Standards-Based Grading, Numbers replace letters in two classes

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Central High School is testing a new grading method this year. Freshmen students will receive numbers instead of letter grades in two classes.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

Central High School is joining a nationwide movement that’s redefining how student performance is evaluated. 

Starting with the new school year, which begins today, freshmen will be assessed based on how much they learn about a subject—not for the work they complete along the way. In two classes, English 1, which all freshmen take, and Spanish 1, which is an elective, students will receive a number that corresponds with how well they’ve mastered the material. It’s a four-point scale with “4” representing “advanced skill, exceeds expectations” and “1” representing “minimal understanding.”

The new system, called standards-based grading, measures progress against consistent, established, statewide academic standards known as the Iowa core. It’s a measurement of what students should know and be able to do in math, science, English and so on. Each subject has specific standards.

According to Central High School Principal Dan Yanda, the new grading method should give a better of idea of student learning. Traditional “letter grading” is not a reflection of true performance, he explained, because it often embraces several factors unrelated to learning such as attendance, classroom participation, extra credit and completion of homework assignments.

“I’m sure we have A/B students who don’t know the material as well as C students who don’t jump through the hoops,” said Yanda. “This method of grading will more accurately assess exactly what the student knows.”

In these two classes, homework will be given but students won’t receive a grade or points towards a letter grade for completing it. That doesn’t mean that students can or should disregard homework assignments. Instead, homework should be viewed as practice for a final test or project.

“Think of it this way,” said Yanda, “if an athlete doesn’t practice free throws, they will be less successful in a game situation. It’s the same here. Homework is the practice that helps the student learn the material. It’s also a safe place for students to challenge themselves. There’s no risk because there’s no grade.”

He added that students would be required to demonstrate their understanding of standards in several ways. A student who receives a score of 2 or below will have opportunities to raise their scores. 

“Students learn at varying rates, therefore students who do not demonstrate understanding by a certain date should be allowed to demonstrate understanding at a later date,” Yanda added.

Students who are struggling with material would receive extra assistance during the school’s 9th period.

Parents of freshmen students received letters explaining the new grading method; an informational meeting was held Monday night to address their questions.

While standards-based grading is new to the high school, it is not new to the district. The approach was instituted last year at the elementary level. The high school initiative will be reviewed regularly and adjustments will be made, as needed. Yanda is hopeful that the pilot program will eventually be expanded to include more subjects and students.

Also new this year, all high school students will be receiving weekly “employability skills” ratings in each of their classes. Again, a 4-point scale will be used with 4 representing “regularly observed” and 1 representing “infrequently observed.” A variety of skills will be evaluated including attendance, punctuality, work ethic and collaboration. The ratings, which help predict success in both workplace and post-secondary settings, will be available to parents, as well. Yanda hopes the numbers will spark conversation between the students and their parents about the rating, what happened during the week the rating was given and, if necessary, how to raise the rating.

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