Uncertainty in the standards-based grading trendline causes frustration

By Alec Pottinger, *Reporter *

As the first semester came to a close on January 22, students became increasingly aware of what is happening to their grades in Skyward. Under a traditional grading model, students could predict and calculate what their grade would be based on the average of scores in any given category. However this semester, with standards based grading, many students sat in confusion wondering how their grade was calculated as an algorithm was used to determine the direction in which a grade was trending made the final call.

For many students, the frustration of not knowing how their grade is calculated is real.

“[The trend line is] a grading method that utilizes the Power Law equation [making] the most recent assignments carry the most weight when determining a student’s grade… The Power Law algorithm calculates a student’s predicted next score based on the scores they have already earned. The formula, which is quite complex, puts more weight on recent assignments, so dents aren’t penalized for low scores earned early in the term when they’re still mastering concepts,” the Skyward website stated.

While students aren’t penalized for low scores earned earlier in the term, there is an even greater penalization if the scores happen later, as there is less time to earn higher grades.

“The decaying average calculation method that puts progressively less weight on older assessments, [while] newer assessments still ‘count more’ in a student’s overall score for the standard,” Skyward stated.

Each school that uses the Skyward system gets to determine their own decay rate. The higher the decay rate chosen, the more weight recent assessments will receive. The lower the rate you select, the more the weight of scores will be balanced.

“[If a school] selects a decay rate of 65 percent and a student completes two assessments, the most recent assessment will get 65 percent weight, and the first will get 35 percent. For each additional assessment, the sum of the previous scores will be weighted at 35 percent, with the oldest score given the least weight and the newer scores progressively more. If a student completes three assessments, for example, the weighting would be 12 percent for the first assessment, 23 percent for the second, and 65 percent for the third,” Skyward stated.

For some students the trendline has worked both in their favor and against them.

“When I’ve had a few low grades early in a semester and then done better, the trend line has helped out a

lot and has provided a big jump in the right direction. But when I’ve done well throughout the semester, and then had one lower grade at the end it has tanked my grade. Because there’s not as much time left, there’s not a lot I can do about it,” senior Luke Vatheuer said.

For example, if a student were to receive three 3.5’s and a 1 —with the one happening early in the term— the result would be an overall grade of a 4 in that category. However, if a student were to receive three grades of a 3.5 and then ended the term with a 1, the result would be an overall grade of a 2 in that category. Even though the grades are all the same, the results are drastically different.

Vashon Island High School (VHS) math teacher Ethan Cudaback shared frustration with how he has seen the trend line affect grades in his class.

“I don’t think the trend line always adequately represents what a student has demonstrated in class. This is especially the case if there aren’t enough assessments [or] scores in a given standard,” Cudaback said.

Other teachers such as VHS English teacher Gavin Kovite have noticed this issue in the gradebook, and

‘hand correct’ to make up for the algorithm’s pitfalls.

“I do hand-correct, and I do this because I don’t want my grading to be completely in thrall to the Skyward algorithm. The algorithm is its own thing, and I still get unexpected results with it sometimes, so I’ll hand correct to what I think is the most accurate grade signal, looking at the student’s total output. I don’t have a special system for this, other than looking at where the grade stands and looking back over the student’s work, and changing something if I feel like Skyward didn’t capture it accurately,” Kovite stated.