit in well with what they were doing in the classroom, and how it could make communicating with parents much easier.
FOUNDER & SUPERINTENDENT WANNY HERSEY

Teacher Dan Gross was surprised at how intuitive the FreshGrade platform was for his students to learn. They quickly picked up on key features like:

  • Uploading videos to document learning
  • Engaging in dialogue with the teacher through comments
  • Capturing and adding screenshots from Google Docs to FreshGrade.

With such a user-friendly platform, Dan says that technology moved to the background. This made room for a focus on learning.

Dan

What really stood out was the story that [FreshGrade] was telling for the students.
DAN GROSS, TEACHER, AND PARENT AT BULLIS CHARTER SCHOOL

Jessica Morgan notes that her students mastered FreshGrade in one short month.

“Today with my learners, they can approach using FreshGrade as a tool in the classroom at any point in the day. They don’t even need to come up to me and ask for permission to post something on FreshGrade, they just instinctively know, ‘Oh, this is a good piece of evidence.’”

Teacher Lisa Stone supports this claim with the observation that her students often upload evidence of their learning even after the school day has ended. In fact, the 887 students at Bullis with active FreshGrade accounts are so engaged that they have left a total of 15,256 comments on their work within the FreshGrade platform.


A Transformative Change

Creating accountability for all involved

Jessica loves the way that she can easily collect a variety of artifacts of student learning and help students get instantaneous feedback from her and parents. Jessica and the staff of Bullis Charter School have now commented on their students work 5,655 times.
This focus on feedback Jessica says, ensures that everyone is involved in the learning process. “[FreshGrade has] engaged students, parents, and teachers in celebrating growth and figuring out next steps in a way that the students can feel they have ownership
over and be proud of.”

She explains that using FreshGrade makes it easy to get parents involved in the learning process because it is so easy for students to show their parents what they have accomplished. Over 1100 parents have created FreshGrade accounts so they can monitor and comment on their students’ work. The notification system even builds in some accountability for parents to stay aware of new updates that students add to their portfolio.

Jessica’s big realization came when students were posting their work and getting instantaneous feedback from parents through FreshGrade. “And the moment when I had seen that parent involvement, even though it’s something that seemed scary at first; the students and the teacher working together could help the parent have a great experience as well. And together, we could all enjoy using the platform.”

Opening a conversation between parents and students

As parents as well as teachers in the school, Heidi Mitchell and Dan Gross have experienced the value that FreshGrade provides from all sides of the learning equation.

Heidi loves “the conversation it opens up between me, my child, and their teacher.” Instead of emailing the teacher, she can go directly to her child’s work, celebrating achievement and offering help and encouragement.

Dan has experienced the value of transparency that FreshGrade provides. He appreciates the opportunity to watch his daughter reading in her kindergarten class, or see his son work on avoiding errors in math class by double checking his work. All this is possible because he has access to his children’s portfolios.

Dan

I’m able, as a parent, to go into their portfolio… interact with my son and my daughter and send them encouraging comments or ask them questions on it. It’s just another level of engagement, which as a parent is really valuable.
DAN GROSS

Assessing learning while building essential skills

Besides creating a deeper conversation around learning, there are other benefits that both Superintendent Wanny Hersey and teacher Lisa Stone notice about using FreshGrade. Specifically, they appreciate how the process of using the platform helps students to develop critical academic skills.

Lisa has noticed an improvement in her students’ analysis skills since adopting FreshGrade. “They can take a look at all the evidence up until that point by looking back over their portfolio, and be able to connect the dots in ways that they didn’t use to be able to.”

Lisa also highlights a powerful story of an eighth-grade girl on the acro team that she coaches. This student set a goal to complete a challenging new acrobatics move. She documented her progress using video, adding comments to reflect on and critique her performance. She even created a form for one of her peers to use to determine whether she had completed her goal.

Lisa’s student worked tirelessly, adding videos and comments even in the last week of school. “I think that right there shows the power of FreshGrade,” Lisa says.

Wanny believes the most significant part of FreshGrade is the empowerment it provides. By encouraging reflection and individual agency, FreshGrade builds a set of skills “that students are going to be able to carry along with them for their entire lives.”

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