Grades and Trajectories
All of our students follow the Telra Institute course of study. However, each student follows their own trajectory through that course of study.
That means students can progress at different rates in different subject areas, some may go faster or slower at times, some may need extra support or enrichment, some may skip over content they already know, and some may need to repeat content to gain mastery.
Zone of Proximal Development
The concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is critical to Telra’s approach. Students learn best while experiencing the “productive struggle” of working in their zone of proximal development – not so easy that it leads to boredom, not so hard that progress is hopeless. In Telra’s grading system, scores of 70-89% indicate that a student is working within this zone. That’s our target and it's reflected in the visual depiction of the Telra standard grading scale.
Unlike the traditional A-F scale, which encourages students to optimize for A's rather than optimizing growth, our focus is keeping most students in the Z to Z+ zone.*
This can require some adjustment for families who might be accustomed to earning A's and scoring 95% and above. At Telra, scores in that range are a signal a student is not being sufficiently challenged. When data indicates that a student is significantly and consistently above or below their ZPD, it suggests that an intervention may be needed.
* Exception: Telra awards A-F grades for high school credit courses but high school courses taken prior to 9th grade do not factor into a high school GPA
No two students are alike. Why would we expect them to follow identical trajectories through school?
In the Zone - Standard Advancement
Students performing at an average of 70-89% in their classroom assessments are receiving the appropriate level of challenge within their ZPD or ZPD+ . These students remain in their active instructional groupings and are on track to proceed to the next course in Telra's course of study for that subject area.
In general, this means that, at year end, we would be able to answer yes to the two questions below and these students would receive a standard grade-level promotion at year-end.
Standard Grade-Level Promotion Criteria
Looking back over the past school year, has the student performed in their Zone of Proximal Development (or above) at the grade-level minimum course (or above) in each subject area?
If not, has the student met the alternate qualification by surpassing standardized test thresholds?
Looking ahead to the next school year, do we believe the student will be able to perform in their Zone of Proximal Development (or above) at the grade-level minimum course (or above) in each subject area in the next grade level?
Below ZPD - Support Interventions
When students are performing in the Sub ZPD zone (60-69%), they enter our early intervention process, which begins with in-class reteaching of content and could involve support during Flex or Explore and independent practice. If students enter their ZPD after early intervention, they remain in their instructional group. However, if students do not enter their ZPD, they enter our intensive intervention process.
When students are performing in the Out of ZPD zone (<59%) or early interventions have not helped students enter their ZPD, students enter intensive interventions. In intensive intervention, our first option is always an instructional group change, if available. When an instructional group change is not possible or does not allow a student to enter their ZPD, they begin to receive small group intervention in addition to the early interventions. This can take place during Flex or Explore, or during other times as offered by Telra, which may include before or after school, weekends, or during school breaks.
Grade level retention conversations begin when students enter our intensive intervention cycle. When intensive interventions are unable to close gaps to allow a student to be successful under standard promotion, grade level retention is considered.
Grade Level Retention Questions
When considering grade level retention, we ask the following questions:
Does data suggest the student has not demonstrated proficiency in one or more subject areas?
Are better fitting instructional groups unavailable to the student under standard promotion?
Does data suggest that the student is unlikely to meet performance expectations across subject areas if promoted?
Is standard promotion with intervention unlikely to close gaps within the academic year?
Will grade retention offer a better fit in terms of ability to access appropriate curriculum content and support academic growth in the student’s ZPD than standard promotion?
When answering these questions, we may also look at the trajectory for the student over multiple years. Additionally, we consider many sources of data when determining readiness, including course grades, placement testing, and standardized test scores.
We understand that the topic of grade retention can be fraught, and that some schools have different perspectives on the matter. Similarly, many families have widely divergent takes on the practice; some welcome giving their children more time to master material, while others are concerned about "keeping up" with an age group. At Telra, we are working to normalize the idea that every student needs to follow their own trajectory in the same way that we are normalizing mixed-age grouping for instruction.
Ultimately, academic considerations (the student's ability to access their ZPD) are the primary driver of Telra's instructional group and grade-level placement decisions. Social promotion, while seemingly empathetic in the short-term, does a disservice to children in the long-term. Moreover, social promotion is not supported by North Carolina State Law (see § 115C-83.7 - Elimination of social promotion)
Above ZPD - Extension Interventions
When students are performing above their ZPD (90-100%), they enter our extension intervention cycle.
When making instructional group changes in these situations, students often need to bridge the gap between their current placement and the next instructional group. This could be a small-group pre-teach of content, more intensive additional instruction, or independent assignments. This can take place during Flex or Explore, or during other times as offered by Telra, which may include before or after school, weekends, or during school breaks.
Grade level acceleration conversations begin when students cannot access the most appropriate instructional groups for them based on their current numerical grade level.
Grade level acceleration question
When considering grade level acceleration, we ask the following questions:
Is the student consistently scoring Beyond Zone of Proximal Development (B+) on assessments?
Are better fitting instructional groups unavailable to the student in their current grade or under standard promotion?
Does data suggest the student would be able to perform in their ZPD in classes offered in each subject area in the accelerated grade?
Can interventions reasonably close any gaps created by acceleration?
Does the accelerated grade offer a better fit in terms of ability to access appropriate curriculum content and support academic growth in the student’s ZPD than the alternative?
Since the Telra model permits frequent and flexible subject acceleration, grade-level acceleration is often not necessary. Nonetheless, sometimes grade-level acceleration is the best option for a student, and it is consistent with the Telra vision of individualized trajectories to maximize learning.
While other schools frequently raise social/emotional objections to grade-level acceleration, research on both short and long-term impacts shows that these concerns are unwarranted.
Instructional group and grade level promotion, retention, and acceleration decisions are advised by a team with knowledge of the student and their performance. The team may include members such as school leadership, classroom teachers, interventionists, exceptional children’s teachers, and parents.
Ultimately, all placement, promotion, retention, and acceleration decisions are at the discretion of the student's school Principal as is authorized by State Law.