GCSD trustees, administrators, teachers, students discuss standards-based grading


GOSHEN COUNTY – Teachers, administrators and students turned out to the Goshen County School District No. 1 board of trustees’ work session on standards-based grading Tuesday night to share concerns regarding the system. 

The grading system, which is new this year to grades six through 12, assesses student progress based on learning standards for the course determined by its teachers. Standard scores range from 0-4 and are converted to a letter grade visible on report cards at the end of the semester. Prior to the new system, report cards listed percentages, from zero to 100%. Grades for behavior and work habits are reported separately from academic performance to allow students, teachers and parents to distinguish achievement and behavioral issues, according to GCSD Superintendent Ryan Kramer.

A little more than one semester in, students and educators had both praise for certain aspects of the new system and problems with others. 

Kramer said his vision is for each course’s standards to be written in student and parent-friendly language so they can easily identify what aspects of a course they struggle or excel in.

“The power of grading is high-quality feedback to specifically address the needs of students,” Kramer said. “We are not there yet after the first semester.”

Student representatives to the board and other high school-aged attendees all had similar sentiments when they addressed the board on the matter. On one hand, students are now fully aware of the standards they are being graded on. On the other hand, many said they and their classmates may be less prepared for college or future careers, as homework completion is not part of their academic grade and thus some students neglect to complete it. 

Some said they’d like to return to the traditional grading system, which they found more rigorous. 

“I see a lot of 4.0 GPAs out right now, and it’s almost unrealistic how many students have those 4.0 GPAs,” said Torrington High School student board representative Tyne Stokes. 

The concern of assignment completion is one shared by students and educators alike, though most teachers said they’re not seeing more students missing their assignments than in years past with traditional grading. 

“The biggest concern teachers had was completion, students didn’t complete their work in a traditional setting last year,” Kramer said. “To say that the standards-based grading created this issue is not completely accurate. We need to be conscious of the fact that the students we have (at the meeting) are very high achieving, and we sometimes forget we have a large population of students that will tell you they don’t have the support at home, they don’t have the ability.”

Board member Dylan Hager called the feeling among students that their ungraded assignments don’t carry any weight “a crisis.”

“As a parent, as a school board, a teacher, and staff, if we have a system where kids feel that what they do during the day has no weight, I think we completely fail,” Hager said. “There’s nothing in the real world that tells any of us that what we do in the day has no matter.”

Educators have been tasked with implementing the district’s standards-based grading system during the pandemic, a sort of double whammy as expressed by the school board during previous meetings. Those who spoke to the board said the system allows them to have more meaningful and effective conversations with their students about what they’re struggling with, which allows them to better improve their standings in the class. 

An issue both educators and students have with the system is the fact that there are inconsistencies among teachers with what kind of performance constitutes a zero through four. There is also a concern about a lack of clear learning standards in some courses.

Ultimately, the move from traditional grading to standards-based grading is a “movement of a cultural mindset,” according to Kramer, away from bell curve grading where only a certain percentage of students can achieve at a high level.

Still, it is difficult to shift beliefs about grading and in effect, education, according to THS Principal Chase Christensen. 

“We’ve got a long road to go to have everybody bought into a philosophy change,” he said. “As we continue to work through a philosophical change to look at learning rather than grading, and to have our students and parents talking learning rather than grading, it’s going to be a long road before we have everybody on the same page for that.”

Tory Bugher, physical education teacher at Torrington Middle School, said educating both students and parents about PowerSchool, the district’s online grade book, will be important moving forward, as they need to be able to navigate the website to break down standards and access more detailed information.

“As a parent, if you’re really into your kids’ grades, you can know that there’s one part they’re still struggling in,” he said. “My dislike right now is, we’re doing a disservice and we’re throwing an A on a report card, and there’s still that little struggle (in certain standards), but on a report card you can’t see that.”

Some educators were concerned about the separation of academic achievement and behavior in grading. Kramer said the intent is not to dismiss that aspect of learning but to provide accurate feedback on the quality of students’ work without inflating it with behavioral scores.

Another goal moving forward will be identifying what college and career ready means for Goshen County’s students, Kramer told the board. 

“That isn’t an easily quantified number,” Kramer said. “Those, to me, will be the valuable conversations in work sessions.”

Following Tuesday night’s discussion, the district’s administration will meet to consider the findings of the work session and results of a survey sent to educators on the subject of standards-based grading to determine what concerns can be addressed this semester and those that will wait until next school year.

The next regular board meeting is scheduled for Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. at the central office. 

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