When Gregg Russell was a student, he know how to manipulate his school’s grading system. If he wasn’t doing well in class, he could pad his grade with an extra credit assignment here or there.
“There were a lot of things I didn’t know, but I was able to mask that,” he remembers. “I may not have been an A student, but I was able to get an A.”
Now, as a school administrator, he’s taking that option away.
Russell, the assistant superintendent of the Nampa School District, is helping lead the district away from awarding A-through-F grades to a system that instead judges a student’s understanding and proficiency.
The new standards-based grading system is intended to give better feedback, Russell said, and ultimately improve student learning.
“I think it’s going to have a big impact,” he said.
Nampa, which has used a standards-based approach in its elementary schools for years, is piloting the approach in some middle and high schools this year, and will implement standards-based grading districtwide in the fall of 2020. The Moscow School District is also working on expanding standards-based grading, as is West Ada, the Idaho Press reported last year.
So, what does a standards-based grading system look like?
A traditional grading system depends on averaging points. Students get points for assignments and at the end of a semester, those points are all added together, averaged, and converted to a percentage. That overall percentage turns into a letter grade, A-F.
A standards-based grading system isn’t about averaging points from an entire semester. It’s about reflecting how well a student understands key concepts. Students are scored on a scale from 1-4 based on their understanding. Over the course of a semester, a student’s score is expected to improve as they learn and start to master core standards.
- 1 (Beginning): student demonstrates limited or no understanding of the standard.
- 2 (Approaching Proficiency): Student demonstrates partial proficiency of the standard.
- 3 (Proficient): Student demonstrates proficiency of the standard.
- 4 (Exceeds): Student exceeds proficiency of the standard.
Because standards-based grading is not based on earning points, the concept of extra credit is “entirely foreign,” said Aaron Moiso, a teacher and instructional coach at Nampa’s Lone Star Middle School.
To improve a score, students have to show teachers that they have advanced their knowledge of a subject, and are truly becoming more adept at that standard. Teachers are encouraged to give students multiple ways of demonstrating that mastery, Nampa Instructional coach Aaron Moiso said. They allow students to re-take tests.
“If you need to retake, if you want to demonstrate that knowledge again, there is some studying and some extra work you need to do to show that you’re actually trying to relearn the material,” he said. “We don’t just offer a retake and then a retake and then a retake and then a retake until they maybe guess their way to correct.”
Teachers across the district have been working together on rubrics that will govern how “proficiency” will be measured on individual standards. They’re creating rubrics which will be shared with students. When students know exactly what they’re expected to learn, Moiso said, they can better gauge their own progress.
The shared standards, Moiso said, will also allow teachers to collaborate and compare notes across the district, and help mobile students stay on track.
“We do have a lot of students that move throughout the district,” Moiso said. “(If) they’re just switching schools, they’ll still be learning the same material with the same expectations…it just assists with them not losing out on education.”
As Nampa pilots the system at middle schools and in some high school courses this year, Russell is hoping to work through bumps in the road, address student and parent concerns, and communicate with the district community about what to expect come 2020.
“It’s going to be a big change. We’ve had like 100 years of the traditional grading system,” Russell said. “It will be achieved in communication: We’re going to have to communicate well to the students, communicate well to parents, communicate to our community even about what grades truly mean.”
Find more information on the standards based grading system at the Nampa School District website.