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Will grading change prepare our kids? E-mail
Tuesday, 27 August 2013 11:47

By L&T Publisher Earl Watt

Monday night, senior parents were presented a new grading system that many of the Liberal High School teachers will be using this year, but the presentation left me with more questions than answers.

While I do not have a senior, my daughters are only three years away from beginning high school, and my research has not been very positive about the “competency based grading” system. I went to see what I was missing.

I was disappointed.

There was quite a bit of cheerleading from some of the teachers using the system, but no balance from those who will not be using it.

The very first statement of why a new grading system was needed didn’t sit well with me.

Eli Svaty, one of the teachers using the new system, asked if anyone had students who earned credit for bringing Kleenexes or hi-liters to class. A few hands out of more than 100 went up.

Teachers who give credit for Kleenexes should be reprimanded, but this was the basis for revamping the entire grading system?

In essence, here is what the new system does — homework doesn’t count as a grade, but it measures if a student reaches competency.

Tests are the only grades that count, but students can retake tests for full credit.

If students score less than a 70, which is a C, they are required to retake the test. If they don’t retake the test in 10 days, they are ineligible for sports.

Even if they score more than a 70, say a 95, they can still retake the test to shoot for 100.

When questioned about getting second, third and fourth chances to achieve the grade, and that students won’t get chances like that in the “real world,” Svaty responded by saying his job was to teach the kids until they were proficient or he wasn’t doing his job.

I believe Svaty, and other teachers, believe their teaching ability is directly tied to their students grades.

Not necessarily.

If Svaty helped a student who usually averages 49 reach 69, has done a good job. But 69 just might be the best for a specific student. We aren’t all academic all stars, and teachers aren’t failures because everyone isn’t an A student.

Teachers with the new system will be reviewing this material with students, either during class or after school, and then retesting the students.

Some teachers do this simply by verbally asking the questions the student missed.

Liberal is not the first to try this grading experiment.

Quakertown, Pa., tried it for the past four years, and became the poster child district for how to implement the system.

This year, the Quakertown School Board put a halt to the retakes and is looking to scrap the plan entirely after graduates said they were unprepared for college and the work force.

While their grades appeared to be better in high school, these students had to enroll in remedial college classes and had to learn how to turn homework in on schedule and pass tests the first time.

New Hampshire is looking to implement the plan statewide, but several districts have asked to be exempted due to the problems students have in transition to college or to careers.

None of this data was shared at the meeting.

At most of those schools, the board has been involved due to the public outcry, but until recently, the USD No. 480 Board was not aware of the “pilot program” that has now been required to be used by 60 percent of the teachers.

When pressed about not having children prepared, teacher Lindsay Diepenbrock said that she didn’t believe that adults weren’t given second chances.

“You can retake your driver’s license test,” she said.

True. But if you don’t get at least an 80 percent in four attempts, you can’t take the driver’s test again for six months.

Retaking the ACT was also discussed.

Data indicates that slightly more than half of those who retook the ACT saw their scores increase, and only one or two points, according to actstudent.org. Slightly less than half received the same score or less.

When pushed on preparing students, Diepenbrock said, “We aren’t teaching adults, we are teaching kids.”

Also true. Granted, they are 16-, 17-, and 18-year-old kids. And with the assumption they are not adults, they aren’t being prepared to be adults.

One high school student who is already taking college classes — where she is required to turn in assignments on time and only gets one test — half of her day and high school classes the other half, asked how is this system preparing her.

The contention made by the three instructors was that not all students learn the same way or at the same pace. When asked how teachers would manage the classroom with some students retaking tests while others were ready to move on, Svaty said that teachers were discussing among themselves how to best handle that situation, but nothing definitive was presented.

I believe we have all seen this before.

What teachers will realize is that those who do not learn at the same pace need to be grouped together. What we will see is a return to the system that was in place prior to mainstreaming, which occurred in the early 1990s when all students, regardless of their ability to learn at the same pace, were put together in the same class.

This system leads us backward, not forward.

I asked after the presentation for success stories, to see what I was missing, and I was told that test scores were increasing on standardized tests.

A strong point to be sure. Students in this system are passing standardized high school tests. But they are entering college as remedial students.

College professors can pick the competency based students from the rest of their students by their inability to keep pace, and their requests to turn in homework late and retake tests.

The answer at the collegiate level is “No.”

A job is much the same way.

Kids and teachers may feel better after retakes, but are they prepared? If not, does a test score matter?

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About The High Plains Daily Leader

The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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