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The REAL issue with standards-based grading at Park City schools

Last week Park City School District (PCSD) put on the full-media-blitzkrieg regarding standards-based grading. They called it, “The Facts About Standards-Based Learning.” They wrote a letter to the Park Record on the subject. They published that letter on their website. They even texted every parent in the district with a link to that same letter.

Here is a point-by-point paraphrasing of what they said:

SBG is good. SBG is good. We want to do SBG because SBG is good. Three years ago teachers at Ecker went to a conference, took some classes, did some research and determined that SBG is good. This year SBG was implemented at Ecker. The grading scale is 1-4, with a 3 meaning your kid is proficient at something. Teachers drove this Ecker thing, but now every school wants to use it, so the District Administration has gotten involved. SBG will be at every school in PC by 2022. Because of that, the District is only beginning to educate parents on why SBG is good.

Right now more than half of Treasure teachers use SBG and by 2020 they all will. Some teachers at the high school also use SBG. The District will convert 1-4’s to A-Fs for secondary students and transcripts will look the same. Elementary schools may use SBG at some point.

SBG is good. SBG is good. Parents, talk to your teachers or Principals if you have questions.

After spending over 50 hours on this topic, I have concluded that the School District still doesn’t quite get it. I’d say 95% of the people I have spoken with about SBG say it SOUNDS great. People love the idea of it. However, when you look at the district’s communication blitzkrieg, the predominant message is “SBG is good.” Yes, we get that. Unfortunately, they completely miss the point.

THE PROBLEM HAS BEEN IMPLEMENTATION.

Not since the 2015 bond, have I received so many emails and calls from parents concerned with the school district. The calls aren’t wanting to discuss the merits of SBG. The calls are about the implementation. They want the school district to explain how this new paradigm works, in detail.

Parents want to know how SBG works. They want to know specifics on how it will impact their kids in the future as they progress through grades into college. They want to know why they are seeing inconsistencies in how teachers implement “standards” based grading. They want to know why some teachers are teaching to mediocrity. They want to know why parent FAQs said there would be no conversion to traditional grades, but now the district says they will convert to traditional grades. They want to know why teachers complained about poor (or non-existent) training. They want to know why a random teacher said something about SBG to their child that made absolutely no sense to the kid. They want to know why some teachers have changed childrens’ grades after the facts because “someone told the teacher they couldn’t give a 4.”

While maybe it sounds like a communication problem, it’s not. It’s an execution problem. That’s what PCSD needs to understand. While parents and children are asking questions, they are asking questions because the implementation has been problematic. The details haven’t been figured out. The process isn’t consistent. Teachers haven’t received adequate training. Those things manifest themselves as a communications issue but have a deeper root cause.

Solving that is much harder than making a press release and holding community meetings. The Park City community has been jaded by government meetings designed to push an agenda. People show up to school bond hearings, Mountain Accord meetings, truth in taxation meetings, random development meetings, and many other meetings about issues and find their opinions make little difference. Many times, their concerns are dismissed. It’s not hard to see why people don’ show up.

So, the school district shouldn’t discount the anger just because people don’t show up to meetings that the district has designed. People are showing their fury in other places.

The constructive question is where do we go from here? It’s pretty clear the district isn’t reversing course on SBG — and they probably shouldn’t because the SBG CONCEPT seems to have broad support. So, how do they fix the implementation at Ecker? They probably can’t fix it this year or maybe even next year. SBG is not only a complete shift for students, but it’s also a complete shift for teachers. Ecker needs to find a way to instill consistency across all teachers at the school. Before that can happen, all teachers and administrators need similar training, so they share a common understanding. Then computer systems need to be in place that entirely work with SBG. Along the way, decisions need to be made about appropriate goals for students and the standards that are going to be taught.

If we view standards-based grading as beneficial because EVERYTHING IS STANDARDIZED, then the people who implement this have to all be using the identical playbook. It will take a while to get there. It’s a work in progress.

If you have a kid at Ecker and are concerned over this issue, I wish there was a better answer. However, perhaps it’s one of those real teaching moments for your kid. This experience could teach them that, “humans are fallible. Your teachers have bosses who make them do things. Not everything is perfect. Doing something is harder than talking about it. This is middle school, and in the end, it probably won’t matter much (so don’t let it get to you). Use this an opportunity to try and learn and not worry so much about grades. Your school did something unfair to you, but you have no choice other than to make the best of it. This won’t be the last time you’ll be treated unfairly. You’re going to get a great education in Park City, regardless of this. C’est la vie.”

I also understand that the above is easy for me to say. I don’t have kids going through it.

That said, if you have kids at Ecker, you have a chance to make things better for the next generation of kids (and your kids once they hit TMJH and PCHS because eventually, SBG will be everywhere ). So, please do what that school district directed in their “The Facts About Standards-Based Learning.” Ask every question you can think of to your school’s Principal and your child’s teacher. In a transition like this, no question is a dumb question.

If I had a kid in Ecker, here are the things I’ ask:

  • I’d ask for a list of the standards that will be taught that year in each class. Utah has so many standards for each grade/class, it is impossible to teach them all. So, it’s fair to know what standards a teacher will be teaching to during a year.
  • I’d want to know what constitutes proficiency in each standard (what does your kid need to do to get a 3)?
  • I’d want to an example of going beyond proficiency (i.e., what it takes to get a 4) for each standard.
  • I’d want to know how going forward, for each time my child was receiving a standards-based grade, what was the maximum grade possible (Was it a 4? Was it a 3?). That way I can talk with my child about his or her performance.
  • For any arts-based class, I’d want to make sure I understood exactly how proficiency would be addressed. It’s a little different with orchestra, band, etc.
  • If there are conversions from SBG to grades and a GPA, what is the conversion scale? Is the scale standard across the school?

Maybe these aren’t your type of questions; perhaps you have others. Great. But please ask the questions you have. Your child is owed that. It’s also fair. If the school district is trying to move to a system that tells your kid if they are proficient, your child has the right to know ahead of time what proficient means.

I know you are probably thinking, ”My kid’s teacher doesn’t have time for answering all these questions. They don’t have time to do what they do now.” True. However, they are your interface to the Park City School District organization. Put another way, sometimes the keyboard on your new MacBook doesn’t work right. You have to talk to the Genius at the Apple store to try and fix it. The Genius may tell you there is nothing they can do to fix it. But when 10,000 other customers come in and ask the same question, Apple eventually will understand they have a design flaw.

By applying pressure where you can, you can affect change in the long-run. Unfortunately, massive changes won’t happen today, tomorrow, or even this year. With work, however, SBG at Ecker will be better next year. Most importantly, for parents with children at Ecker, if you apply the pressure now, the district will likely have a better process in place for when your kids hit 9th grade at TMJH — when it really matters.

The school district seems to be focused on trying to convince the Park City Community that SBG is a good thing. That’s probably because the real issue is a much harder nut to crack. How do you replace a 100-year-old A-F grading system with something new? How do you get hundreds of teachers and thousands of kids on the same page? How do you do that and keep the high standards people have come to expect?

That’s the hard part.

The even scarier part is the district has little time to get this right, ensure they don’t impact students’ desire to learn and education along-the-way, and find an answer to why studies show SBG ACT scores are a couple of points lower than traditional grading.

If Park City’s standardized test scores drop, that’s when the Parents with Pitchforks really come out. No one wants to see that.

God speed PCSD. You have a long way to go and a short to get there.

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Anne L. C.

Some parents have already given up on the Park City School District because of this SBG they are shoving down everyone’s throats without any kind of plan. This school district never ever learns. That’s the irony. It’s an EDUCATION system that has UNEDUCATED people running the show. People who know nothing about how to run a show like SBG. It’s literally STUPID. Our district is all set up for the people who either have money to push their programs into it or have friends in high places who are allowed to push their own agenda. In the end, PCSD has never been about the students and their wellbeing and excellence in education. And too many people are okay with that. I guess taxpayers are okay with that. If anyone wants to force PCSD to care about students, do what this article says…ask every question you can. Ask your kid, ask teachers, and ask principals. If you get a bull%*t answer, call them on it. Ask for follow up with a real answer and give them a deadline. It’s your right as a public citizen and taxpayer to hold this district accountable. Now that would be a welcome change in the perverted versions of implementation we get around here.


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