Vanessa Romero recalled a disheartening scene at the end of 2020, amid a rise in coronavirus cases and a return to remote learning in Santa Fe public schools.
Student laptop video cameras were turned off. The anxiety was great. About 30% of students in grades 3-6 graduated this fall semester with at least an F.
Rather than focus on how to get these students back to A’s and B’s, with grading expectations sometimes varying widely from teacher to teacher, Romero, an assistant district superintendent, had an alternative solution: drop out. the traditional letter-grading system.
She and other supporters hope a move to a “standards-based” four-point learning and grading system – a gradual transition from the 2022-23 school year – will increase student motivation after two years of learning disruption caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Standards-based grading is nothing new, but it’s certainly a mindset shift in how we think about engagement and competence, and how we provide support to students. “, Romero said.
While a traditional report card lists a letter grade based on student performance in each class, a standards-based report card would rank a student’s performance from 1 to 4 for each skill the student is expected to master. Students can start a class with grades of 1 and 2, with the goal of completing a semester with grades of 3 and 4 as they become more proficient.
Romero said the change would take away points for the behavior of the rating system. Teachers graded solely on proficiency using baseline standards established by the New Mexico Department of Public Education.
“We’re not looking to give grade points for not bringing their cell phones to class,” she said.
The district originally planned to fully implement the standards-based system in the next school year, but administrators decided to take a more phased approach as they face more pressing issues, such as serious vacancies and modification of COVID-19 protocols.
By the end of January, some schools will commit to implementing standards-based grading in 2022-23, Romero said, while others won’t change until a year or two later.
In the meantime, teachers have volunteered their time to pore over hundreds of K-12 state standards to determine which ones should be emphasized in each classroom and to make new assessments for them at school. using a system called MasteryConnect.
As the district prepares to untangle nearly 200 years of grading standards, Romero said uniform expectations for students across the district will be essential.
“We wanted to choose priority standards or core standards, like the really big ones that cover a lot of what kids need to learn,” she said.
The district has already selected standards for reading and math. By 2023, administrators hope to have in place a competency scale for standards-based grading, developed in part by a working group of teachers and staff.
Schools will continue to measure student progress using standardized state-issued tests and more frequent classroom assessments already in use, Romero said.
And for students applying to colleges, she said, they can expect “whatever the grading scale is to match a GPA. There will not be this change in GPA.
Standards-based grading has been implemented at the district’s Early College Opportunities High School for the past three years, where a 1–4 system, with half scores, aligns with other schools’ traditional GPAs.
Jakob Zgela, a social studies professor who helped launch the alternative occupations-based ECO about six years ago — aimed at what he called “students who haven’t been fairly shaken up” — said the system was working well.
When Zgela talks about standards-based ratings, he compares the concept to professionals — such as chefs and doctors — undergoing years of training to ultimately perform a complex dinner or risky operation. In his classes, the most recent assignment is always worth more marks than the last, he says. Students are recognized for the end results, not for the mistakes they make along the way.
The idea, he said, is for each student to “practice until then. Sort of like a driving test.
Those who achieve a final overall grade of at least 2, which is equivalent to a C, earn credit for the class as they display skill proficiency.
Zgela, who described traditional grading as “arbitrary,” said the transition to standards-based grading can be difficult for students used to the AF system, especially those aiming for high marks. Some students are good at developing strategies to get high marks, like taking extra credit opportunities or focusing their studies on quizzes and tests with more weight.
“[They] are really good at ‘playing school’ sometimes,” he said of these students. “They might get an A because they know how to play the game for that class.”
The switch to standards-based grading could also be difficult, he said, for teachers used to teaching strictly from textbooks and with pop quizzes.
While Romero estimates that there are only a few dozen districts that have adopted standards-based grading in the United States, Santa Fe Public Schools wouldn’t be the first in New Mexico to make the switch since. the start of the pandemic.
Truth or consequences Municipal schools took the plunge last year.
Superintendent Channell Segura – who spent 14 years in the Santa Fe district as a teacher, capital high school principal and assistant superintendent – said she surveyed her staff and the majority were in favor to moving.
“We found that once our students received a few zeros for their assignments, they were stuck in a black hole of failure that they couldn’t recover from,” she said.
Staff felt the need to implement the new system immediately, Segura added, but looking back, she thinks a year of planning would have been worthwhile. “What we’ve learned from this transition is that it’s hard to change the mindsets of individuals who have been using the 100-point grading scale for years.”
The Truth or Consequences district instituted a four-point system and asked teachers to select up to 15 “power” standards to emphasize. While students’ grades in each class are based solely on mastery, they also receive a “citizenship grade” which deals with behavior. This score does not affect their GPA.
Segura did not speak about specific effects on student achievement as the district enters six months of its standards-based grading system, but noted that fewer students appear to be throwing in the towel.
K-2 James Elementary School in Portales adopted standards-based grading three years ago. Bilingual second-grade teacher April Laumbach said she is now able to see her students’ progress in a new way. They start the year with 1s and 2s and end with 3s and 4s.
“I feel like I’m a better teacher for it,” she said. “I think the results for the students are that they progress a bit more and you can see their growth.”
But Laumbach warns that a heavier workload comes with change, and teachers need more time to collaborate to ensure grading is fair from class to class.
“At the beginning it was rather difficult, because it can be a bit subjective,” Laumbach said. “The discourse between your faculty must be there.”