Making the Grade: Three high school courses piloting standards-based assessments

This year marks the second year of Cedar Falls High School’s plan to transition from percent based grading to learning based grading. The school is amidst a four year plan.

Composition and Rhetoric, French III and Advanced Math IV classes are all piloting the new grading method this semester.

While percent based grading is based on a composition of different percentages from various assignments, quizzes and assessments, learning based grading measures a student’s capabilities through their proficiency on well-defined course objectives using a numbered scale.

A student’s proficiency is measured on a four point scale: four being the highest score that a student can receive and one being the lowest. A composition of the different numbers a student receives is then translated into a letter grade.

The new grading method was first introduced because students’ percent compositions were not accurately representing what they were learning in class.

Principal Jason Wedgbury said, “There were a lot of different things all piled into that percentage and we often pretend that percentages are really precise when in reality it may not be the best reflecton of a student’s learning. Now we are trying to identify what’s essential.”

Many students showed concern for the new transition, but Wedgbury assured that there wouldn’t be too much of a difference.

“I don’t think there should be much concern. How you formulate the grade may look a little bit different, but at the end of the day you still get a grade for each course, the grade goes on your transcript, and all of your grades go toward calculating your GPA. Those things don’t change,” Wedgbury said.

Eric Rosburg, one of the leaders in facilitating the new transition, agreed that the changes wouldn’t be super significant.

“It’s honestly not all that dissimilar from what you’ve had in your math courses in the past. Just instead of a five point scale, it’s a four point scale,” Rosburg said. “As much as I know about this, I would be excited as a student because it would be very clear as to how I could get the grade that I want to achieve. Clarity is what we want, so that’s pretty exciting.”

There are some differences. “One of the bigger things that I would say is that you won’t earn as many daily points for completing homework, but you have to understand the connection: if you’re not doing the things to prepare, you’re not going to do as well on the assessments. So homework has to be a capacity that says I do it for the preparation and for the learning and not just for the points. That’s probably one of the biggest changes,” Wedgbury said. “I think it’s good training for college, though, because when you go to college you may have a semester test and a final. They don’t grade all of your homework in college, and if you don’t do your homework, you’re really going to struggle on those big assessments.”

“Overall, the outcomes are going to be more clear. The teachers will tell you: this is the level of performance you need to demonstrate in order to earn the grade that you are seeking, so that part is actually going to be more clear.”

Math teacher Josh Wilkinson is one of the teachers piloting the new grading method this semester. He described how he thought students should best address the change.

“I think clarity is going to be the biggest issue. I told my students, if you don’t understand what you’re looking at in the grade book and you don’t understand how your grade is being put together, then ask a question because I would hope that moving in this direction it becomes much more clear about what students need to do to earn certain grades. If students don’t know how to get an A, then that’s an issue of me as a teacher that I need to make sure that I am clear as to say what my expectations are. I think that communication just needs to be going both ways,” Wilkinson said.

“We’re a pilot team, we’re going to figure out what works well and what doesn’t work, so I think it’s just important to have patience and to know that there might be some bumps in the road, but as long as we communicate well, there shouldn’t be much apprehension in terms of this process because the process is meant to help the students.”

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