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Standards are the new standard

Shift in approach to grading comes to Region 10

Senior+Nicole+Steinmark+plays+pillow+polo+for+her+sports+and+games+class.
Senior Nicole Steinmark plays pillow polo for her sports and games class.

Senior Nicole Steinmark plays pillow polo for her sports and games class.

Sophia Hernandes

Sophia Hernandes

Senior Nicole Steinmark plays pillow polo for her sports and games class.

Sophia Hernandes, Contributing writer

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Sophia Hernandes
Patrick White lifts heavy weights for resistance training class.

Usually students think that P.E. class is an easy A. Those mindsets shifted during the second semester of this school year. A new grading system took students by surprise, and many experienced a drop in their grades. Physical education classes changed the regular, traditional method of grading to the so-called mastery-based grading system.

Each P.E. teacher told students that this would be a more difficult system which would assess students in multiple ways, based on standards like responsible behavior, applying concepts and strategies, motor skill performance and physical fitness. This new system can be challenging because if you don’t do well in one category, it can ruin your grade for the day. The old grading system allowed students to succeed with one good grade and, generally, it would be an A if you tried your best.

Not only was this new system unfamiliar to the students of LSM, it changed the grades some students historically earned. For some, like senior Charlie Rau, their grade in P.E. did not change from the previous semester. But that was not the case for senior star athlete Trevor Baker, whose grade dropped two letters at the start of the semester. Students would receive several small grades for most class periods, but one change could greatly alter a grade.

“Having a gym class dropping my GPA does not look good for colleges in the future,” said the future Division 1 football player.

Baker is not alone. Another student who noticed their grade change was senior Ashley Kucharski.

“In the first semester I had an A+ and now I have a B… We had two assessments and the first one I got a 5/10 but on the second one I did a little better because I saw how dramatically it changed my grade,” she explained early in the second semester.

The new system makes students realize that they can’t just lay back and relax in gym anymore, and that was a goal for the P.E. teachers. It comes as part of a broader shift several school districts have embarked upon, tying student performance to specific state and national standards instead of a blanket, overall grade. Called standards-based or mastery-based grading, this new method seeks to capture what skills students have fully mastered while isolating areas with which students might be struggling. It also discourages rewarding students just for showing up and participating, or “compliance” grades for merely completing a homework assignment and getting, say, an 100 percent grade regardless of a student’s performance or understanding of the material.

“We want kids to actually learn the importance of staying healthy instead of just showing up and expecting a good grade,” said Miss Erin Howe, who has been teaching gym classes at Lewis Mills for two years. Asked about the variation in grades that physical education students had reported, she explained that in her class it was due to routine, small summative assessments which account for 35 percent of the final grade.

“I’ve seen a lot of kids’ grades get better, but I’ve also seen students grades get worse. If kids aren’t paying attention in class and they take the small summative, they’ll get a bad grade. But if they’re paying attention and just listen they’ll do great on the summative,” she said.

Unfortunately, the wellness teachers have been getting a bad rap for being one of the first disciplines in school to change their grading. And although a few students don’t like the new change, they might just have to get used to it. Farmington High School has already switched its grading system, and soon enough more high schools will hop on board with the idea, educators predict.

“We did our own research about this and we invited teachers from different districts who were already doing some of this work in their practice, who shared some of the successes and challenges they had as they approached the standard based grading philosophy,” said wellness curriculum coordinator Phyllis Jones.

Jones explained that she and the other wellness teachers have been trying to work out the issues that come with the change. One of the issues included performance-based grading in Resistance Training, which requires students to be able to perform each exercise correctly.

Echoed Mrs. Angela Vassar, who has taught physical education according to the more traditional grading system for 10 years: “Anything that’s new is a challenge until we all know how to do it.”

Not only is grading for teachers different, even PowerSchool can’t keep up with the numerous wellness grades that fill up the app.

Region 10 Director of Student Learning Cheri Burke believes that it was a huge challenge for students that the process started in the second semester, as it is hard for students to transition.

“This type of grading will not be in every class at LSM next year…We’re gradually going one grade at a time starting at the elementary school to transition, so the people who grew up with it would stay with the system and people already in the high school wouldn’t have to change,” said Mrs. Burke.

Other than wellness courses, some French teachers have been grading the same way. Among its early adopters is French teacher Jodiann Tenney.

“What I really like about the standard based is that we like the focus it gives us on what they (students) don’t understand, and what they’re having trouble with, so we can help them in that specific area,” said Mrs. Tenney, who also serves as the world language coordinator.

Change can be scary, but students should keep in mind that this was just the beginning, and adjusting from one way to another in each semester will take some getting used to. Grades have already improved from the beginning of the semester to now, and the wellness teachers hoped that students would look optimistically about the new changes.

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