Students, teachers grapple with new grading scales


Makaylea Sepich, Reporter

Recent conversations in education have been driving the switch from traditional to standards-based grading leaving students to figure out their grades between at least two different grading systems. 

This trend influences how teachers structure their lessons, communicate lesson objectives, and grade their students. The practice is based on students being able to show mastery of curriculum standards.

The transition to standards-based grading is a five-year plan that exempts AP and Dual Credit classes. 

“As a school, we are conducting research to gather information on teaching practices, grading practices, (with) teachers self-assessing their understanding as they receive professional development,” curriculum coordinator Christine Paxson said. “The purpose and rationale for this study is to gather information on how a school can work together with exemplary professional development within a five-year plan, and then create a conceptual framework for other schools.”

As of now, U-High is in year one of the five-year plan. By the end, teachers who do not teach AP or Dual Credit will transfer to standards-based grading. Paxson and a team of teacher researchers have designated one late start a month for professional development to help teachers with the task of effectively implementing standards within their classroom. 

“After we met this summer and developed this five year plan, we then determined what our late starts would look like,” Paxson said. “September 20th was the first time we all came together where we talked about what a grade is. We are going to do that throughout the year. Every month has a focus.”

It takes time for teachers to adjust to the standards-based learning model. However, some, such as social science teacher Kirsten Hany, have already made the jump to a full standards-based curriculum. 

“It has been a journey,” Hany said. “I have appreciated with standards-based grading the shift to a feedback model, but it takes a lot of time as a teacher.”  

Chemistry teacher Jacob Davis has been using the system as a way to understand where his students are and how to help them improve on gaps within their learning. 

“I feel like I can look at a student’s performance in a way that is reported with those standards-based grades and say this is your area where you have a gap and communicate it to the students and parents,” Davis said. “Whereas, what I don’t really like about AP chemistry that I could have two students with an 85 percent, but that doesn’t really tell me what their gaps are or where there is opportunity for improvement.”

A standards philosophy does not just consist of changing the grading scale, but also includes a change in teaching and assessment practices. Math teacher, and author of two books over standards-based practices, Mandy Stalets stresses the importance of approaching standards as more than a grading switch. 

“I think that implementation and language and communication on the part of the teacher is everything,” Stalets said. “If someone just switches their grading practices without changing their mindset and language and assessment practices, it is bad.”

Her goal with using standards is to get more students involved with their learning and education.

“I do believe it is more of the learning and assessment process over the grading process,” Stalets said. “If students are involved and read feedback and have to act on feedback then they are more involved in the process.”

However, many issues remain unsolved in the current iteration of standards-based grading. One concern is how the overall grades transfer to a traditional letter grade and GPA. 

“I think it is hard to translate non-standard numerical score over to a GPA. By true definition of standards-based grading, anytime we convert it to a GPA or what we consider a traditional grade would actually be standards-referenced,” Hany said. “Even if I did my full year in pure standards-based grading format, at the end of the year that will at some point become an A, B, C, or D and part of a numerical GPA.”

Students have had mixed reactions to the newly implemented system partially due to the creation of multiple grading scales. 

According to a survey conducted by “The Clarionette” on November 4 in which 296 students were surveyed, sixty-five percent of those surveyed are currently assessed by three or more different grading scales.

 Another frustration for students is the lack of a range of numerical grades between proficiency levels to reflect a letter grade. 

“If it is traditional grading you can get a 100 percent or a 95 percent which is halfway in between. With standards you get a 100 percent as in a 5 or you get the low A which is like a 4,” sophomore Logan Turner said. “There is not that in between that you can get on each assignment. I find that annoying, especially when it is converted back to traditional at the end.”

Though there are some who prefer traditional grading, they are still optimistic about the future of standards-based grading within the classroom. 

“Overall, I think it can be a really great and beneficial tool once they work out all of the wrinkles and the areas that aren’t finalized yet,” senior Peyton Tongate said. “I think maybe in a few years, or hopefully next year, students at U-High will have a clear understanding and the system will be super great.”

Love it or hate it, standards-based grading is a tool that will be used for years to come. Though the practice may not be perfect, teachers are working to find the most effective use of standards within the classroom and beyond. As per the mission statement of the lab school, U-High serves “as an environment in which research and development activities may be conducted.” This grading system study is no exception and is a prime example of the lab school’s mission at work.  

“We are always leaving an opportunity to do something better for our students,” math teacher and team member of the standards-based grading committee Kevin Thompson said. “Whether that is a change, keeping the same, or changing and 5 years changing again, I think that we would always like to leave a little bit open.”