Guest editorial: PCSD rollout of standards-based grading system gets an ‘F’

Patrick Fannon
Park City

By way of background, I am the father of two children in our public schools, and I am a firm believer in the value and benefit of public education. I also don’t have an issue with the concept of standards based grading (SBG). In theory, the intent of moving away from traditional letter grades and moving towards mastery is a healthy goal. Applied in the right environment, with the right preparation and resources, it should succeed.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, for Park City it’s being applied in the wrong environments with inadequate preparation and limited resources. So, it is failing. It is failing our students, our teachers and our parents. The Park City School District needs to simply stop this SBG implementation while the administration, school board and principals take the proper time to evaluate if this is the right thing for our entire district, and not just certain schools.

I personally don’t believe our teachers have been given the training and resources needed to implement SBG successfully. Some have bought in and some have been trained, but from my experience, too many do not have the training and do not believe it is the best way to motivate students to learn and achieve academic success.

My children find this entire process confusing. Students don’t understand how to decipher the standards, the numbers or the objectives, and teachers struggle with it as well. This example has been played out numerous times: When a student asks a teacher how to achieve a “4” (mastery of a subject area), they are told simply you need to “go above and beyond.” What does that even mean? How do you translate that into learning or achievement? You can’t. Therefore, students settle for a “3” because why try for a “4” when no one even knows what it means? This isn’t the teachers’ fault. The issue is that teachers haven’t been given the SBG-specific training and tools to properly explain this new approach to learning.

As a parent, I don’t know what to do. My children come home frustrated. In my parent/teacher meetings, some teachers are frustrated because they can’t explain the approach, the numbering or the achievement levels to me. On top of that, the district’s technology that is supposed to link this new approach to learning (Powerschool and Canvas) simply doesn’t work. So, students and parents have no way to track progress, let alone mastery.

I appreciate the desire to ensure all students are given the best opportunity to learn and succeed academically. But, the district is required to teach to the state standards, regardless if it’s on a 1-4 scale or a 1-100 scale. So, agree on the standard(s) in each subject area. Teach to the standards. Allow for retakes as needed with an academic penalty, so as to avoid simple procrastination or lack of preparation. Don’t encourage learning while diminishing achievement. Currently it feels like the district is focused on lifting the bottom 25% at the expense of the other 75% of students, and that is totally unacceptable.

As a result, every stakeholder in this process — students, teachers and parents — is either ill-prepared or absolutely frustrated with the current state of implementation. Superintendent Dr. Jill Gildea and the school board heard from a lot of parents and a student at the last public meeting. Nobody was in favor of this implementation of SBG. It is not working and is getting worse, not better. Please stop this failed implementation before too many children lose their passion and desire for learning and achievement and settle for average. Our town, our children and our teachers are anything but average, they are exceptional. Our schools should be exceptional, as well.


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