Fairmont Area makes grading shift

­FAIRMONT — This is the first school year that Fairmont Jr./Sr. High School has implemented standards-based grading in its seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms.

According to edglossary.org, the term “standards-based” refers to systems of instruction, assessment, grading and academic reporting based on students demonstrating understanding or mastery of the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn.

Administrators at Fairmont Jr./Sr. High have been researching SBG for two years now. Ten seventh- and eighth-teachers implemented SBG at the beginning of this school year.

Principal of grades 7 and 8 Andy Traetow said, “A traditional grading system uses a single score or letter to assess multiple dimensions of learning. In a standards-based system, you are being more specific in terms of assessing each of those dimensions of learning and reporting on each of them separately.”

In a traditional system, students are more apt to focus on points. With SBG, the focus is on what students are learning and what it means for them.

Under SBG, instead of receiving the traditional A, B, C, D or F, students get a 1, 2, 3 or 4.

Although each teacher can be more specific when it comes to defining their levels of academic achievement, the general description is:

1 – Does not yet meet course standards.

2 — Developing with assistance. Partially meets course standards.

3 — Developing. Meets course standards while making progress toward a high level of achievement.

4 — Proficient. Meets course standards with a high level of achievement.

“Our goal is to really solidify the focus on the learning that’s taking place,” said Traetow, adding, “In education, our focus has always been on learning, but then how we report it hasn’t necessarily reflected that. When you see a letter or a number, what does that mean in terms of learning? You have an idea of what it means in terms of progress but sometimes it’s hard to know all of the factors that have played into that letter grade, whereas the parameters of SBG really provide more specific information in terms of what is being learned.”

Students are still assessed for any and all learning activities, and they still have tasks that need to be done. The goal is for students to be to be advocates for their learning and to be able to self-assess.

“Any time you’re learning something, the feedback is what provides the information that we need to continue to grow,” Traetow explained. “Kids are getting specific feedback based on the standards and learning goals so that they know exactly what they need to do to continue to improve and reach that next level of learning.”

In a traditional grading system, students may begin the class receiving Fs and Ds as they are faced with new concepts that they’re struggling to understand. Down the line, they may start improving, receiving Cs and Bs. However, at the end of the class, once the grades are averaged out, the student may still receive a C, even though they were understanding concepts by the end of the class. With SBG, students are not penalized for what they didn’t know when they started.

“If a student is challenged in the beginning of their learning process, but is able to fully understand it in the end, we’re going to look at that end goal and that they’ve accomplished that learning goal,” Traetow said. “Whereas in a traditional system, by averaging the beginning and the end, in essence a student is penalized for what they didn’t know in the beginning of the learning process.”

Eighth-grade english teacher Kathleen Perry is one of the 10 teachers using SBG. She had nothing but positive things to say about the students and how they are handling the change from traditional grading to SBG.

“They’re asking the right questions and they’re really taking ownership of learning through a standards-based mindset,” she said, adding, “It’s been a period of growth.”

As a teacher, Perry will first see what the student initially knows, and then watch the student practice over and over before collecting the evidence on improvement and understanding.

“It’s not just about turning in an assignment, it’s mastering a skill,” she said.

Traetow says parents with any questions about SBG should contact teachers or himself.

“Educating children is a collective effort and we want to make sure that we continue to communicate with parents in regard to the education that their kid is receiving,” he said.

As for the future of SBG at Fairmont Area, Traetow said, “We are continuing to research what a standards-based approach means for the future of our school district and our learners.”