Nampa school board reverses grading policy just three weeks before start date

Nampa’s middle and high schools will return to a traditional grading system this fall, after a school board decision Monday night.

Trustees’ 4-1 vote went against recommendations from administrators, who wanted to retain a standards-based grading system. The decision allows Nampa elementary schools to continue using standards-based grading, as they have since 2014.

Nampa secondary schools introduced standards-based grading in 2019. The goal of the system, according to the district, was to measure students’ mastery of content standards through progress, rather than one-time scores. Teachers graded on a 1-to-4 scale, and expected scores to improve as students learned and mastered class content. At the end of the semester, scores were averaged and converted into a percentage, which became the student’s letter grade.

Though the district intended to measure achievement more clearly, many in the district expressed confusion about the system.

Waylon Yarbrough, a former Nampa High School principal now serving as the district’s interim deputy superintendent, spoke Monday in favor of standards-based grading. He acknowledged that the district had not streamlined the system, and its implementation was rocky due to COVID-19 interruptions. A lack of communication was also a top concern. Ultimately, though, he argued the system was best for students.

“While admittedly we’re not where we want to be as a district … standards-based grading does support clarity in giving what kids know and are able to do,” Yarbrough said. “If we don’t find out where the student is struggling from a learning perspective, that really handcuffs our teachers and their ability to give the appropriate intervention.”

Yarbrough asked the board for time to develop a committee on standards-based grading, to streamline the system and communicate changes to teachers, parents and students. He also expressed concern about the existing contract the district has with Otus, a learning management system designed for standards-based grading. Canceling the contract could cost the district up to $114,000.

Eight people showed up for public comment Monday; six spoke against standards-based grading. Board chairman Jeff Kirkman also read a letter from a recent graduate who wrote against the grading system. Many criticized the district’s lack of communication, and others argued that the system harmed students’ chances of getting into college.

One mother of two Nampa students suggested the standards-based system made her high-achieving students “apathetic” to learning. Another argued that she felt disconnected from her students’ education.

Kristen Young, another Nampa mom, said standards-based grading set students up for failure and didn’t reflect the “real world.”

Jaci Johnson spoke in support of the system.

“Improving education can sometimes be a bumpy road,” Johnson said. “But it doesn’t mean change shouldn’t happen for the benefit of kids.”

The board deliberated for around an hour before voting. Trustee Mandy Simpson was the lone vote against removing standards-based grading.

“It’s not a grading problem that we have,” said Simpson, a teacher in the Boise school district. “It’s a communication problem.”

The board’s decision leaves the district to rewrite policy and approve edited handbooks with only three weeks until the Aug. 18 start of the school year.

Sadie Dittenber

About Sadie Dittenber

Reporter Sadie Dittenber focuses on K-12 policy and politics. She is a College of Idaho graduate, born and raised in the Treasure Valley. You can follow Sadie on Twitter @sadiedittenber and send her news tips at [email protected]

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