What’s in a grade?

The mission of Marshall Public Schools is “to develop the potential of each learner for success in a changing world.” One question that school leaders and educators have grappled with is how do we really know if the potential of a child is being fully developed? How do we communicate the skills and standards that a child has met and how do we support students who do not meet the standards and what do we do for students who meet and exceed the standards in our schools? These are questions that a team of educators in the Marshall Public Schools has grappled with during the course of the 2013-14 school year. A solution the team has concentrated on is the concept of a standards-based grading and reporting process that is gaining momentum throughout the United States and Minnesota.

Recently, the professional educators in Marshall Public Schools have identified the most important standards for student learning. The standards provide classroom teachers and school administrators with a level of focus for curriculum and instruction. By focusing on essential standards and aligning the standards from one classroom to the next and one grade-level to the next provides assurances that there are no gaps in student learning.

As our district has focused on the standards, our teachers and principals have started discussing how we will assure that students have mastered the skills associated with the standards. The conversation has challenged traditional thinking about student grades. What does an “A” or a “C” really communicate about the skills a student has gained through a learning experience? Rather, wouldn’t reporting if a student has met a standard, is still developing skills related to a specific standard, or has not met a standard provide better communication to students and parents on student learning and achievement?

In an effort to determine if the change to standards-based grading would be valuable in the Marshall Public Schools, a majority of K-4 elementary teachers will pilot the standards-based grading and report cards in the 2014-15 school year. Here are four reasons why the Marshall Public Schools will be piloting a standards-based grading model in the 2014-15 school year.

First, grades have greater meaning when reported in relationship to the learning standards. A traditional letter grade may indicate the quality of a student’s work, but may not fully reveal what skills and knowledge a child has learned or developed in a course. The standards-based grading provides clarity and information for students and parents on student performance related to a specific learning standard and target.

Second, standards-based grading helps teachers adjust instruction to a more personal level for each student in the classroom. If a child has met a standard, the student can move on to the next standard in the learning process. Equally, if a student is struggling to meet a particular standard, teachers can provide specific lessons to help the child meet the expected standard.

Third, standards-based grading supports and encourages feedback. Research demonstrates time and time again that feedback is a key part of learning. Receiving specific feedback on learning standards helps students continually improve.

Finally, standards-based grading emphasizes quality over quantity. Rather than being concerned about covering a text or getting through the book, the standards-based process focuses on meeting the learning standards in greater depth and quality to ensure that students gain greater knowledge and do not forget the standards they have learned.

Overall, there are many other reasons why the standards-based grading approach continues to gain momentum. The four reasons identified above outline why the Marshall Public Schools will pilot the standards-based grading approach in the 2014-15 school year. As we strive to achieve our mission, we know that we must continue to focus on the standards, personalization, feedback, and quality. The standards-based grading process is an important element for our district to develop the potential of each learning in the Marshall Public Schools for success in a changing and dynamic world!