Your voices have been heard

Teachers, students weigh-in on Standard Based Grading system

By Sage Larson

MGSH Staff Intern

Not unlike the Whos of Whoville, the voices of parents, students, and teachers alike have been heard by the District 279 administration on the subject of Standards Based Grading.

Over the past year District 279 implemented a new grading system within their schools. It is called Standards Based Grading (SBG). The purpose of this system is to reflect a student’s learning more accurately, basically reflecting how much a student has learned rather than the effort he or she has put in. The implementation is over a three-year course and at the moment, the district is in the second year.

In the first year, the district switched from the traditional grading system where teachers could set up how much of an impact tests and homework would have on a student’s grade to having the grades split into 80 percent summative, 20 percent formative. Summative is tests, projects, and papers while formative is homework.

Since the purpose of SBG is to accurately reflect the student’s learning, if a student does not do well on a test, he or she is allowed to retake a test, or portions of it, to show that they did learn the material. In order to take a retest, the student has to do extra work to relearn the material. Teachers can choose if a summative assessment will have a retake or not, but they have to convey this information to the students before the summative assessment is taken.

In the first year, retakes or any other second chance were not required. After the district sent out a survey back in the spring of 2012, the data they received said that 96 percent of the teachers did offer multiple chances and most of those chances were in the form of retakes. An inconsistency of the process of retakes caused a significant frustration among the teachers, parents and students, so the district made a policy that lays out the instructions so every teacher will be following the same guideline.

Another new part in year two is interval grading or task grades. Instead of earning letter grades, students will earn numerical grades on a four-point scale; A’s transfer to a 4, B’s transfer to a 3, and so on. Even though students are earning number grades, the letter grades will show up on transcripts and report cards.

 

Reactions

Standards Based Grading is an entirely new way to look at grades. This new way of grading has made a difference in not only students, but teachers as well. After a year of this new system, the schools, the teachers, and the students have felt the impact of SBG — positive and negative.

A teacher at Maple Grove Senior High that prefers to not be identified said, “The district’s adoption of SBG has actually made my life less stressful as I feel more empowered to grade only on accuracy, allow retests and treat homework as the means through which students get to practice the material.”

Student Sean McKenna, a senior in the top 10 of his class at Maple Grove Senior High said that he likes the idea of separating projects into formative and summative categories because it helps students understand what they are being assessed on.

Also, SBG has eliminated nonessential extra credit and ties all assessments to standards. The system does have some flaws though.

Sean noticed that, “the A range is 3.5 to 4, a range of 0.5 interval points, while the B range is 2.5 to 3.5, a range of 1.0 equal interval points. This means that it is twice as hard to get an A grade as it is to get a B grade under SBG.”

Anna Mirkin, another student with a GPA of 4.04 (weighted) noticed this issue too and agrees with Sean that it makes it harder to get an A. She said, “Our class can’t be competitive against others (college applicants) if our grading system inhibits us.”

Wendy Biallas-Odell, District 279 Director of Curriculum, commented on this observation stating, “The grade bands of B, C, and D contain three grades — B+, B, and a B-. Each one of those bands could be considered a .333 band because .333 times three would equal one. The A range is an A- and an A, so there’s two grades for the .5 range.”

Biallas-Odell does acknowledge that this system is still not equally divided out. She said that the district administration has thought about “expanding the A range” because to get an A, a student needs to at least get a 3.83, which if one does the math, it’s a 95.8 percent.

The district has recognized this issue and is widening the A range by dropping the 3.83 to a 3.67, which ends up equating out to 91.8 percent. The new A range will take affect after MEA weekend on Oct. 22.

Some teachers have grasped the idea of Interval Grading and have implemented the system correctly in their classrooms. Others have had more difficulties, which adds frustration to the students.

Anna noted, “The entire district needs to standardize their approach and implement one that does not degrade top students in comparison with other schools.”

Biallas-Odell added that the administration needs the feedback of students and parents about teachers that are not quite grasping the implementation correctly. With this information the administration can go to that teacher and provide them with the support they need to implement the system correctly so the students are not negatively affected.

 

What’s Next

MGSH students are still in the first trimester of the 2012-13 school year and have eight more months of school where both teachers and students will learn more about the system and how it works. The district has listened to the people who have spoke up and given feedback. The administration has responded and reformed criteria so teachers and students can reap the benefits of SBG.

If students or parents notice any issues throughout the year, contact Wendy Biallas-Odell at the district office so she can provide assistance and support to over come challenges that may arise. Not unlike Jojo of Whoville, everyone too can become the voice to inspire change.

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