Hatfield answers questions on new grading system - Part 2
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · February 15, 2013

West Branch Community Schools continues to implement and tweak standards-based grading at the middle school, doing away with letter grades like A’s and B’s.

Parents continue to have questions about SBG, so reporter Gregory Norfleet posed some of the top questions to Superintendent Kevin Hatfield, who answers them below.

Q. How does the school teach good behavior now that it is not part of the overall grade?

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

Q. Do you feel that removing behavior from grades sends a message to students that the school has de-emphasized its value? I don’t mean to say that the school no longer values good behavior. I’m sure it does. But do you think that students think there is less value in it because of this change? 

A. The district feels strongly that parental influences and great teaching will remain the most important components for establishing strong citizenship and positive behaviors norms in our schools.

Q. The middle school teachers seem to have their own ways of handling late or missing assignments (some give more time than others). Is the school trying to streamline this practice?

A. In WBCSD students are spoken to or sent e-mails from their teachers providing them with set times and dates to complete a “redo” or demonstrate new learning or improved understanding. The staff continues their professional development and communications regarding standardized approaches for addressing communications on “redo” work. Parents, students and staff should also understand that “redo” processes within subject area will vary to some degree.

Q. Some parents have expressed concerns that the school is not preparing children for the “real world” — college or a job — by allowing late assignments. How would you respond to that?

A. 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 prekindergarten-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. Teachers utilized rubrics to inform stakeholders of the work needed to be secure in reaching a standard. Also, we want students intrinsically motivated about their learning. This is what the real world wants from our students, thinkers, creators, problem-solvers and collaborators!

Q. There are many jobs where an employee does not get a second chance — lawyers, architects, firemen, reporters, construction workers — and missing a deadline could mean losing your job, or worse. How does the school district try to prepare students for that?

A. “Redoing” your work to improve its quality or to deepen one’s understanding does not negate the fact that there are deadlines or critical decisions to make about your work. Each of the careers or jobs listed above has continuing education requirements to meet professional standards. They are “redoing” and updating all the time. We want to significantly reduce time as a variable in the learning processes for our students.

Q. Is standards-based grading of interest to schools because of the pressures of No Child Left Behind? Why or why not? 

A. Actually, No Child Left Behind (N.L.C.B.) has served as the impetus for educators to move beyond the often minimal, snapshot measures of learners that standardized testing provides. N.C.L.B. has been a good tool for schools to begin the process of looking at data. It is important information and provides communities with a snapshot of information about their learners and schools; herein lies the problem — it is only a snapshot. Schools use this information for looking at the strengths and weaknesses of students, but in truth, it often has little impact on improving or changing teacher practices for increased student learning. Schools are implementing data teams, using common formative assessments and Response-to-Intervention (RtI) processes.

Q. If grades begin to slip, or if behavior takes a noticeable dip, or if more homework is not getting done, will the school district consider reverting to the old system?

A. Schools need to be professional learning environments. We will monitor our work toward implementing a standards-based and standards-referenced grading and reporting system closely. Inherent in this question is the idea that, “Even though the old, traditional grading system has many problems; the new system is going to take time and there could be a implementation dip, so the District might need to return to it.”

As educators, if we are sincere in our efforts to get to the heart of student learning, then we will continue to refine and drive a system based purely on what students know and are able to do.

Our great students, parents and grandparents need to know we are dedicated to the notion of continuous improvement. We are asking hard questions and beginning the difficult, yet worthwhile, work needed provide our students with a 21st Century, real-world education. There is plenty of evidence suggesting the status quo is no longer good enough. Now in my 25th year of education, I have no doubt that building standards and competency-based, personalized learning systems is the right work!

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