Archive for Thursday, December 1, 2011

First Bell: Lawrence is not alone in grappling with concerns regarding standards-based grades

December 1, 2011


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Turns out Lawrence isn’t the only place where some folks are upset about the use of standards-based grades in schools.

While opposition in Lawrence is focused on the use of such grades for sixth-graders — new this year to reconfigured middle schools — a district in Washington state is grappling with use of standards-based grades in high school.

That would be in Federal Way, Wash., just northeast of Tacoma.

As described in a story this week by KING-TV, the school district there has injected such grading into its schools for this year. Homework, participation and extra credit aren’t used to help come up with grades; instead, teachers use tests — sometimes taken more than once — to determine what a student knows, rather than what a student has done.

Joshua Garcia, an assistant superintendent for Federal Way Public Schools, told the station: “It says to our families (and) to our students, ‘Here’s the expectations, and we’re going to report to you where your child is in respect to those expectations. So we’re going to have an honest conversation about here is where your child is, and here is where they need to improve.’ ”

The story notes that parents, students and some teachers admit being confused about how the new system works and what it means.

“Rumors and misinformation are running amok,” the story says. “Some have heard there are no grades, or that it’s all based on test scores. Both are not true.”

The story includes comments from a student worried that her entire grade would be based only on tests, but the district counters that students can take tests more than once to show that they’ve met the necessary standards — “power standards” established by teachers from throughout the district.

(Here’s a link to the Federal Way district’s explanation of its system.)

“The policy affords students to retake assessments at any time, so if a family wants to get an ‘A,’ they have a right to get an ‘A,’ and they know exactly what they want to do to get that ‘A,’ ” Garcia told the station.

A story about the issue in the Federal Way Mirror notes that more than 100 students had gathered Tuesday at a high school track to protest the system and that “police were called to the scene.”

Officials in the Lawrence school district say that they haven’t conducted any formal discussions regarding the potential use of standards-based grading at Free State or Lawrence high schools. And while they’ve faced plenty of upset parents — and received dozens of letters and emails and phone calls in opposition to the system — they have not had to call in law enforcement for help.

(They’ve also heard from other parents and teachers who appreciate the standards-based system, too. More on that in a future story.)

In recent months district officials have been dealing with complaints from parents and teachers involved with sixth-graders, who this year are receiving both standards-based grades — “S” for successfully meeting standards, “M” for making progress, “T” for being targeted for growth and “E” for excelling consistently — along with typical letter grades: A, B, C, D and F.

Sixth-graders also received such marks last year, as they have been since standards-based grading was introduced in Lawrence elementary schools in 2003.

Parents who object to standards-based grades say the system:

• Drains motivation from students looking to do better, because an “S” is all that teachers expect.

• Adds too much work for teachers, many of whom have not had enough training to properly issue standards-based grades.

• Generates confusion with two different grading systems being used in the same buildings, as seventh- and eighth-graders only receive traditional letter grades.

• Fails to prepare students for the “real world,” a reality in which missing deadlines and performing poorly on tasks carries real consequences instead of a chance to continue retaking tests.

• Etc.

Lawrence school board members plan to discuss the issue later this month or sometime in January, to determine whether to maintain the system as it is, make changes or abandon it entirely at the sixth-grade level.


Megan King 6 years, 5 months ago

The board plans to discuss this sometime in January? There goes another semester! What the hell happened to listening to patrons? There are way more people upset about this than there are people who support this. In paticular teachers. There is one school out of the four that has teachers that approve of using this system at the middle level, and some how the administration wants to listen only to them; to only include them in the presentations of how standards are to be used. I'm with you DIST they totally met my expectations of failure to listen and do anything with the information! There are many more communities around the country who are feeling the same frustration as we are. Two school districts have actually listened to the parents and teachers and rolled back to the traditional grade systems. San Mateo California, and Austin Texas.

Betty Bartholomew 6 years, 5 months ago

I guess I don't understand how this is supposed to be better than the regular grading system. It seems like it measures the same things, but with a new "grading system" that only serves to confuse everybody, and/or banish the stigma of Ds and Fs.

When I was in high school, our district switched to a system where you took a test and if you didn't do well, you could take it again, but the highest grade you could get was a B even if you got everything right; if you took it again, the highest grade was a C; and if you still didn't pass, well, you didn't pass that test. There were several classes where only a couple of students passed the first time, so the rest of the class got re-taught while the students who passed were given busy work. Not a great system, either, but at least it didn't bring in an entirely new grading system.

aryastark1984 6 years, 5 months ago

After listening to what the district has said, I am more convinced of the value of SBG. Think of it this way. Imagine your child comes home with a "C" in algebra. That grade gives only a little information- that your child mastered about 75% of the material. But, it doesn't tell you anything about the 25% that he/she didn't understand. SBG forces the teacher to pinpoint your kid's deficits. It would help you, as a parent, identify the skills that are missing so that you could home in on where he/she needs help-rather than forcing him/her to "review everything".

Jayhawks64 6 years, 5 months ago


If you are waiting for your child to "come home with a 'C' in algebra", then shame on you for not getting involved before the end of the quarter. If you had access to the real Skyward, you could follow your child's progress on a daily basis and address any problems as they occur.

SBG is nothing more than a method to meet federal NCLB mandates by increasing the number of students who "meet the standard".

Windemere 6 years, 5 months ago

Just to highlight the point, isn't it true that the information that a teacher types into Skyward can, with pretty good specificity, tell what standards were being covered by a particular assignment or quiz, etc.? If that is true, then parents and students can monitor Skyward and see where the student needs help. Parents of 6th graders, are you able to do this with 6th grade SKyward today? Never heard anyone say middle schools shouldn't have standards, just that the negatives of of SBG outweigh the positives (e.g. the de-emphasis on work habits, the do-overs, etc.)

aryastark1984 6 years, 5 months ago

I think it is great that you monitor your child's learning. So, your child's SBG should come as no surprise to you.

And, yes. This is a way for the district to ensure that all students are on the road to meeting AYP. Meeting AYP is NOT a bad thing. We still have kids in the district who do NOT meet the standards, and I think one of the goals with SBG is to pinpoint problems so that that they can be addressed before kids have to take those high stakes tests.

Everyone wants their kids to exceed these standards, but for the life of me I just don't see how this gets in the way.

Windemere 6 years, 5 months ago

Many parents have pointed out that because S is so broad (given for grades ranging from 70 to 100% for example) that their kids say to them "Why should I study hard to get 100% when I am only going to get an S anyway?" They are told by the district "S is the goal" and they see that the goal is reached by scoring around 70%. Kids aren't stupid -- and a lot of them are just not naturally motivated to get 100% if they can reach their "goal" with 70%. Also, though there are of course great teachers who encourage kids to go for E's and provide concrete ways for them to do it, there are a lot who do not, sadly. Teachers, we know how hard you work. You are trying to ensure each kid meets all the standards, a big job. But kids need to be encouraged to reach their potential, they are encouraged by having a real chance to move from, say, a B to a B+. Under SBG, they are pretty much stuck at S. There is not enough encouragement or opportunities to get an E. That de-motivates kids. That's how SBG gets in the way.

Windemere 6 years, 5 months ago

beth, I think this is intriguing (your experience in HS). While our district isn't doing SBg in HS obviously, I can say that the way they've implemented it in 6th grade, there is not a way to dissaude students from re-taking tests, i.e. they are not told, "Sure, re-take it, but you won't be able to score as high as you would have had you performed well the first time." Does this properly send the message that it's important to be prepared the first time a test is given?

Selective_Tourettes 6 years, 5 months ago

And for those intellectually curious types, the Round Rock Independent School District in Texas found itself in a very similar situation. After hearing from the parents and teachers and actually looking into dissenting opinions and research, they scrapped the SBG initiative in middle and high schools.

Read the Superintendent’s announcement here:

See some local news coverage here:

Read through the blog created by parents in RRISD here:

Here are a couple of quotes from the book, Formative Assessment and Standards Based Grading, by one of the leading SBG ”experts” Robert J. Marzano.

“Where there is interest in this system, however, there is also quite a bit of poor practice on top of considerable confusion about its defining characteristics.” (pg.17)

“While this system seems like good practice, without giving teachers guidance and support on how to collect and interpret the assessment data with which scores like advanced, proficient, basic, and below basic are assigned, standards-based reporting can be highly inaccurate. Indeed, at the writing of this book, no major study (that we are aware of) has demonstrated that simply grading in a standards-based manner enhances student achievement.” (pg.18)

It has been established, demonstrated and agreed upon by parents and board members at the meetings this week that there is absolutely no continuity/consistency in the use of SBG grading and reporting at this time. It’s not just a matter of the stupid parents being most familiar with the traditional letter grading system and are resistant to change, one of the major issues here is that the district is implementing a new process without proper preparation and training. As Marzano states, this scenario leads to highly inaccurate reporting.

Julia Rose-Weston 6 years, 5 months ago

"there is absolutely no continuity/consistency in the use of..." This is a half truth. The statement was that there is no continuity/consistency in ANY grading system, SBG comes the closest because it is based on standards. You try to speak intelligently about this subject but your statements are loaded with strong emotions and misrepresentations. Take a deep breath and try to listen.

Jayhawks64 6 years, 5 months ago

HOTH, How long have you been teaching? What grade do you teach? How many years have you been utilizing SBG?

Selective_Tourettes 6 years, 5 months ago

Another BIG issue I have is with O’Conner, another major player in the SBG realm, and some of his core principles or frameworks of SBG. O’Conner is referenced often in USD 497 literature regarding SBG. SBG requires the separation of teaching to standards and “Learner Behaviors”. I understand the intentions of this, remove all the noise so you can drill down and identify to what extent the student actually knows the standards. However, if you dig a little deeper (Mr. Fagan) you’ll find more specifics. Take a look at a web based presentation by Mr. O’Conner himself, in it he discusses his 15 Fixes for Broken Grades. Take note of items 1-6.

1) Don't include student behaviors (effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc) in grades; include only achievement. 2) Don't reduce marks on "work" submitted late; provide support for the learner. 3) Don't give points for extra credit or use bonus points; seek only evidence that more work has resulted in a higher level of achievement. 4) Don't punish academic dishonesty with reduced grades; apply other consequences and reassess to determine actual level of achievement. 5) Don't consider attendance in grade determination; report absences separately. 6) Don't include group scores in grades; use only individual achievement evidence.

Standards Based Grading is SO MUCH more than just that the report cards look different than you’re used to in traditional letter grading. Please take the time to look into it further.

Cogito_Ergo_Es 6 years, 5 months ago

Thankfully he doesn't make as much money either, or I'd really be P.O'd!

big_john 6 years, 5 months ago

If everyone is not satisfied with the new system they want to place into our class rooms. Do not the taxpayers have a right to recall elected board members.

Windemere 6 years, 5 months ago

Don't think it rises to recall. What this gets down to is, at what age should grading transition from a soft apprach of hand-holding and a lot of nurturing to prepare-them-for-the-real-world. It also is a referendum on To what extent are we going to make it as easy as possible to comply with No Child Left Behind? This is tough. Happen to believe strongly that it makes a lot of sense to make that transition point 5th grade to 6th grade. Make middle schools all one grading system. In middle school years it seems developmentally appropriate to use traditional letter grades. There are still standards, of course. But just because there are standards, it does not mean we must use SBG as the primary grading system. Don't believe it if you hear that. Let's not make the mistake of veering further toward SBG above 6th grade. The downsides are greater than the upsides and kids don't receive the messages that will prepare them for HS, college and the real world.

GMom05 6 years, 5 months ago

Oh no, then they'd have to admit they only moved them up to MS so they could point to all the empty seats in our elementary schools after the 6th graders left, and then close 3 or 4 schools in the next 2 years!

Yes, so they moved them up, didn't give them the same grading system, won't let them play sports, reduced or eliminated their ability to get formal recognition through honor roll, and have them completely separated from the 7 th & 8th graders. Yeah, good work, move them up to MS and then treat them like they're still elementary kids. What' up with that???

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