Click on a grade level below to access a sample math scale and a sample literacy scale.
In the Des Moines Public Schools standards-referenced grading framework, topic scales are tables that hold four performance levels. The performance levels describe "how good is good enough" for a student to show understanding of meeting a standard. Level 3 represents meeting the standard or meeting the goal. (Standard is the same as learning goal.)
First, these topic scales are created by district educator leadership teams at the secondary level; at the elementary level, the scales are taken from Marzano Research Lab materials and have been revised by teacher teams. The scales connect directly to specific topics determined by looking carefully at the Iowa Core and national standards.
In DMPS, "topic scale" means the same thing as content scale, proficiency scale, and performance scale. The terms are used synonymously, with "topic scale" or just "scale" being the most widely used.
Teachers first ensure they understand the scales, then they show the scales to students and engage students in understanding the scales, ensuring they understand what's expected for the different levels. Both teachers and students refer to the scales when learning is going on in the classroom.
Teachers know that to leverage classroom learning time, it is often best to start instruction and assessing student learning at Level 3 (proficiency), while sometimes dipping down into a Level 2 learning target, in order to ensure most or all students meet the learning goal(s) at Level 3. Level 4 is encouraged in order to extend learning for those students who reach proficiency at Level 3 quickly.
Next, tasks, assignments, and sometimes assessments are created by looking at these topic scales and determining questions or prompts for evidence that are directly related to learning targets, within a level, in the scale. (Learning targets are those statements within a level that often start with letters A, B, C, etc., or a bullet.) Then, after practicing and working to understand the topics and connected concepts and skills, students are offered different opportunities to give evidence to show that understanding. Teachers assess the evidence against the scale. Sometimes two or more teachers collaborate to analyze the same piece(s) of student work to see if they have common understanding of student work against the learning targets in the scale. The classroom teacher gains insights into feedback to give students to help them know what to do next. Then, the feedback provided by the teacher and the topic scales allows students opportunities to relearn, offer more evidence, or move ahead in learning. Students might also give evidence of learning in ways other than the common "paper/pencil" assessments or tasks described above, such as through a performance, a product, or even a conversation with the teacher. Such student evidence would still be assessed against the topic scales.