category-opinion

Standards Based Grading in KSD Middle Schools is Controversial

KSD Citizens accepts that change is often important and necessary in education. Change must be beneficial and appropriate. Managing change well is essential to its’ success.
While some administrators prefer using their authority to impose change, our bias favors Democratic shared decision making which includes authentic participation by all stakeholders.  KSD has the means in place to achieve this.
This article is the first of several relating the adoption of SBG in Kennewick middle schools. We believe there are lessons to be learned.

Little known or understood by Kennewick families, Standards Based Grading (SBG) is coming to Kennewick middle schools.

Proponents describe SBG as a more meaningful way to express what students know and are able to do. Skeptics say SBG is no more helpful than traditional grading and creates complicated management and scheduling for teachers.

I learned about SBG when Scott Parker, Highlands’ principal, spoke to the community last November (see KSD Secondary School Report posted November 18, 2010). He said SBG is necessary because students who fail classes in middle school are more likely to drop out of high school. SBG is intended to reduce class failures. According to Parker, SBG provides school wide grading consistency, is fair to all students and measures student performance on well defined course objectives.

SBG has been critically labeled as “compassionate grading” and “buffering the bottom”.

SBG is one element of Mastery Learning to measure a student’s progress and performance meeting KSD power standards which are derived from state standards. Only academic achievement is reported.

 

SBG critics point out two major issues:

• SBG is no improvement over traditional grading and creates conditions for reducing student accountability and motivation.

• Teachers say the discussion has not been about whether SBG is good for Kennewick schools but about managing its adoption. Implementation of SBG in two middle schools has not been done well.

More specifically:

• This is seen as another in a succession of educational fads brought to Kennewick schools by administrators seeking a “magic bullet” to promote student learning and reduce the number of secondary dropouts.

• In several schools implementation has lacked leadership. Instead of consensus building, principals have either assumed or declared SBG will be adopted. Building site councils have not been properly utilized to develop teacher “buy-in” which is essential for success.

• Inadequate teacher training, technology support, building resources and scheduling flexibility complicate implementation even for staff members who have accepted SBG.

• SBG is a condition/response program that promotes procrastination because students can always retake the test. Being responsible to get homework done and study done on time is irrelevant.

• Some teachers have experienced no reduction in students failing classes in middle school.

• A consequence for high schools is adding special classes to motivate students who did not develop that trait in middle school.

 

A Scenario

For an example of how SBG works in a Language Arts classroom follow this link:

http://ksdcitizens.org/2012/03/26/a-teachers-experience-with-standards-based-grading/#more-3117

 

The Situation at Middle Schools

• Staff has raised concerns about the implementation of SBG at Highlands and Horse Heaven Hills.

• Park has taken a more inclusive approach which has not aroused as many teacher objections.

• Information about Desert Hills is not yet available.

 

Highlands –

Principal Scott Parker says “this is the second year (of SBG) for HMS and we had A LOT of “bumps”. Mainly the “set up” of grade books.”

The first 3 quarters of this school year only test scores could count toward quarter and semester grades. Fourth quarter, it was decided to permit up to 20% of the course grade to include homework. Homework is defined to include assignments done in class.
Students earn one of nine possible numerical scores on the grading scale:

Grading Scale
4        Student exceeds standard (successful in depth inferences and applications).
3.5     In addition to students meeting standard, partial success at in depth inferences and applications.
3        Student meets mastery of standard
2.5     No major errors regarding basic information and/or processes addresses in the standard.
2.0     Student approaching standard (no major errors regarding the simpler information and/or processes BUT major errors in major and complex ideas).
1.5     Partial knowledge of the simpler knowledge and details.
1.0     Student beginning standard (with help, partial knowledge of simpler and complex details and processes.
.5       With help, a partial knowledge of some of the simple details and processes BUT not of the more complex ideas.
0        No mastery of standard even with help, no understanding or skill demonstrated.

 

Implementation Requirements:

1. Teachers cannot put in letter grades for assignments or tests, they must put in a 4, 3.5, 3.0 2.5, 2.0, 1.5, 1.0, 0.5, 0.
2. Do not use Inc or I. Only use S/U to communicate that practice was/wasn’t completed.
3. HMS will use the above rubric with their grading practices.
4. IT will be setting up the default grade scale for HMS.

A primary issue, according to some, is that SBG was mandated by administration and staff was tasked with learning about and accepting SBG, then finding ways to make it work.

Students may retest for any unit of instruction. Time for re-teaching and re-testing is provided before and after school and during lunch. Students frequently do not do their best work when first tested knowing they can re-test.

When teachers use their class periods for retesting this can result in “dead time” for students who already have met or exceeded the standard.

Comparing SBG to a percent scale:
4 – 94%
3 – 84%
2 – 74%
1 – 64%
0 – 54%
A student scoring 0, 1, 2 or 3 may re-test which creates a significant additional paperwork load for teachers.

Note: See additional Highlands’ information at the end of this article.

 

Horse Heaven Hills –

Assistant Principal Diana Burns says “We are not doing SBG in the purest form as we will be weighting homework towards the student’s final grade and most likely will limit the opportunity for re-assessments. Our teachers are currently taking a survey so we can come to consensus on these elements and others before implementing next year. We also realize we will need to communicate our plan to students, parents and other community members and have plans to do so. “

A number of teachers who were early adopters of SBG were selected to form a committee to study implementing SBG building-wide at Horse Heaven Hills. The committee recommended SBG to the building site council. While site council has been informed about SBG there has been no vote for its acceptance. Building administration has taken the study committee recommendations as sufficient to continue implementing SBG. Staff is now being surveyed to find consensus on certain elements of SBG.

A significant concern of some teachers is that they were not given a genuine opportunity to examine SBG through consensus building. Parents on site council have registered concerns about SBG. It appears that SBG will become the building standard without, what some regard as, authentic participation by the building site council.

Another concern expressed by staff is whether SBG is holding students accountable or enabling them. Teachers have experienced reduced motivation among students to do homework assignments.

SBG complicates pacing in math and science classes. Math teachers are required to follow a specific pacing schedule for lessons. This schedule does not allow for re-teaching or adding a day or two to a unit of instruction when needed.

Staff opinion is that time for reassessments should be built into the school day and not require lunch time intervention. Student failure lists are distributed among staff which some teachers fear unfairly marks them as doing inadequate teaching. Consequently, teachers give up duty free lunch to work with students.

Teachers are assigned morning and afternoon duty to monitor students outside of the building. This assignment conflicts with the expectation teachers will be available to work with students at those times.

Eighth grade teachers have worked to prepare their students for the transition to high school where the traditional grading system will remain. Now they understand that this is no longer their concern.

Grading information from Horse Heaven Hills: After receiving feedback from the grade level meetings, this is the revised rubric we will use as a staff:
4    Advanced Student demonstrates a deep understanding of the standards at or above grade level independently, consistently and on the first attempt.

3    Proficient Student demonstrates understanding of the standards at a level expected of all students at this grade level and can perform task independently.

2    Basic Student partially demonstrates understanding and is approaching grade level standards but cannot perform task independently

1    Below Basic Student demonstrates a beginning or limited understanding of grade level standards. He or she is not prepared to advance to the next grade level.

0    Incomplete Student demonstrates no understanding of the grade level standards and is not prepared to advance to the next grade level OR the student did not attempt, did not complete and/or did not turn in required work to base assessment on.
.
At Horse Heaven Hills the percent scale is:

Grade Scale using 4 point system in PowerGrade
A    90%
A-   83%
B+  78%
B    70%
B-   63%
C+  58%
C    50%
C-   43%
D+  38%
D    25%
F    24% and below

Some teachers see this lower standard as contrary to KSD’s policy of PERRR (Purpose, Engagement, Rigor, Results and Relationships), an essential element of the educational process in Kennewick Schools. Lessons are developed and delivered to students utilizing these characteristics. Superintendent, Dave Bond has stated that KSD wants to maintain high standards while enabling more students to earn passing grades in their classes. The question persists; where is the rigor?

My sources indicate that HHH administration is not truly listening to staff, that staff has not yet “bought-in” to SBG, student discipline is a growing problem and the scheduling structure is not in place to provide re-teaching and re-testing.

Additionally, SBG, as practiced, negatively impacts students’ personal accountability. The evidence is apparent in the current 8th grade population, who has been involved in this SBG model for their entire middle school career. They are confused about what grades and homework mean; they cannot discern teacher expectations. Procrastinators cannot work their way through the maze without intense adult intervention. There is a diminishing level of personal responsibility being internalized.

Note: See Horse Heaven Hills Middle School’s Standards Based Grading Survey information at the end of this article.

 

Park –

Principal Kevin Pierce says “Park is currently using the traditional system (A, B, C, D, F). However, we have completed two book studies as a whole staff on the topic of standards based grading and are prepared to create an action plan for next year. We have not decided as a staff whether we will implement standards based grading, as I have asked Site Council to make the final decision. Regardless of what we decide to do, we are going to create a school wide plan to improve grading because certain glaring inconsistencies must be addressed. Drop us a line toward the end of May and I’ll update you on our progress. “

 

Desert Hills –

Principal Steve Jones has not yet responded to my requests for information about SBG at Desert Hills. When I receive his response I will report that information on this site.

 

Impact on High Schools

According to one staff member, Kennewick High administrators are pushing hard for a directed tutorial to be installed into an already totally disrupted school week. If the culture created by SBG in middle schools spreads to high schools, then KSD will certainly need an additional chunk of time built into the day to accommodate all the curricular loose ends and the logistics of kids who are all operating at different speeds.

 

Teacher recommendations

• Initial considerations should have begun with whether SBG is developmentally appropriate and necessary for our students.

• Teachers need to be more involved in decision making and consensus building.

• There should be consistency implementing SBG among the 4 middle schools.

• Another year is needed to figure this out as teachers do not have a clear vision of how SBG works.

• Parents and the community need to be more involved in understanding and implementing SBG.

• Time for student re-assessments should be standardized within the daily schedule.

• The numerical and percentage grading scales must be standardized.

• Curriculum standards must be uniform across grade levels and content areas at the 4 middle schools.

• The workload for staff is increased by 10% or more for re-testing which should be factored into scheduling and instruction.

 

Other Teacher Comments or Questions

• While building staff were provided reading material and listened to speakers describing SBG, it was clear from the beginning that administration’s goal was for SBG to be adopted.

• SBG is a terrible idea in any form and should be rejected. It is creating mediocrity for all for the sake of the bottom 30%. The narrow target is “upping our graduation rates.” What about educating our kids at a higher level? With SBG we are engaging in a condition/response program that promotes procrastination because the kid can always retake the test, and being responsible to get homework done and study done on time is irrelevant. This is not consistent with the requirements of the world we live in today.

• SBG should only be adopted if schools are going to measure the success or detriment of implementation on the overall learning of students. Are students better prepared to be successful in high school or to gain employment?

• The greatest fallacy of this discussion is the assumption our current letter grades mean nothing. If we teach the standards and assess what we teach, how can our grades not reflect what the students learn? Another question; how many intrinsically motivated Middle school students have you known?

• Any positive aspects of SBG can be incorporated within the current grading system.

• Mastery Learning is a good idea but teachers need time within the daily schedule to re-teach.

• Reassessments must be planned within the daily schedule, not during lunch.

• SBG will be no more meaningful or helpful to students and their parents. Why change a system that is not broken?

• Practice assignments, reading logs, class participation, class preparation and other student work may be graded but is not included in grade reports.

• As a teacher, I cannot explain SBG and its evolving “standards” to myself. I cannot stand in front of parents and begin to explain it.

• With elementary schools and high schools not using SBG, why are middle schools adopting it?

• There have not been meaningful attempts to provide consensus on SBG before we started experimenting with our youth.

• Ten to twenty percent of students may receive a grade less than 3. The teacher has been left with a time management nightmare and most have caved and sacrificed their lunch hours for years. In the end, the teacher has taken the majority of the responsibility for the student following through for an acceptable grade.

• Historically, eighth grade teachers have worked to prepare their students for the transition to high school where the traditional grading system remains in effect. Now, they are being told that they no longer need to be concerned, that is not their job. We question this “convenient suggestion” that it is not an 8th grade teacher’s job to prepare students to transition successfully to high school and career. Someone better let the high schools know that “ain’t happenin’ in the middle schools anymore.”

 

Outcome

Will adopting SBG achieve the desired outcome of reducing high school dropouts? Some would argue that if the problem is students not having the knowledge and skills to be successful doing high school work the first time, the answer is certainly “No”.

 

Role of Building Site Councils

A concern of mine has been KSD administrators’ response to site based decision making. The contract provision for building site councils was negotiated between KSD and the Kennewick Education Association (KEA) to empower teachers and parents to engage with administration on a broad range of significant educational decisions. My observation has been that an administrator who is not comfortable sharing decision making authority can manipulate a building site council. It is the case that on some issues, a site council merely “rubber stamps” the will of the building administrator. There may only be the appearance of inclusive decision making.

In at least one building the administrator has encouraged site council to reduce the scope of issues which that site council is permitted to consider. This returns unquestioned authority for decision making to a building principal who does not want to consider staff and community input.

In the implementation of SBG we can compare the consequences of authoritative decision making at Highlands and Horse Heaven Hills middle schools with the process at Park. Kevin Pierce’s inclusive approach may take longer to achieve a consensus; however, by following the contract and honoring the professionalism of Park’s staff the outcome will arrive with greater cohesion and less turmoil.

I believe building site councils offer the best means for educators and the community to participate in shaping education in Kennewick schools. It is imperative that KSD administration and KEA monitor building site councils to assure they are operating as designed according to their charters.

Classroom teachers, as the ultimate providers of instruction and assessment for Kennewick students, must be more than implementers of policy and programs but must be genuinely engaged in forming them.

 

Additional Highlands’ Information

Highlands Middle School 2010-2011
Purpose: To use and administer consistent and accurate grading practices to increase student achievement.
Part 1: Categories -Teachers may set up the following categories:
• Practice (Please note what standard the practice pertains to.)
o Grade input should be an Satisfactory (S), Unsatisfactory (U), Missing (M).
 Example-Homework, Participating in PE (dressing down), Reading Journals, math practice problems, etc.

• Assessments (Standard ________with description so parents understand)-
o Assessments are 100% of the grade.
o Could be Summative and/or Common Assessments
o Grade input 4, 3.5, 3, 2.5, 2.0, 1.5, .5, 0.
 Example-Unit and Chapter Exams, Projects graded with a rubric, etc.

Part 2: Grading Scale

4 Student exceeds standard (successful in depth inferences and applications).
3.5 In addition to students meeting standard, partial success at in depth inferences and applications.
3 Student meets mastery of standard
2.5 No major errors regarding basic information and/or processes addresses in the standard.
2.0 Student approaching standard (no major errors regarding the simpler information and/or processes BUT major errors in major and complex ideas).
1.5 Partial knowledge of the simpler knowledge and details.
1.0 Student beginning standard (with help, partial knowledge of simpler and complex details and processes.
.5 With help, a partial knowledge of some of the simple details and processes BUT not of the more complex ideas.
0 No mastery of standard even with help, no understanding or skill demonstrated.

Implementation Requirements:
5. Teachers cannot put in letter grades for assignments or tests, they must put in a 4, 3.5, 3.0 2.5, 2.0, 1.5, 1.0, 0.5, 0.
6. Do not use Inc or I. Only use S/U to communicate that practice was/wasn’t completed.
7. HMS will use the above rubric with their grading practices.
8. IT will be setting up the default grade scale for HMS.

Part 3: Citizenship
Next to each student’s name is a “citizenship” box. Citizenship may be edited and changed at any time during the grading period and will show up at the top of the Parent Portal.
Citizenship (S) = Completes work on time, is prepared to learn, participates in activities and follows expectations.
Citizenship (U) = Does not follow any of the above consistently.

Part 4: Power Standard Assessments and Rubrics
Through PLC work this year, rubrics will be developed for all power standard assessments. This will help teachers understand the standards, have discussion around their curriculum and help focus instruction on student learning of the power standards.

A repair Kit for Grading-15 Fixes for Broken Grades
HMS Book Study
Purpose: 1. Collegial conversations about grading practices
2. Impact grades have on student achievement
3. Improve student learning
Introduction:
• Education is more and more standards based (WASL, common assessments, summative assessments) however grading criteria in subject areas is still widely subjective and not base on the standards.
• Grades are so imprecise that they are meaningless. Grades can vary drastically from one teacher to another and from grade level to grade level.
• Grades meet to meet four overarching criteria:
 Grades must be consistent
• School Wide Performance Standards
 Accurate
• Must reflect learning, not behaviors
 Meaningful
 Must support learning
• Formative assessments shouldn’t be calculated in grades. Summative assessments are designed to measure student achievement.
• Teachers need to allow new evidence to replace old evidence in what the student has learned.
• Purposes for grades-to communicate student achievement and provide teachers with information for instructional planning.
• Fairness-Fairness is not the same as equal. Some students may need more time on an assignment.
• Motivation-Intrinsic
• Objectivity in grading

15 Fixes for Broken Grades
Protocol: Jigsaw
For your Grading Fix, be prepared to:
1. Describe the Fix to the group.
2. Your initial thoughts on the fix
3. Self reflection on your own grading practices.
4. Present any changes to grading you are considering in your own practice.

Discuss 3-5 Fixes per meeting
Meeting Date Fix Presenter

 

Additional Horse Heaven Hills Information

Standards Based Grading Survey
The goal of the survey on Standards Based Grading is to help staff come to a consensus regarding certain elements of SBG; such as weighting homework, re-assessments and to find where we need to focus future professional development to support staff in our move to SBG. I [Diana Burns] will start by reviewing some rationale for SBG and also attempt to answer questions posed at the last grade level meetings.
The purpose of Standards Based Grading is to measure a student’s progress and performance towards state standards. District power standards and standards selected by PLC come from the state standards. Grades are based on academic achievement only. Other factors such as behavior, attendance and participation are reported separately. The state requires proficiency of standards in order for students to graduate from high school. This grading system reflects and informs everyone of the child’s progress towards proficiency of those standards and to what level they are prepared for success at the next grade level. SBG highlights power standards, as there are too many state standards to be covered in the course of one school year. This reporting system better informs all stakeholders of the standards a student can or cannot do at that particular point in time.
Why is Standards Based Grading important?
Traditional grading, when reporting, tends to result in a limited measure of a student’s abilities. While the A on a student’s report card might thrill parents, this grade does not convey precise performance. Standards Based Grading overcomes this problem by reporting on progress towards selected standards. Multiple scores are used to asses a student’s progress toward each standard. Rubrics with meaningful descriptors are used to help guide students, teachers and parents in understanding where the student is in their individual progress toward each standard.
After receiving feedback from the grade level meetings, this is the revised rubric we will use as a staff:
4 Advanced Student demonstrates a deep understanding of the standards at or above grade level independently, consistently and on the first attempt.

3 Proficient Student demonstrates understanding of the standards at a level expected of all students at this grade level and can perform task independently.

2 Basic Student partially demonstrates understanding and is approaching grade level standards but cannot perform task independently

1 Below Basic Student demonstrates a beginning or limited understanding of grade level standards. He or she is not prepared to advance to the next grade level.

0 Incomplete Student demonstrates no understanding of the grade level standards and is not prepared to advance to the next grade level OR the student did not attempt, did not complete and/or did not turn in required work to base assessment on.
.
The plan is to go building wide with SBG practices in 2011-2012. We will have come to consensus on the issues being surveyed and can tailor August BPD to help move us forward. As we work on our master schedule, administration continues to look at ways to incorporate re-assessment opportunities within our school day. The plan is to communicate with students and parents via a letter mailed with schedules and a video placed on our website. The tech department should have the SBG version of Power Grade so grade books can be set up to support SBG. The report card itself most likely will not be ready until 2012-2013. One suggestion was to list the standards for each subject by quarter on the back of our current report card. Since each subject would still receive one final mark for the quarter, the list of standards would inform parents of standards taught that quarter. All teachers would be expected to use SBG.
We still need to decide how to grade special education, high school credited classes and how students will qualify for the honor roll, athletics and the NJHS. The people working in each of these areas will be asked to help make those decisions. Plans are being made to meet with Park and Highlands to make these decisions.

Input is always welcome. Share your thoughts with team leaders and Site Council representatives or attend a Site Council or Standards Based Grading meeting. The SBG information has also been written into our School Improvement Plan that is emailed to everyone, giving another opportunity for input. Although the 4 middle schools have not been aligned in their grading practices in the past (What represented an A, B, C, D or F was not the same at all buildings. Honor roll expectations were even different at the individual buildings) they are dialoguing more about grading practices and attempting to be more alike than different.
The move to SBG has created much discussion regarding grading practices, what constitutes “mastery” or proficient, student work and other aspects of teaching and learning. The goal is to firm up these topics so we can better support kids who must demonstrate proficiency of state standards in order to graduate from high school.

 

See also:
http://ksdcitizens.org/2010/11/18/ksd-secondary-school-report/

For an update of this report go to this link:

http://ksdcitizens.org/2012/03/14/standards-based-grading-in-ksd-middle-schools-update-on-implementation-2/