Summit Middle School moves to standards-based, 1-6 grading system |

Summit Middle School moves to standards-based, 1-6 grading system

Janice Kurbjun
Summit Daily News

When Summit Middle School moves to standards-based grading next year, it won’t be a surprise for students, staff and parents at the school.

That’s because SMS principal Joel Rivera has worked with a team all year to create the standards-based platform, communicate its benefits and work toward implementing it efficiently.

When the idea first came before the Building Accountability Advisory Committee, parents were somewhat concerned, fearful of the confusion the transition could cause.

Standards-based grading isn’t an overhaul of the system, rather, it uses description and different numbering methods that outline how well a student is understanding and using information taught in class.

It takes some getting used to, Rivera said. Rather than grading students on a 0-100 scale that translates to A through F on the report card, middle school students will see a 1 through 6 on next year’s quarterly reports.

But when parents begin to get nervous that their child earned a “4” on an important assignment, they will also have an explanation of the grade in hand that shows a “4” means the student is proficient in the assessment – and also includes ways the student can prove his or her knowledge to earn a 5 or 6.

A “1” still means underperformance, Rivera said, but it’s not as bad as on the percentage system.

The new system is designed to increase student achievement by holding students accountable for their knowledge and not compliance with doing homework or bringing in a box of tissues for extra credit – there are other ways to encourage and measure that, he said. Currently, much of a student’s grade is dependent on whether they’ve done their work.

“On a percentage scale, it’s hard to see the holes in a kids’ learning,” he said. “Now, it’s not what homework can a kid do and turn in to get the grade up, it’s what concept do they need to learn to perform better.”

Which addresses one of the advisory committee’s concerns about grading consistency and effectiveness.

“The standards-based grading group at the middle school has worked very hard this year in developing a framework for their standards-based system, and they’ve worked through many of the logistics on the reporting piece,” advisory committee member and school board member Margaret Carlson said. “The (advisory committee) group feels much more confident about it now than at the beginning of the year. (Staff has) shown us how it can work – and it will be much more comprehensive and useful information than a straight percentage grade.”

Overall, the change is more proactive, Rivera said. Uniting the new grades with other assessments given throughout the year, teachers can get a better picture of how to help a student learn.

“The current grading system and summer school, etc. are all so reactive,” Rivera said. “If we do it this way … we’re identifying it right away and providing extensions, interventions, accommodations right away.”

“Bottom line – If done right, standards-based grading is better for student learning,” Carlson added, praising the system’s ability to target student strengths and weaknesses. (It’s) much more specific and informative than the traditional way of averaging percentages or letter grades.”

Parents in the advisory group had other concerns, including the confusion over understanding grade reports. But together with SMS staff, communication methods are worked into next semester, such as sessions during back-to-school night, at parent-teacher conferences, informational nights throughout the first semester as well as online material for parents to continue to learn.

A survey recently circulated among staff to test their readiness to implement. Not everyone buys into the new system, Rivera said, but almost all of them understand it enough to implement it.

The 1-6 grading system was implemented in the four elementary schools at the beginning of this school year, so at least one group of students – current fifth graders – and their parents will be used to it already.

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