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An update on Standards-based Grading at Park City Schools

On Wednesday, the Park City School District School Board met and discussed Standards-based grading (SBG) with Traci Evans, Interim Associate Superintendent of Teaching and Learning.

After watching the hour-long session, I have a much clearer understanding of where we are with the new method of learning being implemented at Ecker Hill, Treasure Mountain, and soon other schools. Your view of the program will likely depend on your expectations.

If your view is that SBG is a process where students, parents, teachers, administrators, and board members are developing the plan as we go along, then you are probably OK with the district’s implementation. You may conclude that in any complex transition, you’re not going to know everything up front. Therefore, you have to adjust to changing conditions on the ground. Or as Mike Tyson said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

The opposing view is that the school district is changing one of the critical tenets of how education works — one that has been in place for a hundred years. You may conclude that in a change this large and complex, a detailed plan would be in place ahead of time that addresses every detail of the transition. Or as Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

I agree more with the latter viewpoint. I believe the fundamental issue with SBG right now is that initial planning wasn’t detailed enough. Due to lack of planning, implementation has been difficult. Poor execution has then led to confusion across parents, children, and teachers. Now, the school district is scrambling.

I believe this assessment is supported by the school board member comments in Wednesday’s meeting about parental confusion with the process. It’s also supported by Ms. Evans, who at one point in Wednesday’s meeting said they might not even ultimately stick with SBG’s 1-4 grading scores. It is also supported by a school board member who asked the question, “but is the goal that the district is migrating to this [SBG]?” If School Board members don’t know the extent of plans regarding SBG, it clearly indicts the planning process. By the way, the school board member never received an answer in the meeting.

I believe this view is also supported by teachers rewriting student goals mid-year to be more in line with SBG, by a parent FAQ on SBG being published two months into the school year, and by the haphazard training of teachers.

Ultimately, my critique of Park City’s SBG implementation isn’t meant to point fingers or assess blame. Wednesday’s meeting showed that the School Board, Superintendent Gildea, and Ms. Evans have nothing but our childrens’ best interests in mind. I think many of our school administrators believe SBG is the right path forward. I have to admit judging our children on what they know, based on a set of standards, sounds good. The question is how you get from a hundred-year-old system to the new world order.

It seems the school district’s answer to this is communication. If only the public would show up to meetings, and if only they would listen, and if they just knew what we knew, then they would understand. The problem is that those trying to communicate to us are true believers in a land of skeptics. No amount of talking at us, saying the same thing over and over, is going to convince us.

I believe they still need what they didn’t have in the first place — a PLAN. Give parents, students, and teachers a 200-page plan that is comprehensive and understandable for the sixth-grader on up. Then, make sure it details every aspect of SBG for Park City schools. Tell us why the district is doing it and when. Give us all the rules. Go into detail and tell us whether SBG’s 1-4 scale will be converted into A-F and how it will be converted into GPA. Tell us specifically what standards will be graded for each grade-level. Give us examples of what represents a 1, 2, 3, and a 4 in common subjects. Provide us mandates that should be observed by teachers, such as when a student can retake tests and whether all assessments should provide 1-4 grading (i.e., in SBG sometimes a test only has a maximum of 2 if the subject matter being tested isn’t designed to test complete proficiency). Answer every question you can think a student, parent, or teacher may have. Document the training plan to get all teachers up to speed. Then demonstrate how teachers will be evaluated based on the new structure, which will likely require working with the Park City Education Association to make sure they are on board. There are likely dozens of other components which would make up a comprehensive plan. I’m not talking fluff, PowerPoint highlights, or presentations designed to convince people that SBG is good. I’m talking about a plan that shows thoughtfulness, foresight, and is in excruciating detail.

The Park City School District needs to provide a document that shows that the district has all its ducks in a row. It should be the hymnal that administrators, teachers, and students sing from. If something is not in the PLAN, then it doesn’t exist.

Yes, it’s an incredible amount of work. However, it should have been work that was all completed before the SBG process ever impacted one child. This is a big shift. We’re not talking about what color a hallway should be painted, or even what the design of a new Treasure Mountain school should look like. This is more fundamental. We are talking about how every child will be educated in the school district for decades to come.

If this is a transition we really want to attempt, then we’ll likely need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on getting help from experts in order to produce a detailed plan. That’s OK. If we really believe in it, and we want to change the fundamental direction of our schools, then that is money well spent.

I’m not sure what that means for the kids and teachers at the test-tube known as Ecker Hill. Perhaps teachers can decide independently if they want to continue SBG. Then the 1-4 grades some teachers want to use can be converted by our school district’s software into A-F. That would give us time to fully plan out a transition.

As I take a step back, I’m convinced that we didn’t fully plan our move to SBG. That said, I’m still not fully-convinced that SBG is the right direction. As I pointed out in a previous article, students in SBG have been shown to receive lower ACT scores.

Likewise, here is an article from a junior at a high school in Kentucky, talking about why she thinks SBG can be detrimental. As you start to research SBG, it’s not all that clear-cut. What seems like a great idea at 30,000 feet is often less clear once you get in closer.

However, as I’ve said before, I’m not an educator. At some point I have to trust the experts. So, as long as our teachers, administrators, and other experts have jointly weighed in and concluded that SBG is the way to go, I trust their long-term vision.

My hope is that if we take a step back and intricately detail how we would roll out SBG, it may give our educators a chance to step up and use their experience to tell us whether we are going in the right direction. If we are, then they can provide ideas on how to get it right.

Note: If you’d like to watch the video of the meeting and form your own opinions, you can watch it at the link below. You want to click on the link and then click on the Assesment Task Force link on the right side. While I’m grateful that they provide video at all (most other government oganizations don’t), PCSD uses an outdated video format, so if you have trouble watching it, let me know. I can provide some advice on how to get your web browser to play the video.

https://video.pcschools.us/videos/video/9787/

Comments

6 Comments

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Kathy

Wow! You did a lot of research! My daughter’s had a horrible time with the new grading system. Nobody at the school answers our questions satisfactorily, so we gave up.

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Walt Wehner

At least they’re trying something new. In the era of endless social media nitpicking and NIMBYism, it takes guts to try *anything*. PCSD is increasingly hamstrung by endless complaints about everything (of course, they’re not alone in this).

Middle school grades don’t mean shit. Perfect place to test out the system, IMO. After some expected chaos and confusion, things will either settle in and work fine, or they won’t.

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mary b

but everythings hunky-dory
http://newsroom.pcschools.us

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Parkrag

Hi Walt-

Thanks for the comments. As I was watching this meeting, I wrote down a comment on my notepad, “What Traci REALLY wants to say is CHILLAX this is only middle school!” I, of course, can’t speak for what Ms. Evans believes and it probably channels more of my thoughts than hers. But it does show I understand the viewpoint.

The other side of the argument is that kids and parents do take school very seriously in this town. Much more than I ever did — but then again I didn’t even know where Stanford was (I’m not sure I even know now). Likewise, with this being partially implemented in TMJH, which does bleed into 9th grade, it starts to really mean something.

So, I get the frustration from kids going through it.

My point in highlighting the issue is that Ecker Hill kids and teachers do deserve better than a haphazard implementation on something this game changing. Likewise, our school district could be crazy enough to throw this into high school in the same way it did Ecker. So, I think highlighting the concerns of parents may cause the district to do it a little better job next time.

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Walt

Well, to play devil’s advocate, if the Ecker kids and parents deserve the best – shouldn’t they want the district to be trying cool new things to see how they work out, at a stage where the grades don’t affect anything much anyway? Don’t we want a system that prioritizes comprehensive knowledge, rather than “teaching to the test” and such? Doesn’t everyone want less standardized testing and opt their kids out? Or are we compartmentalizing those complaints so we can complain about this?

So, we freaking *try it*. If it’s a total disaster, shrug and move on to something else, or back to the old system. That’s how the world works, and implementing big complicated things is always a shitshow initially – always. Sometimes things don’t work. But you’ll never know if you don’t try.

As I’ve said before, I don’t have an opinion on SBG or know how well it works. But *every* change in this school district seems to cause a pearl-clutching freakout. At some point I just stopped caring about the complaining because it’s background noise, and most of the complainers don’t bother to show up to meetings or help make things work.

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Anonymous

Walt,

This is not an Ecker Middle school experiment . . . EVERY secondary teacher in the district is expected to implement SBG by 2022.

Your comment: “If it’s a total disaster, shrug and move on to something else, or back to the old system. That’s how the world works, and implementing big complicated things is always a shitshow initially – always.”

You got that right.


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