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Beyond the Classroom: Standard-based, not grade-based

By Staff | Dec 26, 2014

If you have a kindergarten student this year you may have noticed that his or her grade report looks a little different. You may have noticed that grades have been removed. In the place of grades is a list of standards or what we call “I can” statements. These statements are student- and parent-friendly standards. They are what our teachers expect all kindergarten students to know and be able to do by the end of the school year. Standards-based reporting is considerably different for parents who expect a grade.

Grades give us very little information. For example, what does a “B” actually mean? To many parents and students a “B” is a good score, but it may not tell the full story. The points that make up the “B” could be heavily weighted with more daily work assignments than assessments. This does not show a true picture of achievement for that particular student. The student may have struggled in a certain area and was able to move on due to the other averaged grades.

Doug Reeves, an expert on grading, explains that there are distortions in grading due to using the average. Review the follow assignment grades. What grade would you give this student? Assignment 1 = C, Assignment 2 = C, Assignment 3 = Missing, Assignment 4 = Missing, Assignment 5 = D, Assignment 6 = C, Assignment 7 = B, Assignment 8 = Missing, Assignment 9 = B, Assignment 10 = A. Most would average all assignments and give this student a “D” or an “F” due to the missing assignments. What if the “A” was the final test? Maybe it took the student until assignment 10 to master the concept. In a majority of classrooms it only matters if a student gets the concept by a specific date. We know that students learn at different rates, some faster than others.

In the past we focused on teaching and rarely focused on learning. It was common for teachers to move on to a new unit without everyone understanding the material due to time constraints. We are making the shift at Rugby Public Schools to place a strong emphasis on student learning. We are now creating a system that focuses on mastery. Robert Marzano, an educational researcher, explained that most school’s curriculum and instruction is a mile wide and an inch deep. The sheer size of what teachers need to cover prevents in-depth understanding.

Every week on Wednesday morning our teachers work together in developing what students should know and be able to do in all subject areas. Over the past few years, each grade and subject area has developed a list of “I can statements” based on the North Dakota State Standards. Each of these standards will be assessed and interventions will be used to get each student up to a certain mastery level. This process does not just focus on students that struggle, it also involves discussions about what we are doing if a student already knows the material.

Grading plays an important role in this process. Grades should be meaningful and provide parents, students and teachers with valuable information to improve student learning. For grades to be meaningful they must reflect specified learning goals. This requires teachers to organize grading around “I can statements.” Aligning grading practices to standards allows teachers and parents to provide help and intervention in areas where students struggle. A “D” does not provide us with adequate information to improve student learning. We need to pinpoint where the breakdown occurs in student learning and provide timely interventions. Implementation of this new way of grading will be methodically implemented at Ely Elementary over the next few years. The goal is to extend standards-based grading to first grade next school year.

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