The lack of learning with standards based grading

Tress Dorfler, Assistant News & Opinion Editor

The rewarding feeling of achieving an A+ on an assignment is reduced to a memory with the concept of standards-based grading. About five to seven years in the making at MHS, standards-based has stirred up an on-going discussion.

“Standards-based grading is when you take a learning standard, and you assess it,” Social Studies Teacher Susan Theotokatos said.

It differs from the traditional form of grading by reflecting what the student knows with a one, two, three or four on a particular standard rather than an A, B, C, D or F on a particular assignment.

A learning standard could be skill or content-based and presented to the students through various forms of assessment, such as multiple choice, essay or short-answer response.

“It changes the curriculum so that you’re working on the same types of skills over and over again; you’re just getting deeper and deeper into it,” Science Teacher Jacqueline Hogan said.

Many consider this approach a good grading practice, as students get to become an expert on the key standards, Hogan explained.

But where it tends to become confusing is in the difference between numbers and letters. Parents are not as familiar with this new style of grading and often remain unclear on how the system works.

“My biggest hang-up right now is what it looks like in the grade book,” English teacher Ernie Billittier said.

While the benefit of using PowerSchool, an online software that shows students’ grades, is that parents can maintain an understanding of their child’s position in school, understanding the standards reporting through this system can be unclear. For example, some teachers will keep a P in the gradebook until later in the semester when they finally convert the standards scores to a letter grade.

“There’s too much of a scale with a “P” [for passing] in the gradebook. That could mean you have an A or a D, and that’s too large of a range,” said Jodi Dorfler, mother of me and my brother senior Jack Dorfler.

A lack of consistency throughout the classes that implement aspects of standards-based grading also creates unclear grading information for parents, students and teachers.

Even teachers struggle with standards-based grading, and that struggle isn’t just at MHS.

“I find it too confusing and very vague. Even as the teacher, I often don’t feel like I know what grade to give because it’s so wishy-washy.  I think we are creating very lazy students that don’t know how to work for a grade,” said a Stevenson High School math teacher with 25 years of experience. The teacher asked to remain anonymous because the teacher did not want this opinion to affect his or her job.

Teachers should have the right to be able to speak their mind about certain topics without jeopardizing their job, but the same feeling seems to exist at this school, too.

I had intended to interview a math teacher at this school, but after I sent the teacher an email explaining the focus of my article, the teacher explained to me how the topic was too controversial, and he or she chose not to speak on the issue.

This surprised me greatly, as grading is a central part of the school system and deserves needed attention.

The fact that our own teachers feel as though they can’t speak their mind about the way students are evaluated shows that standards-based grading causes more problems than it solves.

Students, teachers and parents who have been negatively impacted by standards-based grading deserve to have their voices heard. I hope that through writing this article, school administration will listen to our concerns and consider change for the betterment of students’ education.

English Teacher Jim Drier explained how representing all perspectives is imperative to the truth that journalism presents.

“I think journalism is all about truth and having all perspectives, and so I felt like I’d take that risk,” Drier said about speaking with a reporter about standards-based grading.

Students have taken that risk, too, as some feel as though their grade is compromised because of this new grading practice.

In a Feb. 21 survey posted on the Red Rage Facebook page, 75 percent of the 12 participants felt that standards-based learning did not benefit their personal learning.

“It just makes me wonder what my grade actually is and stresses me out because I’ve grown used to the old way of grading,” sophomore Tyler Thomas explained in response to the survey question, “Explain why [standards-based] does or does not benefit your personal learning.”

Others feel standards-based grading makes the organization of learning in certain subjects confusing.

“It is harder to follow the concepts when they are broken up into broad standards versus the traditional method of using chapters,” Senior Jori Oztunguc said.

For example, math throughout the years has been a consistent challenge for me. Although I may struggle to understand the concepts, I’ve always gotten a B or above on report cards.

First semester of this year my final math grade was a D.

This sudden change can be understood through the goals and ideals of standards-based grading.

On the traditional grading system, I may have gotten a low B on a test, but on a recent test, I took in my honors math class, I had completed a problem to my full ability with 100 percent effort. When I got the test back, I had received no credit or points for that problem at all.  In the past, I might have received some credit for accurately showing my work even if I got to the wrong answer; now, though, I only would receive credit for getting the right answer.

This situation discourages me from even trying next time because it feels as though it won’t make a difference anyway. There’s no incentive to do better with standards-based grading, as it leaves little room for error.

Since a young age students are consistently judged on a system that determines their wealth of knowledge. For this comfort of normality to be taken away harms not only grades but students’ work ethics as well, and I am not alone in my feelings about this.

“I would’ve done better in a traditional grading system,” senior Miriam Mitry said in the above-mentioned survey. “I think the standards are much higher with what you need to know when it comes to standards grading, and I don’t get as high of a grade.”

Students at other schools struggle with the shift from traditional to standards-based grading, too, as Theotokatos noted with a story about her son at another school.

“His freshman and sophomore year experience in math was not positive. When he was a senior, his math class was a traditional grading style, and he actually excelled,” Theotokatos said.

As students become frustrated with the new grading system, concerns surrounding a lack of effort and participation are also present.

The anonymous source from Stevenson agrees that his or her students aren’t completing homework as often as a result of a change in grading.

“We are teaching our students to be lazy and procrastinate,” the teacher said. “I don’t feel we are preparing them for college and the real-world.”

The grading structure at many colleges remains traditional, consequently diminishing the work we do in high school, which is supposed to prepare us for college. A fix to the current predicament would be to reinstate traditional grading systems within all classes. A return to normality will ease the stresses of grades for students.

Billittier highlighted that the switch from traditional to standards wasn’t meant to be negative but rather a sign of teachers trying to better their teaching practices even if they aren’t perceived that way.

“It’s appropriate for teachers and the school to constantly try to improve itself,” he said.

While I agree with his statement and feel grateful for the opportunity to learn and gain knowledge every day and while I recognize and appreciate the effort toward change for the better, standards-based grading does not benefit the majority of the students and is not necessary to keep as a long-term focus.

Some teachers disagree with the concept of grades as a whole.

Drier said he’d “love to see us do something more progressive; anything that gets students more focused on the learning and less focused on the grades would be better than what we’re doing.”