Park City parents concerned about new standards-based grading scale
This year, Ecker Hill Middle School traded letter grades for a system ranking students on a scale of one to four, and the shift has caused a lot of confusion among Park City parents.
During the Park City Board of Education’s meeting last week, Traci Evans, interim association superintendent of teaching and learning, and principals from all of the district’s schools spoke to the Board and attempted to clear up some of the rumors about the new grading scale. They said the district is hoping to adopt standards-based learning, a method that ranks students’ proficiency in a given subject on a scale of one to four, at all schools. Students at Ecker Hill Middle no longer have the A-F scale on their report cards, but letter grades and GPAs will continue at Treasure Mountain Junior High and Park City High School even once the schools adopt standards-based learning through a conversion process. Elementary schools, which have traditionally used standards-based learning, will continue to use the method.
Andrew Caplan, president of the Board, said after the meeting that there are misunderstandings about standards-based learning because the district did not do enough to educate parents and teachers about the change.
“I think we, as a district, have not implemented the change in grading in a way that parents were able to understand why and what it is and how to translate that into traditional grades, and it’s caused a lot of anxiety for parents, for students and for teachers,” he said. “Sometimes we make mistakes in implementation, and I think this is one of those.”
He said the intent behind implementing standards-based learning at Ecker Hill was good, and that there has been very little pushback against the philosophy of the new method. Standards-based learning focuses on teaching mastery of a given subject rather than ensuring students only perform well on tests. But, when parents of Ecker Hill students saw letter grades disappear, they started to worry. Caplan said parents thought the district was eliminating letter grades and GPAs at all of the schools and that the change would prevent students from getting into the colleges of their choice.
The movement of standards-based learning started with teachers at Ecker Hill. About five years ago, some teachers learned about the method of teaching and grading students and began measuring students’ abilities on a new scale. On the scale, a one means a student needs assistance learning a core standard, a two means a student has some of the skills but has not mastered the standard, a three means a student has mastered the standard and a four means they have gone above and beyond grade-level expectations. The numbers were then translated into letter grades and then into a GPA.
Shortly after Ecker Hill teachers started using standards-based learning in their classrooms, teachers at Treasure Mountain became interested. Over time, several teachers across the secondary grades made the switch and, during this school year, the district began overseeing the implementation. The district recently created task forces to study standards-based learning and review its impacts at the schools.
At the start of the school year, Ecker Hill implemented standards-based grading schoolwide. Caplan said the Board began hearing complaints when parents started receiving first quarter report cards in the fall.
Parents continued to express concerns over the last few months. At the Board meeting last week, a couple talked about their unease with a teacher who they said gave their daughter a harder test than her peers because their daughter was mastering the content. They said their daughter’s performance dipped after that incident, and they worried standards-based learning was the reason.
Joan Meixner, a parent of a student at Ecker Hill, said the district has not communicated enough information about standards-based learning. She, like many other parents, heard a rumor that the district would be removing letter grades from the high school and was worried.
Elaine Murray, who has kids in Ecker Hill and Treasure Mountain, said she understands the benefits of standards-based learning, but the grading scale is difficult for many parents to grasp. She said she is constantly translating the numbers on her middle school student’s report card to letter grades.
“A letter grade is easier to comprehend. It’s harder when it is a 2.5. What does that mean?” she said.
According to a district timeline for implementing standards-based learning, principals at Ecker Hill and Treasure Mountain have held several events to teach parents about standards-based learning. Ecker Hill sent out a letter to all parents at the start of the school year explaining the switch.
At the Board meeting, Treasure Mountain Principal Emily Sutherland said she regularly hosts parent nights to discuss the new grading scale, but she has never had more than 20 parents attend. She said the dialogue around standards-based learning at her school has been relatively positive. About 60 to 75 percent of teachers at the school have transitioned to standards-based learning.
The district plans to continue to hold events and release information to parents about standards-based learning in the coming months. Caplan said the district also needs to work with the teachers to make sure they are appropriately implementing the new method and are translating numbers to letters in a consistent way.
“We need to work out all of those kinks so that all the teachers know what the expectations are, all the students know what the expectations are and the parents understand what that looks like so everyone is on the same page,” Caplan said.
“Focus on the data outcomes, on the academic achievement outcomes, on the rankings that we have. The school board is happy with the direction of the district,” said Andrew Caplan, school board president. “We can always do a better job, especially with things that aren’t our core expertise like building and land management.”
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