New grading system aims for higher achievement at Summit High |

New grading system aims for higher achievement at Summit High

Changing the grading system throughout the district will encourage analytical thinking and effective problem solving – enhancing overall student achievement, proponents of the plan say.

“With an inquiring mind … they can meet objectives at so many levels,” high school English, social studies and journalism teacher Doug Blake said.

He describes the standards-based grading system as one that outlines specific expectations in particular areas – a rubric – for students at the start of each class and unit, and teachers and students work together toward achievement in the outlined areas.

“Before, (students) never knew what the teacher wanted until they got the test,” Blake said, adding that all they could do was take notes and hope they wrote and studied the right information. And when the test was complete, students wouldn’t know – without asking – why they received their grade or what they could do better.

The new system allows students to check their schoolwork and take tests with the full knowledge of how the teacher will grade them. They can then take their grade and understand it based on the list of criteria – and figure out how to do better the next time.

At Summit High School, about eight teachers are implementing the system, principal Drew Adkins said, and the middle school and elementary schools are also on board.

Blake is one of those teachers, and is seeing dramatic success in his classrooms. He envisions the system as pitching a ball to a student and giving them every opportunity to hit the ball out of the park. They could hit a home run or ground out, he said.

“Students get more out of every assignment,” he said, adding, “They are starting to put it together,” and understanding their grade improves motivation to achieve.

But there are two major misconceptions that exist in the broader community about the new system, he said.

One is that students don’t get homework – rather, homework is more purposeful and counts toward the overall picture of a students’ grasp of content material.

Another is that a “4” on an assignment translates to a 40 percent grade, which it doesn’t. It’s an indicator of where a student is performing. And assessment grades aren’t averaged. Teachers select scores based on how often a student earned it, in relation to other scores.

“We’re moving away from counting points,” said Bethany Lambrecht, French teacher and International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program coordinator at the high school. “They need to show they can perform at that level multiple times.”

She explained that an overall score is determined based on a teacher’s analysis of a semester of performance.

“I want to see a variety of tasks throughout the semester,” Blake said. “How often are (they) going to hit that ball on a consistent basis?”

Currently, that score is converted to a percentage grade to work with traditional grading systems, but teachers hope the extra step will eventually be eliminated.

For many parents, effective implementation seems to be the biggest challenge, Summit School District boardmember Margaret Carlson said, referring to her notes from the board’s community discussion last week.

“(They) like the ‘idea’ of a more comprehensive, informative assessment, (but) there are concerns with implementation,” she said, adding that the system is attractive because it encourages analysis and problem-solving rather than just memorizing facts.

Blake said the new system engages more people in a student’s grading – including the student. It also brings parents into the equation – who must learn the new system and how to help their children – and teachers have to align their teaching and assessments to meet the criteria set forth.

But he acknowledged there’s a paradigm shift that must occur, and that change isn’t always easy. Communication is key, as is teacher support even in the time of budget cuts.

A parent of two high school boys, Marla Dyer said she sees challenges for teachers transitioning to the standards-based system, particularly if they’re not entirely sold on it. She also worries that, with all the changes, teachers could feel overwhelmed.

The transition also seems to be tough for one of Dyer’s sons. She said he’s confused by the new system and what it takes to score well – and that he’s not alone.

“Philosophically, it’s the right direction,” she said. “Implementing it will be tough.”

Carlson said she heard comments from parents that implementation of the grading system “feels disjointed,” and that the reporting is confusing.

Dyer wondered if students should be presented with standards-based grading at younger ages before seeing it at the middle school and high school, to eliminate problem areas.

Summit School District volunteer Suzi Lazo said she’s also seen confused students at the high school level and wonders if they’re spending too much time trying to understand the new system rather than learning and doing their assignments.

Blake said he starts each of his units with an explanation of what will be expected of students. He recognizes the importance of helping them understand what’s expected from the get-go before they delve into the subject matter, so they can arrange their thoughts to be successful.

“It is clear that we need more education on this topic,” Carlson said.

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