GCSD board votes to replace standards-based grading

A. Marie Hamilton/Torrington Telegram Goshen County School District (GCSD) board members voted 5-2 to remove standards-based grading, beginning in the 2023-2024 school year. Pictured, left to right, is Justin Hurley, Chris Alexander, Bob Peterson and Wade Phipps.

GOSHEN COUNTY – After months of pleadings from students, parents, guardians, teachers and various community members, Goshen County School District (GCSD) board members voted 5-to-2 on Tuesday to eliminate standards-based grading in the district at the end of the 2022-2023 school year. However, it would mean the board would have six months to form a committee and decide what to replace it with, how to implement the new grading system, train district staff and change policies relating to grading in the district.

For months, various Goshen County residents spoke at school board meetings or district round-table discussions, emailed former and current board members and voiced concerns regarding standards-based grading in GCSD. It all came to a head this week as three board members delivered their campaign promise to remove standards-based grading in the county.

GCSD Chairman Michael Sussex, GCSD Vice Chair Sarah Chaires, GCSD Clerk Chris Alexander, GCSD Treasurer Bob Peterson, GCSD Board Members Matthew Cushman, Justin Hurley and Wade Phipps began the meeting discussing adjustments to the agenda they wanted or could implement in Tuesday’s meeting. During this time, Peterson, Alexander and Hurley requested an amendment to add the removal of standards-based grading to the evening’s agenda. GCSD Board Members Carlos Saucedo and Dylan Hager were not in attendance and did not vote in Tuesday’s meeting.

Peterson explained to the chairman and vice chair, members of the community have requested the removal of standards-based grading be on the school board agenda since last school year, and how one parent has routinely requested it be placed on an agenda each month for the last ten months. Phipps, Alexander and Hurley agreed with Peterson and together, they had it added to the agenda to be discussed and voted on at Tuesday’s meeting.

Prior to the board voting to repeal standards-based grading during the new business part of the agenda, the board heard from a number of parents, guardians and a teacher regarding their support in removing standards-based grading from GCSD.

Among many things discussed during her five minutes before the board, GCSD parent Marie Flanagan told the board she was once again risking her business for standing up and speaking to the board regarding her grievances – which included the on-going use of standards-based grading.

Flanagan said she was there to do the right thing, although she felt it was hard to do because she believes it affects her businesses. She told the board they could also choose to do the right thing instead of persecuting her and other parents or teachers in the community who choose to voice their beliefs.

Ultimately, Flanagan asked the board and district to do what is right for the community, regardless of their own ambitions, and to listen to the majority of parents who want the removal of standards-based grading.

GCSD parent Karen Posten told board members she has sat with the school administrators and teachers to try to really understand standards-based grading, but still has a difficult time understanding how her achievement-oriented child still received an “F” at the end of the grading period due to the way in which standards-based grading operates.

“I’m here to speak about standards-based grading,” Posten told the board. “I’ve read articles both for and against it – I’ve talked to teachers and I’ve had Mr. (GCSD Superintendent Ryan) Kramer explain some things to me.”

“There are always two sides – and there are always pros and cons,” Posten further explained. “As for my family – it has not been a good experience.”

Posten explained how she feels standards-based grading has failed her family and doesn’t set up youth for success in colleges, universities, trade schools, military careers, work life or family business after they graduate high school. Posten further explained she found more evidence suggesting children who graduate from schools using standards-based grading and go into post-secondary educational institutions have a greater risk of “flunking out.”

“Our kids aren’t experiments,” Posten said.

Posten said her biggest grievance with standards-based grading is its inconsistency and how it forces students to work from the bottom with a “C” or “F” up to an “A” during the progression of the grading period. However, she said, it causes frustration for parents and students because they are never sure how well students are doing until the grading reports come out, which is how she and her daughter discovered how her daughter received an “F” because she had missed the last assignment before the end of the grading period. Her daughter was at a school-related function and unable to turn in the assignment. 

Standards-based grading uses the last grade in the gradebook as the period ending grade; missing assignments are considered an “F” until they are completed and turned in.

The Posten family are not the only family in the county with this particular grievance as it relates to standards-based grading; other parents have voiced the same and similar concerns since last summer.

Posten also stated teachers and administrators are forced to spend most, or close to all, of their time during parent-teacher conferences explaining how standards-based grading works and their children aren’t doing as poorly as it may seem. Posten also noted parents aren’t notified of poor standards performances until it’s “too late” and when children are placed on an ineligibility list, at which time, a notification is then sent to parents.

Joshua Kruger, the parent who has routinely requested the school board to put the elimination of standards-based grading on the board agenda for the last roughly ten months, said the parents who disfavor the grading system aren’t against standards, they are simply against the standards-based grading system and see it as ineffective. 

“I’d like to thank you for taking up this important matter of the current grading system that is used in Goshen County School District,” Kruger said. “It is unfortunate it has taken this long and jeopardized so many students’ futures – but you can make a change starting tonight.”

“When it comes to the current grading system used in GCSD, there are some common things said about the grading system by those who are for it and I would like to dismiss them, now,” Kruger said. “One of the things said about the current grading system is we just don’t understand it – but that is not true.”

Adding, “Lots of parents, myself included, have talked to teachers about our children’s grades just to have several teachers tell us something like: ‘don’t worry about the grade, it is just the way the grading system is and the grade should go up.’”

Like Posten, Kruger said teachers have a difficult time explaining a student’s progress and grade using the standards-based grading system during conference time or other times when parents seek out teachers to get an understanding of where their child is currently performing.

“Some that are for the (standards-based) grading system, might think we are not for teaching standards,” Kruger explained. “I can tell you for me, and I believe most who are against this grading system, our problem is not with teaching standards. On the contrary, most of us feel very strongly standards should be taught.”

“Our problem is not with teaching standards, our problem is with how things are graded,” Kruger stated.

Kruger also stated how he is aware teachers have the ability to use discretion with grades, but he believes that does a disservice to both the student and family. As he said, it doesn’t give a true representation of whether or not a student has learned or mastered the particular standard or not, which Kruger believes inadequately gives teachers and administrators the tools they need to provide early intervention to students who might be struggling.

Connie Kruger spoke before the board as a certified teacher with several Wyoming and North Dakota specialized endorsements and licensing who favors the removal of standards-based grading in GCSD, and as a parent of a child in the district.

Kruger said she believes standards-based grading is harmful to all students along the educational spectrum in two ways: it limits achievement students in how high they can perform and it unfairly prevents struggling or disadvantaged students from getting the early literacy interventions they may need to be successful.

“As a teacher and parent, I struggle with calling this system a standards-based grading system,” Kruger told board members. “As you know, you can use any grading system and link standards to the grades, assignments and assessments.”

Adding, “As teachers, we are trained how to teach the state standards, how to write a lesson plan and link the standards to that lesson.”

The teacher also explained the now-repelled grading system does not encourage students, teachers or administrators to set goals for learning or academics within the classroom or outside of the classroom.

Like other speakers during Tuesday’s meeting, Kruger said she too has spoken to a number of families, other parents and teachers about the on-going frustrations with standards-based grading and the implications on students after they leave GCSD. Kruger spoke to recent GCSD graduates who told her they are struggling in post-secondary institutions because the standards-based grading system set them up for failure. She further explained the grievances these students, families and her own have in this regard; stating colleges, universities, trade schools and the various military branches do not allow for make-up work, redos or passes until a student masters a particular concept. She also likened it to how students who choose to go into the work field or a career technical program are not able to make too many mistakes without being asked to leave after the learning or training period ends.

Like the rest of the speakers, Kruger again asked the board to remove standards-based grading from GCSD.

GCSD mother Rebecca Cochran likened standards-based grading to a number of things as she pulled a roll of toilet paper out of a paper bag and sat it on the podium before the board members.

“This system implements swot analysis, goal-setting, self-evaluation and self-motivation,” Cochran explained. “Every high, successful individual in business uses these concepts – these are important life skills.”

“The problem is the only place these processes occur is on paper,” Cochran added. “And that makes it no better than toilet paper.”

“In order for standards-based grading to be effective, it must be implemented – as it was designed,” Cochran further explained. “There must be no discrepancies between classes, teachers or buildings.”

Cochran explained how GCSD fails to implement a cohesive, blanketed and unified implementation of standards-based grading, and has not been able to do so in the seven years in which the district began using the grading system. She told board members they had two choices to make Tuesday night: to listen to the disconnect between the district, parents and teachers to remove standards-based grading, or continue to use the bad habits, faing grading system as is and further disenfranchise families in the county.

After discussion, Sussex agreed to make changes to the agenda by adding a vote regarding the removal of standards-based grading.

Due to procedural requirements, the board voted 5-to-2 to remove standards-based grading only at the end of the current school year, but did not set the parameters of how, when or what to replace it with. Sussex and Chaires voted against removing standards-based grading.

“I have concerns moving forward in this manner,” Chaires said to fellow board members. “Not having a plan to replace standards-based grading.”

“I also think it’s a little bit of a concern – it was mentioned as using kids as guinea pigs,” Chaires further explained. “If we wipe all of the work and the progress that has been done with standards-based grading away, we’re just going to be doing guinea pigs over and starting that process over without a solid plan moving forward.”

The board failed to pass an agenda item tied to standards-based grading which would seek to establish a committee to frame a new grading system for the 2023-2024 school year, of which the district was seeking to have at least three board members, three secondary parents, two secondary teachers and at least one secondary school administrator on prior to voting for the removal of standards-based grading.

The district and various district staff members have spent months rallying for, explaining and defending standards-based grading to students, parents or guardians, teachers, school administrators, board members and community members. In the fall, the district had presentations for board members and individuals seeking election onto the board detailing how standards-based grading works.

Despite months of defending the grading system, various community members continued to seek more information and voice concerns regarding this grading system. 

Many opponents favor a percentage-based grading system. Some have offered the solution the district returns to its former percentage-based grading system while others offered new, improved or different percentage-based grading systems.

The board will decide the finite details of what grading system it plans to use beginning in the 2023-2024 school year, how it will be implemented, when training should happen for district employees and revising a number of policies in the district that will be affected from switching to a non-standards-based grading system.

Immediately following the board meeting, a number of parents began expressing the sort of grading system they would prefer to see to board members, which is expected to be discussed at the February board meeting on Feb. 14, 2023 at 7 p.m. inside the central administration building.

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