Even with changes to how grades are calculated, middle and high school students at Clark-Pleasant still will be able to earn the much sought after 4.0 grade-point average.
The highest grade in the new system — 4 — will be attainable for all students, Whiteland Community High School Principal Tom Zobel said.
School administrators and teachers met with about 50 parents Monday night in the first of four meetings to provide more details and answer questions about the proposed switch to standards-based grading at the middle and high school level.
Worries about how the grading system would impact their children’s GPAs and ability to get into college were among the chief concerns previously expressed by parents, and school officials sought to alleviate those fears with a more detailed explanation of how the new system would work.
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The switch to standards-based grading would trade 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.
If a class has a dozen primary skills students need to master, the final grade will be based on an average of the student’s final assessment in each of those skills. A draft of the new grading scale has any average of 3.25 or higher translating to an A, which is a 4.0 on a standard GPA scale.
The goal is to put the focus back on assessing knowledge and skills the students have acquired during the course of a semester, not on if they can do an appropriate amount of homework or turn in assignments on time, Clark-Pleasant Community Schools Superintendent Patrick Spray said.
While homework matters, and will be factored into the grade to an extent, what is most important is whether students have learned the skills the class was intended to teach them, he said.
One benefit of the new system is that grading criteria will be more uniform across subjects taught by multiple teachers, Zobel said.
Students from kindergarten through sixth grade no longer receive letter grades, rather, their final grades are based solely on the 0-4 scale. The difference for middle and high school students is that their final grades will still be translated into a GPA that can be used in applications for colleges and scholarships.
Several high school teachers have been keeping track of grades using both the current and proposed methods. What they’ve found is that changing the grading system won’t result in grade deflation, Zobel said.
The implementation of this system has been underway for more than a decade at the elementary school level, and it has been gradually expanded through sixth grade.
The concern from one mother of students in third and sixth grade is being able to tell if her child is on track to get the equivalent of an A by the end of the semester.
Near the beginning of the semester, Michelle Cooprider received a report card showing that her son had an average score of two. While the teacher assured her that her son was on track, knowing what grade her child will end up with is much more difficult than if the school was using a traditional grading system.
While using the focus on the standards as a teaching tool to ensure every student is progressing appropriately makes sense, making that the grading system is confusing, she said.
“I don’t understand what is wrong with the prior system,” Cooprider said.
One solution school administrators are considering is to also tell parents the average score of the class, so parents can see how children compare to their peers.
Cooprider said getting that information would be helpful, as without it, it is hard to see how her son is doing.
When a student applies to a college, the transcript that gets sent out will be identical to what is currently provided, said Shannon Fritz, the guidance director at the high school.
Along with a transcript, a school profile is typically sent, which provides information such as what courses the school offers and the average SAT scores students get. That document would include an explanation of how grades are calculated, she said.
A mother of two high school students questioned why Whiteland needs to be at the forefront of these educational changes.
“Why are we the guinea pigs?” Denise Speer said.
Clark-Pleasant isn’t the first school in Indiana to go the route of standards-based grading. High school teachers in Noblesville Schools can use either the typical 100 point system or standards-based grading. Elsewhere in the U.S., states such as Maine have transferred to the system, opting out of letter grades altogether.
One of Speer’s children, who is a freshman now, will be a senior when the new grading system comes to the high school level, and Speer wants to know what impact the new system will have.
High school classes often include students of multiple grades, so when the standards-based grading is implemented for high school classes in the 2019-20 school year, some seniors could be in classes that use the new system for the first time, Spray said.
All classes through sixth grade use standards-based grading. Another grade-level would be added each year until high-school level courses are transferred to the new system, he said.
Spray said the school board won’t be asked to approve any of these changes, as the overall grade scale isn’t being changed, just the method teachers use to determine the grades.
Three more public meetings are planned to provide more information about the proposed change to standard-based grading in the Clark-Pleasant Community Schools.
Whiteland Community High School: 6:30 p.m. May 2
Clark Pleasant Middle School: 7 p.m. May 3 and May 18