Osseo School District says it’s making progress with standards-based grading

The board heard an update on the hot-button topic Jan. 8

Osseo School District staff updated the school board on the implementation of standards-based grading Jan. 8.

Last fall the issue ignited the ire of some students, parents and teachers in the district. Many of the concerns focused on the perception that getting an A was more difficult under the new system and that the new 0-4 grading scale was inconsistently implemented across the district.

This graph shows the distribution of first trimester grades assigned in junior high in the Osseo School District for the past three years. (Submitted graph)
This graph shows the distribution of first trimester grades assigned in junior high in the Osseo School District for the past three years. (Submitted graph)
This graph shows the distribution of first trimester grades assigned in senior high in the Osseo School District for the past three years. (Submitted graph)
This graph shows the distribution of first trimester grades assigned in senior high in the Osseo School District for the past three years. (Submitted graph)

The complaints caused some mid-year changes and prompted the board to discuss the topic at a work session Oct. 30. The board had another work session Jan. 8 to hear a report on the district’s progress. A presentation during the regular board meeting also summarized the situation.

“Since we met with the school board on Oct. 30, we have been working closely with teachers and principals to identify areas of standards-based grading implementation in need of improvement and take action to address those items,” said Wendy Biallas-Odell, director of curriculum, instruction and educational standards.

Biallas-Odell said her team met with nearly 50 groups of teachers, principals and students.

“With stakeholder input we identified and acted upon two broad areas for improvement — grading practices and assessment development practices.”

In the grading practices category, the team found concerns with the 0-4 grading scale, the changes to the policy regarding multiple opportunities to take assessments and grade book calculations.

In the assessment development category, her team discovered concern over the need for more time to continue writing common assessments based on shared standards and the desire of some teachers to have more training regarding writing quality assessments.

Kris Rouleau, coordinator of curriculum, instruction and educational standards, outlined the action steps the district took to respond to concerns.

The district formed a “Secondary Grading Task Force,” composed primarily of teachers.

“This group has studied and made recommendations about grading practices, the grading scale and use of a grade-book mark called the ‘R’, which will be used to communicate to students and parents that an assignment or task is required in order to receive a grade in a course,” Rouleau said.

The task force created three documents with guidelines to help teachers understand consistent grading practices and how to use the grading scale effectively. The documents include charts to help determine when to use a whole number grade versus a decimal grade, how to determine an appropriate task grade using the 0-4 scale and when to use an “R” in the grade book. (Go to post.mnsun.com to see draft copies of these documents.)

The addition of the “R” was in response to teacher concerns that grade book calculations were giving some students passing grades, even though they hadn’t completed certain activities or assessments the teacher felt were vital to demonstrate mastery of the material. By marking some assignments with an “R,” teachers will now be able to make completion of those tasks a requirement for receiving a course grade.

In addition to creating the Secondary Grading Task Force, the district also responded to concerns regarding multiple assessment opportunities.

“Some teachers and parents expressed concern that students may not fully prepare for the first assessment with knowledge that a reassessment would be possible,” Rouleau said. “We have helped and worked with teachers to think about the kind of language they could include in a course syllabus to encourage student investment in preparing for the assessment the first time.”

For example, a teacher could require students to complete all the “formative” or learning activities before allowing reassessment.

During the board’s work session Don Pascoe, director of research, assessment and accountability, also gave the board information about the number of A’s awarded at secondary schools during the first trimester of this school year compared to the previous two years.

In grades 7-9 he said there were fewer A’s given in the first trimester. The percentage of A’s dropped from 36.7 percent in fall 2010 to 29.6 percent in fall 2011 to 26.1 percent in fall 2012. But he noted that “A” continues to be the most common grade given in grades 7-9.

Pascoe also pointed out the reduction in the number of A’s could be related to the elimination of extra credit in the district.

The percentage of F’s in junior high decreased slightly, from 3.4 percent two years ago to 1.5 percent this year.

“The other thing you see is a sort of smoothing of the line (on the graph),” Pascoe said. “We don’t have as (many) ups and downs. The impact on GPA was negligible.”

In grades 10-12, “A” also continues to be the most common grade, though fewer A’s are given than in junior high. Pascoe said that’s normal because work becomes more rigorous in high school.

In senior high 28.1 percent of the first-trimester grades given two years ago were A’s, 24.1 percent last year were A’s and 21.2 percent were A’s this year.

For senior high the graph also showed a smoothing trend, and F’s also decreased somewhat, from 7.1 percent two years ago to 4.0 percent this year.

Pascoe said the district will continue to monitor and analyze such results in the future.

Rouleau said the district also plans the following steps to continue monitoring the implementation of standards-based grading and to support teachers:

• Analyze results of a planned teacher survey about standards-based grading to be launched this month.

• Jan. 16, meet with the Secondary Grading Task Force to continue discussions.

• Jan. 17, meet with the Teaching and Learning Leadership Team, made up of teachers, instructional coaches, principals and curriculum staff.

• Feb. 1, have a staff development day that focuses on standards-based instruction, grading and reporting, along with writing common assessments.

• Feb. 21, meet with the large standards-based grading group to review the implementation benchmarks for next school year and determine if they should be revised.

Board member generally seemed to approve of the progress. The biggest concern, raised by Director Teresa Lunt, was whether the district had a concrete communication plan to make sure parents and students understood the changes this year and next year.

Information on standards-based grading, including recent changes, is available at district279.org by clicking on “Standards-Based Grading” on the right-hand side of the page. Staff said they plan to explore options to better communicate changes with the community.


Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]