Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Standards-based grading coming to Joplin High School, entire district

(From Oct. 20, 2013) Parents hate it, teachers hate it, heck, even the Joplin R-8 Board of Education members have talked about it in negative terms and they are the ones who are supposed to be running the school district.

So naturally, there can'be any possibility that standards-based grading will ever take hold in the Joplin R-8 School District.

The board reluctantly allowed pilot programs of standards-based grading to be used at East Middle School and two elementary schools. While I cannot say for certain that all of the teachers at the elementary schools are doing it, I know the order was given at East Middle School- all teachers are to use standards-based grading.

Parents have complained about it, teachers haven't as far as I know (they like being employed), but most of the ones I have talked to about it have complained bitterly because they do not think it is the best thing for students.

If so many people are against it and the board has expressed dislike, then why is it being done.

And why did East Middle School Assistant Principal Jason Weaver tell East teachers at a meeting earlier this year that standards-based grading would be implemented at all R-8 schools next year, including Joplin High School?

One reason and one reason alone, Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer wants it that way, so that is the way it is going to be- school board be darned.

The revelation about standards-based grading was made Saturday night at the informational meeting on Common Core Standards held at the Mills Anderson Justice Center on the Missouri Southern State University campus.

"I was told this would not happen without a board vote," Missy Braun, the mother of two R-8 students said. Apparently, at some juncture R-8 Board of Education members came up with the silly notion that they were in charge of educational policy in the school district just because the people elected them to be in charge of educational policy.

"The East teachers were told that standards-based grading will be brought to the entire district next year, including the high school."

Under standards-based grading, traditional letter grades for a subject like communication arts (English) are replaced by a notation that a student has met a certain standard like, for instance, he has mastered proper citation of sources in a research paper. As Ms. Braun noted, a student can fail to do that five times, get it right on the sixth, and be considered to have mastery.

Deadlines are also problematic under standards-based grading. If a teacher assigns a paper for Wednesday, since the student already knows that he does not have to turn it on Wednesday to get the grade, it might be several weeks before a teacher will receive an assignment. Meeting the deadline can be included in a separate category, but it is not the one that parents will seek out.

Students no longer will receive zeroes for not completing assignments. If they do not turn in anything, they will receive a "no evidence" notation, but otherwise they can turn in things whenever they want and they will be still be accepted at full credit.

There has also been concern expressed about using the grades at the high school level, where they would replace grade point average.

Proponents of standards-based grading say it gives a truer reflection of what a student actually knows rather than just giving a B for history for instance and not knowing what specific skills the student has mastered.

This is the first public meeting where the information on the expansion of standards-based grading has been mentioned, but it was first revealed in an August 17 article on the Inside Joplin website, in which I wrote the following:

The parents who protested the use of standards-based grading at East Middle School last year knew it was coming.
So did the teachers, who were told, “Oh, we’re not going to force anyone to use it.”
Reportedly, Assistant Principal Jason Weaver told EMS teachers this week they would all be using standards-based grading as East Middle School, isolated and alone in an industrial park by a dog food factory, continues to be a laboratory for Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer’s concept of 21st Century Learning.
Whether it works or not (all experiments seem to continue in the Joplin R-8 School District), it will be coming to the other middle schools and Joplin High School during the 2014-2015 school year.
Teachers from the other middle schools are already expecting it. During a professional development day last year, I attended a session on standards-based grading given by Weaver and Principal Bud Sexson. The teachers from North and South Middle School were there because they understood that it was coming, whether they wanted it to or not.
The basic concept behind standards-based grading is that the grades show if students have mastered the standards, such as the Common Core Standards that are headed our way. Instead of an A or B (or an F) that mean nothing, according to the backers of the new grading system, you know exactly what concepts your child has mastered. Instead of A, B, C, D, or F, under the East system that was in use when I was there last year, students made Exceeded, Met, Emerging (don’t you just love it) not met, and no evidence, which is reserved for those who did not bother to do their papers.
One of the ideas is to get away from having students receive zeros. Instead of having to turn in every assignment, all the student has to do is provide evidence that he or she has mastered the concept.
As a writing teacher, this bothered me. Writing is a process that builds as you go along. A student might be able to successfully write an engaging opening to a paper three or four times at the beginning of the year, but then lose track of the concept as the year progresses. I was told of course, that I could simply set the standards higher as I went along if I went to standards-based grading. I suppose I could have
But the idea that R-8 administrators seem to be ignoring is the importance of the work ethic. At East, all students had seventh grade teachers who were using standards-based grading. When the students came into my classroom at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, the ones who had been taught solid work ethics at home had no problem, but some others were simply not turning in papers. When I asked the students about it, invariably their response was they had not had to turn in every paper the year before; they only had to turn in enough evidence to get the grade. It took me nearly a quarter before they realized that things were different and they were expected to do the work. (And this is not a knock at the teachers who were using standards-based grading.)
In a school district where the administrators are saying over and over how their goal is to make students college and workforce ready, how can that happen when they are clearly given the idea that you don’t have to do all of the work, just the minimum you need to get by?
I was told that throwing in concepts like whether students are working in class or contributing to the class simply made the grade card more confusing and parents did not know what their child had really learned.
I was told there could be a separate group of grades that would include work habits and other such things, similar to what is done in elementary schools.
Who would look? After you got past the mets and emergings, you have had enough of that grade card.
I am not totally against the concept of standards-based grading, if there was an enforcement aspect in which administrators would crack the whip and get most of the kids to turn in their work, standards-based grading would be workable.
That, however, would take a strong discipline concept, one that will not be there as East Middle School’s teachers and students continue to play the role of guinea pigs.

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