Middle school shifting way students to be graded

By TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER

STAFF WRITER

During the May meeting of the Board of Education, Assistant Superintendent, Steve LePage, and Middle School of Plainville principal, Matthew Guarino, offered a presentation on the shift to a standards based grading system in the district.

“Two years ago when we set our strategic plan, one of the goals set was to explore and implement mastery-based grading, or, standards-based grading,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Maureen Brummett.

Currently, the elementary schools use standards based grading, and the LePage and Guarino said they are hoping to introduce it to MSP over a three year period. It would start with current fifth graders, moving up with them into sixth grade. And, for each grade level those students move up, the grades below them would also be introduced to the practice in sixth grade.

“The role of schools has changed since way back when they first began. Our assessment practices, historically, have been designed to promote accountability by separating successful from unsuccessful learners, and most of the time, it’s been based on subjective measures of success – what that teacher, what that school, what that department believes is a measurement of success – and as you’ll see, it varies,” said LePage.

Standards-based grading, they explained, separates true academic mastery from the other “important, but little” things that go into grades, such as class participation, or class behavior, or having the right materials with you in class.

Guarino said when this process began, about eight years ago, they looked at grading practices first, and then started to look at what the standards are, and focusing on what they wanted their students to actually do, to learn, and what skills they need.

“It’s been a long process, and in the process we increasingly found out that the way we grade doesn’t really make sense for teaching to the standards, or teaching kids mastery of a standard,” said Guarino. “One of the things that we typically haven’t done is allowed for reassessment, because if what you really want to do is make sure that a child has mastered a particular standard, then you want to give them as many opportunities as possible to do that, and if they haven’t done it, the assessment says that they haven’t learned a piece of it, logically, you’d want to try to fill in those gaps that are there, rather than, traditionally, ‘You got your D, you passed, move on.’”

Guarino assured the BOE that reassessments would have stipulations and limitations, but that it would be an important component in this grading system.

“Again, they must demonstrate the ways that they used their time differently,” said Guarino. “There will be limits and conditions. It’s a good practice, and it happens all of the time in the real world – if you’re going to be a lawyer and you take the Bar Exam and you don’t pass it, you’re not done. You would look at what you did to prepare that first time and you’ll try some different strategies, you’ll use some different materials and you’ll get to take it again.”

LePage stressed that “they aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel,” they’ve been working with other school districts across the state, as well as the district in Renton, Wash., whose system has been one of the biggest prototypes used for MSP.

Guarino said he would be making a presentation on standards-based grading to parents during the sixth grade orientation, as they are set to be the first class in MSP that uses this system.