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Grading System In Park City Schools Draws Support And Controversy

Park City School District

The Park City School District will continue with the grading system transition. It’s a departure from the traditional A,B,C,D and F protocol. The issue dominated the last two public input sessions. Tuesday’s school board meeting had four people comment and 12 people gave input during  the March School Board meeting.

Park City School Administrators plan to transition the entire district to a more modern system of grading that better measures and encourages student achievement. It’s a system that measures proficiencies in relation to specific standards.  Park City’s elementary schools already use this system.  Treasure Mountain Junior High School and Park City High School remain on the traditional grading formulas.

According to Park City Board of Education Vice President Erin Grady, the controversial system, called Standards-Based Learning and Grading, has been in some schools in the district for the last 10 years. This year, Ecker Hill Middle School has transitioned all classes to this system.   Parents and teachers have given input expressing both support and concern about the system and how it is being implemented.

“I think that there is a little bit of concern that has come from students and parents and I think overall it's just making sure, and I think that was spoken to quite a bit last night, is our communication and making sure that we're communicating properly to our students and parents with the implementation plan. But this is something that is not new. It has been in Ecker for quite a few years. And, overall it's been within our district for I think almost close to a decade of our teachers using some form of standard based grading or learning.”

Sixth-grade language arts teacher, Jessica Sheetz from Ecker Hill Middle School says the student’s individual needs are better met with the new system. She used an example of a student writing a paper, expressing content adequately but using no punctuation.

“Not only does it highlight areas that need to be practiced by students, but as teachers we assess the same standards again through other essays giving the student multiple opportunities to show improvement and ultimately mastery. The idea is for each student to apply the tools learned based on feedback, experience and assessment. Simply put, I am able to intervene and target the needs of the student.”

A parent of two children in the district says he is not necessarily opposed to standards based grading but requests the board reconsider expanding into Treasure Mountain Junior High or the High School until it can be implemented more effectively.

“But I have tremendous concerns about the quagmire, the scatter-brand that we have right now with the schools’ teachers that are doing the standards based, standard reference grades or whatever terminology you want to use. I have two kids. I have seven years of post-doctoral education. I was involved in that education and I may be weighing towards my Alzheimer’s but with my background I find what we're doing right now utterly confusing and my kids right now are utterly confused as well.”

Twenty-year veteran teacher Summer Marshall told the board there are four things that are critical for good grading systems.

“They have to be accurate. They have to support important decisions that impact the future of our kids. They have to be consistent. It shouldn't matter what teacher my child has. The same level of achievement should earn the same grade. They need to be meaningful. They need to provide information about achievement of learning goals.  And they need to support learning not the accumulation of percentages or points.”

Another parent, Bari Nan Rothchild says the data supplied by the new grading system can help address the persistent challenge of closing the achievement gap.

“So, when I think about those kids who are on the low end of the achievement gap and have all these other demographic issues ahead of them, and all these other things that are fighting their equality in the system, and we can get that data for them, and we can target where they need it the most and then we can empower them to learn more. I am all in. I love this data, like I just want us to be able to use it well."

Superintendent Jill Gildea says she has worked with standards-based grading programs since 1998. She says the feedback is not falling on deaf ears and she is willing to meet with parents to help educate them about the transition to the new system.

“So, we first worked on our curriculum alignment, our power standards, our common assessments and then the grading. So, any community I've been in I've seen at least a two-year cycle of tension. So, the tension is not that unusual. However, any Ecker parent that comes to me or that sends me a report card, I can easily recite to them what their child has secured, what they’re graded at, whether they're ready for honors or not.”

A summary of Gildea’s comments can be found in the pcschools.us newsroom tab. http://newsroom.pcschools.us/

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