White River to alter the way it grades

White River Alternative Programs Principal Elaine Elliott remembers boosting her grade in high school Spanish by 2 percentage points by eating at a Mexican restaurant and bringing the receipt to class.

In the White River School District that thinking is passé. When district leaders are done, and they are close, a districtwide, standards-based system will be in place. Students will be assessed and graded on whether they have learned the subject matter, period.

And letter grades, they’re out.

In the old system, even straight-As don’t reflect what a kid knows, Superintendent Tom Lockyer said.

“It takes time to get from Point A to Point B and muck around,” he said. “You can’t just tamp it down.”

“You’re no longer getting points just because you’re a good student,” White River High School teacher Amy Miller said. “You’re getting points for knowing and meeting standard.”

White River leaders have been working on moving to a standards-based system for years. It’s something Deputy Superintendent Janel Keating said they took serious. While other districts made the switch quickly, White River leaders spent time researching and creating a district-wide, elementary through high school system, that reflects learning.

“In the past, grading and reporting looked different across the school district,” she said. “It looked different from classroom to classroom.

“If they’re getting a grade, it should reflect learning,” Keating said.

It’s unfair to define it as a grading system, but more an assessment of what a student has learned.

“The grades in my book are more real now than where they have ever been,” Miller said. “I know who’s getting it.”

Those who aren’t getting it, get help until they master it.

District leaders met with the White River School Board Oct. 26 for conversation about the standards-based system. The two groups of approximately 12, met to learn what teachers and parents are saying.

One of the examples presented was two students take the same test. One student scores 35 on the first section and 35 on the second section for 70 percent. The second student may score 65 and 5. In the old system, both would receive 70, a C, a passing grade. In the standards-based system, both students failed to grasp the concepts presented and would not pass. There would be remediation to help them master the requirements.

“It’s more valuable than an average,” the group concluded and presents clear information to teacher, student and parent.

With clear learning expectations before each unit that are consistent district-wide and classroom to classroom, it’s designed to improve learning, Hugh Flint said, not prove learning.

The A, B, C, D, F system would be replaced with a 4, 3, 2, 1 scale, still a 4.0 scale but more accurate.

There is concern parents and teacher raised with a letter-grade system will balk at the idea.

“We have some parents who are really frustrated,” said parent and Board President Denise Vogel, who supports the move. “The biggest issue the board is most concerned about is how to communicate that to our parents.”

Board members said they have heard there are challenges translating standards-based grading for the rest of the world. Vogel said she’s heard grumbling from some about difficulty getting good student discounts, transcripts and athletic eligibility.

Hagadone said no student that he’s aware of has been denied admittance to a university or missed out on a scholarship.