Implementation of standards-based grading falls short
By Isabelle Spence, Editor-in-Chief
In 2019, the Vashon Island school district mandated that by the 2020-21 school year, the entire district would switch to a new system of grading: standards-based. This new system is designed to address equity issues and “even the playing field out” for students who come from a variety of backgrounds. However, the system is fraught with errors and hypocrisies that undermine its positive intentions. The Riptide editorial board believes that the implementation of standards-based grading is ineffectual and ends up hurting students more than it helps them.
The goals of the standards-based grading system are admirable. Instead of averaging a student’s work from across an entire semester, the new system attempts to understand the trendline of a student’s work by gradingand grades the most recent consistent work levels. An example teachers will often reference is that with standards-based, one will no longer be weighed down all semester by a poorly executed initial test. Instead, that grade will be replaced by the results of the next time the student demonstrates the same skills. All of this is done in an attempt to benefit the student’s total learning experience. However, when put into practice, the system seldom pays off.
To start with, it seems as though many teachers are unclear on what exactly standards based grading entails. The administration’s decision to move away from traditional grading mandates that by next year, teachers must begin scoring assignments on a one through four scale. This leaves a large amount of leeway for teachers to interpret the system in their own ways, which has led to many slight variations across classrooms. Students now face a separate grading system from each of their teachers, often leading to confusion and misunderstandings. For example, one teacher may measure one’s student’s trend line for the grading measure, while another might simply use the last test performance as the final grade.
Standards based grading also shifts the workload away from homework. This is designed to benefit students who may have other familial or work obligations after school, as well as students who may not have access to the internet and other such resources. However, the system then moves the burden to tests. By emphasizing tests so intensely, the system puts all the pressure on one specific day, rather than the average of many.
In an attempt to decrease stress around tests, many teachers have adopted a retake policy that allows credit up to 100 percent. This means students are now allowed to retest and earn up to a 4 in the gradebook, replacing their old score. On the surface, this seems helpful. Yet again, though, once it is put into practice, something shifts. From the perspective of this board, it seems that teachers will often give tests that students are often not prepared to take. Many times, after giving students a pre-assessment, teachers will then take the opportunity to teach information students were previously tested on, but had never learned. Students are allowed to reassess and replace these bad grades, but they must do so on their own time. Constantly studying for retakes distracts students from new material being taught in class. It also generates a fair amount of homework, negating the entire reason for the renewed emphasis on testing in the first place.
The one through four scale is another point of contention when it comes to standards-based grading. The scale must be converted back to a traditional grading scale, as the law dictates that final transcripts may not be in standards-based. For example, a 4 is a 100%, 3.5 is a 95%, 3 is a 90%, a 2.5 is an 80%, etc. Going further in traditional grading, a 4 and 3.5 are an A, a 3 is an A minus, a 2.5 earns a B minus, a 2 earns a C, etc. This scale takes all of the nuance out of grading an assignment. If a students gets one thing wrong on a test, the grade goes from a 100% — - a 4 — - down to a 95% — - a 3.5. This situation alone may not seem significant, as both grades are still counted as A’s, but it worsens; later on it worsens As the student gets more questions wrong, their grade lowers at a significant rate.
Instead of a numerical points system determining the student’s grade, now it is up to the teacher to decide if they "feel" as though the student has met the standard. If grades are now being interpreted, this could lead to many different unfair situations — none of which seem practically equitable. Additionally, meeting standards is now considered a 3 — or an A minus. How is it that a student could do everything that is asked of them —and meet standard — but then not receive an A?
Standards-based grading doesn’t prioritize student learning and growth, especially in regards to the rest of their academic career. The grading system doesn’t incentivize important study skills, and relies too heavily on retakes. These skills are important and should be taught, especially to those pursuing higher education. Some Vashon alum have described feeling culture shock when entering their new college for the first time, as the grading system is so extremely different.
At the end of the day, standards-based grading is built on a great philosophy. However, the ideas don’t have enough planning to properly execute them. The administration should regulate the grading system more, requiring teachers to follow the same set of standards and rules. This may require much more planning time, but this board believes that it is worth it. Hopefully, with more organization and an improved execution, students can receive the benefits that are intended from the new grading system.