Motion to suspend competency-based grading fails 2-5
By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leader & Times
Competency-based grading has not met the mark just yet, but the USD 480 Board of Education voted Monday to give the controversial system another nine weeks to better its performance.
“Let’s improve what we’re doing from this point going forward,” said board member Nick Hatcher. “Let’s take what we learned last semester and the first part of this one, and make it better.” Board members Chris Jewell, Matt Friederich and president Delvin Kinser also voiced support for the pilot program.
Discussion focused at first on how to iron out the glitches at Liberal High School, where the grading system was piloted by six teachers last year before being implemented in more than 60 percent of the school’s classes this fall.
Board member Steve Helm, who had requested the subject be added to the agenda as the meeting began, presented a motion to suspend the grading system altogether. He pointed out that after taking a whole evening for a work session with public comment, the board “just kind of dropped the issue. We’ve not addressed it.”
Earlier in the meeting, parent Mellissa Brenneman had voiced dissatisfaction with the board for putting the grading issue on the back burner.
“You had the opportunity to put competency grading on the agenda, and did not,” she said. “In a recent media release, the district said it wants the input of the community. I have not seen this to be true.”
Brenneman summed up the competency-based grading system as “a fiasco.”
Helm was not certain about that.
Competency-based grading is “not something I want to throw out,” he said, “but everybody needs to take a deep breath and step back, get the bugs worked out.” Helm referred to board policy ICA, which addresses pilot projects and how they are to be introduced and implemented in the school system.
“What we’re lacking is the evaluation and board approval,” he said. “I assume that’s why the policy was set up, to give pilot programs their best shot.”
Tammy Sutherland Abbott seconded the motion.
“There’s nothing wrong with admitting it was done wrong, stepping back, redoing it and then implementing it,” she said. Expressing frustration with inconsistent use of the grading method, she added, “I don’t have a master’s degree in education, but I have 10 years on this board. Until we get it together, we shouldn’t do it.”
Superintendent of schools Paul Larkin spoke up to recommend the board refrain from approving Helm’s motion. He noted that USD 480’s legal counsel, attorney Rick Yoxall, did not believe policy ICA applied to the issue at hand. More directly, he said,
“I would hope that we would not suspend it. It would be my recommendation to let Mr. Adams and his staff work through the issues. My main reason in suggesting you not suspend it, is that the implications are far beyond what you can imagine. There are so many questions we can’t possibly fathom.”
Jewell asked, “what would happen if we slowed this down and went back to an initial pilot program” with six teachers. “What would that cost us?”
“If we do that now, we change the grading practice that the teachers told the students and their parents that they are going to use at least for this semester,” said Larkin.
“That’s futile,” said Hatcher. “Putting kids in disarray, putting teachers in disarray.”
Sutherland-Abbott pressed for suspension anyway.
“I would like to see us stop it for now,” she said. That action would benefit teachers and students, who, she said, “Every day that goes by … are losing a day of their education.”
Friederich compared suspending the grading system to pressing the “pause” button.
“We’re halting all action on the competency-based grading, and then when we let up on it later, we will be in the same place,” he said. “I feel we’re not ready for this vote. We’re ready to fix the issue.”
When he first heard about the grading system, Friederich said, “I thought it was bunk, I thought it was stupid, I thought it needed to be thrown away.” Now, however, “I don’t think it should be thrown away. There’s a lot of validity behind it.”
Adams, Larkin and deputy superintendent Renae Hickert assured the board that LHS has taken steps to work out the kinks in the competency-based grading system. A teachers’ meeting Tuesday morning will introduce a survey to gather information from teachers about how the method works — or does not work — in their classrooms.
Kinser instructed Adams and Larkin to make the survey results available to the board.
In a 2-5 vote, Sutherland-Abbott and Helm voted to suspend the system, while Hatcher, Crystal Clemens, Jewell, Kinser and Friederich voted to allow its continuance.
“The true definition of a pilot program is to try something evaluate it, fix the bugs, fix the implementation, find out what works, what doesn’t,” Hatcher said. “We didn’t have a framework prior to this, we weren’t even discussing it, we didn’t even know how bad it really was. Apparently it was bad enough in the administration’s eyes that when they saw this program, they said, ‘This is what we need in our district, this is what I need in my school.’”
Though he, like Friederich, expressed dissatisfaction with the way the grading system was introduced, Hatcher said “that’s part of anything we try and do the best we can. Sometimes we do fail. Hopefully, we’ll have more knowledge of what will work and what won’t work.”