A grading system where nobody fails?

By Danielle Curtis, Foster's Daily Democrat
Posted Aug. 20, 2011, at 7:15 a.m.

ROCHESTER, NH — School Board members and school officials debated the decision to remove an F from the grade book as part of Spaulding High School’s new competency-based grading system Thursday night at a meeting of the Policy Committee, with some School Board members questioning whether this change in semantics is too confusing.

The competency-based grading system, which will be implemented at the start of the school year this fall, includes grades of A (advanced), B (beyond competent), and C (competent), but instead of a grade of F uses the terms Not Yet Competent (NYC) and Insufficient Work Shown (IWS).

A student who receives an NYC has the opportunity to go through a relearning and reassessment process, which aims to help them better understand the subject and improve their grade. Unlike in the traditional model, this student would not be required to retake an entire course, but only focus on the parts of a course they did not understand the first time.

A student who receives an IWS, however, would be required to retake the entire course, as they would not have submitted enough work to warrant a relearning and reassessment process.

A few School Board members, however, said that these new grades are too vague and could confuse parents and students who are used to traditional grades.

“I know there’s been a lot of talk in the community that you can no longer fail because of the change in terminology,” said School Board Chair Bob Watson at Thursday’s meeting. “Would giving an F help clarify to people that if they don’t finish their work then they could fail?”

Board member Anthony Pastelis also questioned the decision to do away with Fs.

“I think there are some times when a child is not going to pass and I’m just not sure that’s indicated in our verbiage,” he said. “Eventually I’m going to graduate with a zero… at some point an F is an F is an F.”

Pastelis said that the proposed grade of IWS is vague and does not include a clear point in time when it is too late to make up the work that has not been shown for the course.

“A student is not going to graduate with an IWS and at age 57 come back and finish that work,” Pastelis said. “There has to be a time table… maybe you get to graduation time and the incomplete turns into an F.”

Spaulding Principal Rob Seaward, however, defended the decision to no longer include grades of F in the high school’s grading system, saying the grades do not align with the goals of the new competency system.

“On the simplest terms we’re saying that not finishing is not an option,” Seaward said. “We’re not telling them that they failed, we’re telling them that they’re not finished yet, and that we’re going to work as hard as we can to get them there… We’re trying to show that everyone is somewhere along a journey, and these grades tell you where you are along this journey.”

A grade of an F, Seaward said, is too final and carries too many negative connotations to be used to meet these goals of the new system.

And while some board members suggested that an IWS was vague, Seaward said that in the traditional grading system an F was too vague and did not accurately show a student’s level of learning.

“Even a student who was just slightly not there got an F,” Seaward said. “An F had 70 points worth of range, versus only 30 points for a passing grade. It didn’t tell you anything about where a student was.”

Unlike in the traditional model, having two grades for underachieving students, NYC and IWS, will allow teachers to distinguish between students who are trying hard but are struggling and students who are simply not putting in enough effort.

The discussion continued with board members questioning if this was simply an issues of semantics.

“I don’t know why we’re afraid of using that letter F,” Watson said.

Watson added that A, B, and C grades still exist in the new system and that while they mean different things, the letters were kept to ensure that students and parents were able to easily understand the new grading system.

“I think that helps people understand, and taking the F out may be confusing people,” he said.

Seaward, however, said that while it may seem like a simple issue of semantics to some, for those who worked to develop the new grading system the difference in wording is much more significant.

School Board member William Brennan said he thinks people just need time to get used to the new system.

“It might upset a lot of people, it’s like anything else,” Brennan said. “It’s like the parking meters in Dover — everyone went crazy, but once they were in everything was fine.”

After several minutes of the debate, Superintendent Mike Hopkins suggested that Seaward and other school officials get together and discuss the board members’ issues with IWS and the lack of an F.

Hopkins said that school officials would discuss the idea of IWS potentially becoming an F at some point, for example if a student received an IWS and did not make up the work for a year, but said that when developing the grading system it was unclear when that transition should happen.

School officials will review the decision to remove Fs from the grading system and will report back to the Policy Committee with a recommendation at their next meeting.

For more information on the competency-based grading system, visit www.rochesterschools.com/shs and click on “Competency-Based Instruction” at the bottom of the welcome page.

Copyright (c) 2011, Foster’s Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/08/20/news/a-grading-system-where-nobody-fails/ printed on September 3, 2014