Park City School District Expands Standards Based Learning

Nov 28, 2018

Credit PCSD

A new way of assessing students is making its way through the Park City School District. While it’s creating some parental anxiety, district officials feel like it’s a better way to recognize student achievement versus a letter grade.

Superintendent Jill Gildea recently updated the school board on SBL – or Standards Based Learning. While it’s a student assessment system that has been used in private schools, it’s new to the local public school system. School board member Andrew Caplan says the new grading system has been happening for a while at different levels.  He says it’s similar to what elementary students receive on their report cards.

“It’s been happening at various levels for some time.” Caplan explained, “It’s pretty similar to what elementary school students get from their report cards. It talks about skills and mastery. It’s been happening at Ecker for a little while. We’ve gotten a little controversy this year because it’s been rolled out to the 9th grade as well. Obviously moving from a traditional grading system where you have A, B, C, D etc. to one where you’re looking for mastery and competency in subjects. There is confusion around ok how do these grades translate into a GPA or translate into a college transcript.”

While the transition is being done on an administrative level, Caplan says the district knows there is some anxiety about what this new system means and how the district will transition from traditional reporting and impact GPAs and college admissions. He says it’s a work in progress and is a topic that will be updated in the coming months.

“There is a translation between the traditional numeric grades and what the standards-based numbers are and vice-versa.” Caplan said, “So, it’s not that the actual grades that are being put on the transcripts or that are being sent back to the kids are different then in the past. It’s that it’s a different methodology and no one really understands it or there’s some confusion around it. So, it’s the job of the schools to do a better job of translating that of showing to both students and teacher and parents ok what do these grades mean. Also, more importantly, getting the consistency between teachers and between grades.”

He says the change is being driven by teachers and while it may take more time for them to prepare assessments, there is teacher buy in.

“It’s a different way of teaching.” Caplan continued, “It’s getting away from the idea that you and I had when we were in school, that you memorize answers for a test, you try to pass a final and if you pass it you move on. This is the work leading up to that, it’s getting mastery and actually understanding a concept rather than just memorizing something. It is more work for teachers, but it’s been a grass roots teacher led effort over the past several years in our district.”

In terms of implementation, half of the teachers at Treasure Mountain are using SBL-- it’s also been rolled out at Ecker Hill Middle School. However, Caplan says it could take years to implement district wide.

“Looking at doing it in the elementary schools is very different then looking at it from the high school perspective.” Caplan explained, “Because of the obvious implications for college admissions. It takes some time to find all the pitfalls, and answer all the questions, and complete all the training. I think as this moves forward it’s going to take many years to transition.”

Calling it an educational trend, Caplan says it’s something that many other public schools are moving to. The board’s biggest concern he says is that everyone’s questions about the new assessment system are answered.