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Minds and Matter: Q&A on grading based on standards
by Kevin J. Hatfield, School Superintendent · Op-Ed · January 02, 2013


Enhancing the learning of our students is job one for the West Branch Community Schools. Our administrative team, the Board of Education and our great staff have been focusing on this mission!


The West Branch Community School District continues to utilize student-centered approaches that are designed to 1) enhance academic rigor, 2) personalize student learning experiences and 3) focus on assessment for understanding that improve teacher practices.

The District’s long-term strategic goals are designed to transform teaching and learning processes from the scaffolding in of best practices and programming for 21st Century learners and teachers. See www.west-branch.k12.ia.us/building/administration/documents/12-13-StrategicPlan.pdf.

The primary goal of standards-based grading (SBG) is to better communicate what each student knows and is able to do according to state and national standards. We will promote and assess the influence of positive behaviors and consistent, collaborative work habits separate from our report card.

During our community forum on standards-based grading (SBG), over forty parents and stakeholders shared their thoughts and asked insightful questions regarding our work in this area. We have listed the most commonly asked questions regarding the District’s work on standards-based grading, as well as the District’s responses.

Q. Does standards-based grading prepare children for the real-world? (This question relates to the practice of allowing students multiple opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of content, concepts or skills and use homework as practice for securing skills.)

A. (District Response): In the real world, do people get multiple opportunities to do things right? Do electricians have standards that must be met? Do welders need to fix welds that do not meet standards of welding strength?

Do doctors, in the real world, reassess and prescribe new medicines after initial interventions? Do surgeons need to meet surgical and medical standards? We believe the answer is “yes!”

In the real world, people not only redo their work, but it is expected. This hasn’t always been true in our traditional schooling or assessment practices.

In a standards-based setting, quality work matters. At the PK-12 levels, our teachers are working to provide students with multiple opportunities and settings to become secure or demonstrate mastery of foundational skills, concepts and content standards.

Q. How does the school intend to teach good behavior if it is no longer a part of a student’s grade?

A. (District Response): Utilizing a standards-based approach will require the guiding of students to make a fundamental shift from a “sit and get” mentality (extrinsic motivators) to one that focuses on intrinsic learning motivators. “I want to learn more about this topic and I have the tools and knowledge to take my learning deeper in this area.”

Teachers will target their talk with students about their learning while simultaneously continuing to model and set high expectations for respectful, responsible, cooperative, kind students interactions.

Q. What about Grade Point Averages (GPA)?

A. (District Response): The high school will ultimately utilize a standards-referenced grading system.

The system will be a combination of establishing clear, rigorous standards that correlate to more accurate grading within subject areas.

We understand that scholarships and post-secondary institutions rely on grade point averages, but it should be noted that GPA’s are becoming less of an overall factor or portion of emerging “college acceptance index rating scales.”

College admissions offices understand that the “A” in one school district may or may not equate to an “A” in another school district.

As an example of the factors involved in “qualifying” whether or not a student will be “accepted” into a post-secondary institution, I invite you to review the Iowa Regents Admission Index. (www.regents.iowa.gov/RAI/)

Q. What is the District’s plan for “standardizing” how teachers communicate to parents and students regarding “content standards” long-term “skill standards?”

A. (District Response): Within subject areas, teachers are formalizing their communication of standards for units and within specific learning activities.

Teachers are indentifying standards and developing rubrics that define what students should know and be able to do. The standards are identified from Iowa Core and/or Common Core so they are research-based and developmentally appropriate, yet challenging.

Our teachers continue to use in-service and collaborative team time (within subject areas and at grade levels) to qualify what constitutes “Beginning,” “Developing,” “Secure” and “Extending” around standards.

Q. In a standards-based system, since teachers are grading on a student’s highest level of attainment (demonstration of knowledge), won’t that de-emphasized homework? Why should students do homework or “practice work?” Do students really get unlimited opportunities to redo their work? What if students just want to be “secure” and not even try to extend their learning?

A. (District Response): In a standards-based system the homework is considered “practice.”

Student practice is considered preparation for the demonstration of level of understanding of a content standard or skill standard.

Since the system is focused on a student’s actual understanding, it is important that students complete “practice opportunities.” Rigorous standards will reveal a student’s strengths and weaknesses. Students must demonstrate that they have completed the “practices” before they are allowed to “redo” work in an attempt to demonstrate mastery or a secure understanding of a standard.

The teachers want students to redo their assessments and work to provide multiple times and opportunities for students to come in and accomplish this task. W.B.C.S.D. students are sent emails from their teachers or given set times and dates to “redo” or demonstrate new learning or improved understanding.

So, in the real world, people do learn from their mistakes.

We were grateful for the input and questions we received during our community forum.

We have received multiple emails and requests for additional information on standards.

Many parents have also shared that they appreciate the leadership efforts that our teachers, staff and administration have been making to improve our schools and student learning.

We are grateful for the permission to continue to learn and strive to be a better, more responsive school district. Our students deserve it!

Happy Holidays!

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