What do grades communicate in a standards-based approach?
In Standards-Based Education (SBE), a grade is a tool to communicate student’s progress. It is not a form of compensation between the teacher and the student.
Beginning in the 2011-2012 school year, district assessment scores will no longer reflect points or percentages. Instead, they will reflect a student’s performance based on specific learning criteria. Grades will reflect the student’s level of knowledge through the percentage of power standards that he or she meets.
In the current system, a grade represents different criteria, depending on the teacher or the course. The grade may reflect extra credit, class participation, attendance, effort and work habits. Each teacher grades according to what he or she believes is most important, and grading often measures a student’s standing relative to his or her classmates. Sometimes, grades are used punitively, which can cause more damage than motivation.
In a standards-based approach, will families see consistent grading standards at each school?
In a standards-based approach, parents and students will see consistent grading standards throughout each school—and throughout the district. Teachers will grade based on what each student has learned and how that student meets standards.
In our Standards-Based Education System, students have multiple opportunities to achieve a standard by retaking a test or portions of a test. What does this teach them about the real world where it’s necessary to do one’s best?
In the real world, only people who master certain information or skills are able to receive certain privileges. Our new system puts more focus on student learning, and yes, it allows for multiple attempts for success. It’s actually a more accurate reflection of real-world experience, where a person must meet a certain standard before receiving certain privileges.
Some "real life" parallels are the ACT, SAT, professional exams—even the driver's test. There are no penalties for the number of attempts on these tests, but failing them gets expensive and wastes time. A person who truly wants the privilege becomes intrinsically motivated to succeed because he or she wants the benefit that goes with passing the test, i.e., getting accepted into a good college, getting licensure in a certain profession—or driving a car.
The standards-based system still features deadlines, also a real-world concept. The teacher has discretion over accepting late work, such as the end of a unit. Policy 2420 reads, "The teacher may limit the number of re-take attempts."
And what about cheating and plagiarism?
If a student cheats or plagiarizes on a test or assignment, can he or she retake the test or re-do the assignment?
In this case, the school and/or teacher must separate the behavior from the student’s achievement. Cheating and plagiarism is an unethical behavior that the district will not condone. Currently, no consistent consequence exists when a student cheats or plagiarizes. The penalty ranges from a lowered grade, a zero, and even suspension. These consequences, however, do not often include completing the assignment appropriately.
When a student does not have to make up the test or assignment, we send the message that the test or assignment wasn't important, and we let him or her off the hook regarding demonstrating proficiency on that standard. In SBE, students will be expected to retake a test or complete the assignment. In addition, they also will receive the appropriate discipline in accordance with building and district policy.
If homework and practice do not count for the grade, how will we promote the importance of homework?
If homework and practice do not count as part of the student’s grade, how will we promote the importance of homework? How will we motivate them to complete it and turn it in?
When teachers return homework to students with a grade, most students shove it in their backpack or binder and never look at it again. Imagine the enhanced learning opportunity for the student if instead, the teacher returned the homework with two or three meaningful comments rather than a grade?
As teachers, we realize that homework and practice tied directly to learning targets is an important component of student achievement. So when teachers use homework as a mechanism for extensive and timely feedback to the student, it conveys the message that homework is important and necessary.
Providing students with nonjudgmental written or verbal feedback enables teachers to formatively assess student understanding and provides the student safe opportunities to practice—without judgment.
Why are we allowing students to turn in late work or re-do work without penalty of a zero?
How does this teach responsibility and accountability?
In a standards-based system, the emphasis is on learning. When a student doesn't do the work, the inherent consequence is that he or she doesn't learn the content or practicing the skill.
When we do not allow a student to turn in late work or re-do work, we deny that student the opportunity to grow character traits that are vital to student achievement, such as perseverance and persistence.
If a teacher doesn’t accept late work, the teacher sends the message that the assignment had little educational value. It's as if teacher is saying, "Hey, it's okay if you don't do the work, and it's okay if you don't learn the content or skill." As professional educators working to prepare students to successfully navigate the 21st century world, we can no longer accept these messages.
Granting a reduced grade or zero doesn’t teach responsibility to students who are not intrinsically motivated. It actually allows the student to avoid the accountability of demonstrating what he or she has learned, and it teaches them to shrug off important responsibilities.