Told that they were not ready to implement Standards Based Grading for the 2016-2017 school year, a contingent of staff and administrators from Neosho Middle School successfully convinced the school district board of education that the fifth and sixth grades are prepared to move to the new model.

Told that they were not ready to implement Standards Based Grading for the 2016-2017 school year, a contingent of staff and administrators from Neosho Middle School successfully convinced the school district board of education that the fifth and sixth grades are prepared to move to the new model.

Led by principal Dr. Eileen Ford, the school’s curriculum committee assured the school board they have done much ground work and have plans to continue in the evenings and throughout the summer to form the separate pieces for grading and reporting, student tracking sheets, proficiency skills, assessments, activities and resources, and ultimately report cards and progress reports.

“I think we are all here because of the professional development that we’ve had,” Ford spoke of her about 10 colleagues at the monthly board work session. “All of us have it from Neosho, and some of us have it from our previous districts, too; and we’ve bought into the Standards Based Grading philosophy because we just think it’s more valid and fair and a consistent grade for our students.

“And when we’ve used that in our classrooms we’ve seen our students go, ‘Okay, we’re at the three; what do we do for the four?’ Or, ‘We’re at a two; what do I need for that three?’” Ford said.

“And it really involves them more in their learning, and we’ve seen that within our classrooms, so it’s kind of exciting to see that,” she said. “So this group feels like we’re ready to move forward to get those pieces in place.”

Professional Learning Communities (PLC) time on Fridays have been used for creating those lessons, she said, instead of using those lessons effectively to mine for data to see what best practices are going on and learning what practices other teachers use to gain more effective results, Ford said.

A Better Way of Learning:

Teacher John Henderson insisted the sixth grade is ready to go.

“It was really eye opening for the students,” Henderson said. “One of the great things was that they knew that it wasn’t a one-and-done kind of deal.”

Henderson said the student attitude about the concept of gaining mastery before moving on was “Oh I didn’t do so well, but I can come back and try again.”

He found the change extremely beneficial.

 “So that encourages them to go to a side section of the room and we re-teach in small groups and have them re-test,” Henderson said.

Another plus, according to Ford, is that grading is just on what they know. Hidden curriculum such as homework, participation and behavior is not included in the grade.

“So it’s a true indication of where they are in their levels of learning,” she said. “So that’s been nice to take that out of it, too, because a lot of students don’t have anybody to help them at home at night with homework.”

The district’s teachers have families that can and do take the time to sit down and work with their students.

“But we have kids who go home to a big sister that takes care of them all night and they don’t get their homework done,” Ford said. “So they might know the same thing but the grades are different. So it’s not like a true reflection, and for those kids Standards Based Grading is also valuable.”

An Evolution in Teaching

The school district is moving toward Standards Based Grading, what superintendent Dan Decker called “a new way of thinking,” and with a new administration at the middle school this year and many other new processes and procedures, the board was concerned that it would be asking to much of the middle school staff.

The school is moving to One-to-One technology next year and Decker had suggested staff get more comfortable with that and to work another year to get things in place before making the big move.

When confronted, he said Ford and her staff were disappointed with the standdown order and requested their date with the school board to educate them on their progress, and their ambition to go forward.

Under the new model, Decker said the curriculum is divided into standards that must be mastered for the student to attain credit or to show they have mastery of that concept; and then scales to measure those standards must be created.

All students at a grade level will undergo the same pre-test, which he said allows seeing where each student is in relationship to learning, and then there is a post-test.

“If the student doesn’t show mastery over the course of the time that the subject is taught then they have the opportunity to come back and do that again,” Decker said. “So it’s creating a lot of what we have but in a different way. It’s stuff that the teachers currently use and putting it in a different form.”

Getting Everyone On Board

School board president Brett Day is sold on the program, and he asked assurance from the committee that staff is sold on it so that they can explain it and sell it to parents and the public.

“This has been tried in other school districts,” Day said. “And the ones that failed — it has usually failed in the communication piece.”

The biggest thing parents need to understand is that it will be different, but it will be better for them and their students, according to Decker.

“When you see a grade card you’re not going to see the 50/60/70/80/90/100 percent,” he said. “What you are going to see is probably a 4/3/2/1 scale which shows mastery and proficiency in those kinds of things. But I think we’ve got to show parents – because it is different – how it’s going to benefit them and their student.”

The new process will allow teachers to be able to show parents exactly what skills their student know and has mastered — and Decker said it shows what they have not.

“As a parent myself, when I get a grade card like that, it helps me to know where to work with my son or daughter on it,” he said. “It really is futile for me to go back and work with them on something they already have mastery of, but if I can find two skills that they don’t have mastery of then that’s where I’m going to spend my time working with them in the evening.”

Or, Decker said, if a teacher is tutoring a student, they don’t have to tutor them on the whole subject, they find out where they are deficient or haven’t shown mastery yet and then they will work with them on those skills.

“They can go in and it will show exactly where they need help,” He said.

The Future Is Now

The goal is for Standards Based Grading to become district-wide, though Decker indicated it will be kicked off next year in kindergarten through sixth grade.

“It’s kind of the whole bigger picture of what we are trying to do with student personalized learning,” he said.

“We’ve got some junior high teachers and some high school teachers who are actually working with it in their classrooms so that we can get some input as to how that’s going to look and how that’s going to work with our upper level grades,” Decker said. “I think that will give us a clearer picture of how to proceed from there.”

Decker set a goal for the district to go to Standards Based Grading within five years when he came on board three years ago, and he feels confident that can be accomplished in the next two years.