San Diego schools are changing their grading system. Is this a good idea?

Some internet eyebrows have exploded this week because of headlines like “San Diego school districts overhaul the grading system to fight racism.“It turns out that what San Diego is doing is following in the footsteps of many other districts and implementing a type of system commonly referred to as standards-based ranking.

Standards-based scoring belongs to the same family tree as mastery learning and a few other ideas that are not necessarily new. In a traditional grading system, a student can take quizzes, do homework, take tests, write essays, and perhaps earn participation points. In some districts, teachers may also count attendance and behavior. All of these different scores are put together and the overall result is a student’s score for the grading period. It is reminiscent of a job performance appraisal where you have been judged for the quality of your work over the past few months.

But over the years educators have wondered, “What if we just made a list of things that we expected students to be able to do or know and give an assessment based strictly on the fact that? did they or did they not achieve these goals? It doesn’t matter how you spent the past year; now that we’re at the end, do you know what we want you to know? This is a standards-based rating, a job evaluation based strictly on whether or not you are meeting your goals for the term.

There are a lot of things to like about this approach. In the traditional approach, a student’s formative assessments (quizzes given in the middle of the unit to see if everyone gets it) can lower a score on the final test of that skill. Behavior unrelated to the actual quality of the student’s work can end up lowering the student’s grades. But does it really matter how hard the student has struggled if they’ve finally mastered the material?

Standards-based ranking can also be much more descriptive. A traditional grade can be a label for a whole set of student activities, while a standards-based grade can be much more specific and descriptive of what the student actually did and did not achieve.

More importantly, the introduction of non-academic measures may unfairly penalize students for external circumstances. In my first year of teaching, my class included a brilliant student who rarely finished his homework and often fell asleep in class; this turned out because he had two jobs trying to support his family. Another savvy student later in my career rarely finished her homework because her parents didn’t have the money to heat their house in the winter. These students could master the material; What was the point in giving them a lower mark because they did not have the same resources as students coming from comfortable homes with a place reserved for them to do their homework?

Standards-based scoring typically involves making a list of standards and then determining whether or not students meet those standards. Students often achieve these goals at different times and at different speeds, sometimes involving multiple attempts to pass the assessment. Notes and newsletters are often different from a traditional newsletter.

Standards-Based Scoring Discussions raise a variety of contentious issues. For example, eliminating the idea that homework is “overdue” or allowing students to try as many tries as they need to pass the assessment seems to some to be “not like the real world.” And some differences seem unnecessarily cosmetic; standards-based scoring often replaces A, B, C, D and F with 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Standards-based scoring (like mastery learning) allows for a wide range of implementation. If your district decides to do this, there are several factors that it can get right or terribly wrong. There are a lot of devils lurking in the details. Just a few points that concerned observers should ask.

Quality of standards

A standards-based scoring system is only as good as the standards on which it is built.

Some districts simply grabbed the common basic standards and used them; it was not a good choice. ELA writing standards, for example, are a confusing mess, while ELA reading standards make no reference to content. If you think competency would involve knowing certain things (Hamlet plot, author, and cultural background of “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”), Common Core Standards won’t get you there.

In a traditional approach, we are used to the idea of ​​bonuses and enrichments spread throughout the class. In classification based on standards, only what is listed as a standard counts.

Level of detail of standards

Many elementary objectives lend themselves well to standards-based scoring (rehearsal chart; list of words to read correctly). But the more advanced the level, the more complex the educational objectives become. To be effective, the standards should not be too broad (“The student will be able to write a good essay”). But dividing big goals into small standards can result in dozens of micro-standards; this list can be not only long and cumbersome, but may not really fit the larger goal. In writing, for example, the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts.

Define the level of proficiency

To what extent does the student need to demonstrate mastery? Standards-based scoring can face the same problem as a pass-fasil system; set the bar too high, and many students will be frustrated and fail, but set the bar too low, and many students will become disengaged and bored. A reviewer complained that his school’s new system “made it more difficult to get the equivalent of an A and easier to pass a course.”

Measure mastery

How will the school determine that the student has met a standard? You may have taken some online workplace training where the measure at the end is five or ten multiple-choice questions that you keep answering until you get enough correct answers. If you’ve done that, you’ve seen how bad a review can be. Standards-based scoring should be based on genuine and quality assessments. Otherwise, students focus on a series of simple tests so that they can check off items from their list of standards.

Teacher workload

In a standards-based system, students will cycle through standards and materials at their own pace, creating a greater workload for teachers. Your school needs to have a good plan to handle this (hint: it’s better to add more staff than just hand over some parts of education to software).

The impetus to implement standards-based ranking often comes from a good place. But if not managed properly, it can create far more problems than it solves.

About Mary Moser

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