Beginning this fall, elementary school students in Walker County public schools will be graded differently.
The new system is called standards-based reporting, and brings all the district's elementary students in line, as pre-K and kindergarten students have been using the system for several years.
"Teachers say they know their students much better than ever before," said Superintendent Damon Raines. "The difference is we no longer award grades to students for extra credit or effort; they are measured according to their level of mastery of each standard in each content area."
For the past two years, that standards-based grading took the form of a four-point scale, but the district is offering more options this year based on feedback from parents, who were used to the traditional grading scale. And with the district's middle and high schools keeping the 100-point scale — at least for now — it made sense to keep the option open for elementary-schoolers, said Raines.
"We developed an advisory council with members from every school," he said. "Changes were made to address all concerns and a timeline was developed to continue collecting data. The changes roll out this school year."
Raines said this year will serve as a protocol for reporting progress on standards-based homework, classwork, projects and formative assessments.
"We have been working with standards for many years; we have not had all components aligned with the standards," said Raines. "Many times, homework or classwork were for grades, but had no relevance or connection to the state-assigned standards for that content area. We are also working on the integration of content areas and teaching them together in units to assure rigor, but also to develop relevance for students."
The results will provide the district's teachers data about their students' progress and drive conversations with each student as well as have an impact on daily instruction.
"The benefits or goal is for each student to leave a grade level or content area as the content expert," Raines said. "This more appropriately prepares them for the next grade level or the next content area. Teachers have a deeper understanding of their content standards and how to properly assess them [with this new grading model]. Students are better prepared and meet the expectation of the Walker County Schools' mission: to ensure all students graduate ready for college, ready for work, ready for life."
Raines said the district is one of 10 systems in Georgia utilizing this method, and the state agency to which Walker County Schools reports will be implementing some version of this reporting method next year.
"This manner should better prepare students and will ultimately validate itself on national and state assessments," he said. "There is a way to calculate a score for a student who transfers in or out of this reporting protocol."
While Raines believes this new format will ultimately make the classroom experience more valuable for students and teachers, he acknowledge it puts parents on a new learning curve. Parents will now have to become more aware of the standards that are part of every content and grade level and the level of mastery of their child in this process, he said.
"We want to make sure everything in the classroom is based on standards," he said.
While the grading structure for middle- and high-schoolers will remain on a 100-point scale for the time being, the same standards-based approach linking all homework, classwork, projects, quizzes and tests to the state-assigned standards will be implemented at those levels as well this year.
"We will begin conversations concerning the future implementation of a true four-point scale at both middle and high school," Raines said. "We will have additional data coming from our elementary schools as they progress in this process and decisions will be made over the next five years."