A potential change to the way Clark-Pleasant schools grade middle and high school students has many parents confused and angry about how the new system would impact their children’s ability to get into the right college or get good scholarships.
About 150 parents, students and teachers came out to a school board meeting Tuesday evening to voice their concerns about standard-based grading, a newer educational concept that trades the nearly universal 0 to 100 grade scale for a system assessing students on a scale between 0 and 4. The 0-4 scale is based on learning targeted sets of skills teachers want students to master by the end of each semester.
School officials said they believe the system will give a more accurate portrayal of students’ understanding and comprehension of what they are being taught. But parents worry that it will put children from Clark-Pleasant schools at a disadvantage compared to other students.
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A change to standard-based grading would not eliminate GPAs and letter grades in transcripts for middle and high school students applying to colleges. The 0-4 scale grades would be translated into the traditional scale to measure GPAs, and weighted classes would remain weighted, school officials said.
The system isn’t new to Clark Pleasant. Standard-based teaching began in Clark Pleasant elementary schools in 2003, but teachers didn’t stop giving letter grades to elementary students until the 2013-14 school year. But parents are concerned bringing the system to the middle and high school level won’t work, because they fear that grades from the standard-based system won’t translate accurately to the 100 point, A to F, scale used for transcripts.
Some are hoping to get more information, such as how GPAs will be calculated, while others are strongly opposed to the change, with some parents even threatening to move to another school district if the proposed changes are approved.
“My children will no longer be at Whiteland; we will transfer if this is implemented,” parent Lisa Rene said.
Rene’s concern, and that of many other parents at the Tuesday evening meeting, was that the new system will result in their children getting lower grades, because the highest standard on the standard-based scale — 4 — will be too difficult to reach.
No official decision has been made if the school will change the grading system for middle and high school students, Spray said.
Because sixth-grade students are already immersed in the standard-based system, one option would be to gradually continue to introduce the new method as this class of students advances through the school system, he said.
To have high school freshmen using the new system by the 2019-20 school year, the board would need to approve making the changes at the seventh grade level for the upcoming school year, Spray said.
While standard-based teaching is a newer method, some states, such as Maine, have completely transferred to it, opting out of letter grades altogether.
More than 400 people have already signed a petition on change.org asking the school board to not change the grading system. Parents complained that they felt this proposal was rushed without adequate notice to parents or feedback from the community. At a Tuesday night work session and school board meeting, many of them voiced their frustrations to the school.
High school teachers began conducting trial runs of this new grading system in several classes last year in order to see if the system still provided fair grades, Spray said.
Several high school classes were graded using both the proposed standard-based grading system and the current system. From what teachers have seen so far, the standard-based grading system would not result in any grade deflation, he said.
However, Spray agreed that the school district has not done an adequate job of explaining the proposed changes, and promised that communication about the changes will improve, with four public input meetings planned for April and May.
The move toward standard-based grading began because school officials wanted a system that would better measure student growth and allow both students and teachers to see what areas they needed to focus their study on, Spray said.
The standard-based system also puts a much heavier emphasis on the outcome instead of the process, he said.
Under the current system, if a student were to get a 40 percent on a major test or paper early on in the semester, it would prevent them from scoring an A at the end of the semester, even if they showed that they knew all that material just a week later, Spray said.
With a standard based system, a student will likely start off the school year receiving grades of 1 or 1.5, Spray said. That isn’t because the student is doing C level work, but because the student hasn’t hasn’t been taught all of the core concepts for the class yet. As the semester progresses, and students show they have learned the core concepts, that grade will improve, with the goal of students reaching 4, an A, by the end of the semester.
Teachers want students to have a mastery of a subject, and be able to apply the information they have learned, not just regurgitate it. How a student demonstrates that mastery to get to the score of 4 will depend on the teacher and the class, Spray said.
If the goal of teaching is for students to have learned the material by the end of the class, then what they accomplish by the end of the class should be what determines the grade rather than where the student was at when they were beginning the class, he said.
Kevin Smith, who has students in fifth and seventh grade, said he appreciated the approach of focusing on growth and measuring what areas students need to improve, but questioned why the school had to completely disrupt the current system to include that teaching style.
Keeping the points-based system while including this growth based approach could have been done, but it would have been much more complicated, Spray said.
Parents also questioned whether the changed focus to having a student master a set of skills by the end of the semester would reduce the emphasis on putting in hard work all throughout the year, because if students just studied hard and improved to the necessary level at the end, they could still get a good grade, regardless of their effort level.
Students need to be encouraged to put 100 percent of their effort into their work, said Tina Billingsly, a mother who serves at the parent teacher organization president for one of the elementary schools.
While its true that a student’s grade is determined by the level of learning they reach, if a student isn’t motivated or giving their best effort, it is the teacher’s responsibility to find a way to keep that student engaged, Spray said.
Homework was another concern for many parents, who were worried that it would lose its value under the new system.
Officials have yet to determine how homework will factor into the final grades, Spray said. In the current system, homework counts for about 10 percent of a student’s grade in many classes. Under the standard-based grading system, if a student were to show mastery at the end of the class, and get to the 4 score, but fail to do any homework, it’s possible that the student’s grade could be lowered to the equivalent of an A-.
Four public meetings are planned to provide more information about the proposed change to standard-based grading in the Clark Pleasant Community Schools District.
Whiteland Community High School: 6:30 p.m. April 24 and May 2
Clark Pleasant Middle School: 7 p.m. May 3 and May 18
Officials at the Clark Pleasant Community Schools Corp. are considering changes to how they grade middle and high school students. Here’s a look at what those changes would mean.
- The traditional 1-100 scale with letter grades would be replaced by scores of 0-4.
- Scores would be determined by how well the student understands the principal skills a class is focusing on. Zero would be not understanding the concept at all and four would be a mastery of it.
- Most students would start off a semester with a score in the range of 1.5 to 2. As students progress, their score would continue to rise. The score the students reach at the end is what their grade would be based off of.
- Letter grades, transcripts, GPAs and weighted classes would all remain. The number scores on the 1-4 scale would be converted into a letter grade at the end of the class. A 3.5 or 4 would equal an A, whereas a 1.5 would equal a D.