Hayes High School has been piloting a new grading scale in two courses this year and will expand the scale to five more courses next year.
Hayes Assistant Principal Rex Reeder said the new assessment and grading scale borrows from ideas put forward by Dr. Robert Marzano. He added the new scale is more objective and focuses on giving students a skill set they can develop and apply.
Reeder said he began working on the new scale many years ago after seeing high failure rates on state math tests.
“I told teachers to do more with less,” he said. “They were trying to do too many topics, and the kids were overwhelmed. The teachers are great teachers. It’s just the system.”
Reeder said the new system does not use letter grades. Instead, it assess a student’s mastery of a subject.
“(We are building) a system that’d allow us to grow, help multiple populations and add equity into the equation for all students,” Reeder said. “The biggest thing we found was (parents, teachers and students) want something very objective. It’s not set on total points. Most kids are focused on points right now and not learning. I think that’s an issue, and so we’re looking at skill sets. I’m trying to measure what every kid should know.”
Reeder said that for example, a history class may focus on building students’ skills to read and assess the validity of historical sources and apply those skills at the next level to understand and learn from historical documents.
“It’s very objective based and skill based,” he said. “It’s a progression of learning. We’re teaching kids how to learn a skill. You’re going to learn a term set, then you’re going to begin applying those terms and then you’re going to take it further.”
Reeder said the school has been piloting the scale in two frequently failed classes this year, and none of the 200 students in the pilot courses are failing.
“Kids get a fighting chance,” said Hayes Principal Ric Stranges. “We want to improve the failure rate without watering it down. … Knowing vocabulary and being able to discuss the vocabulary should be passing. The next level is using those terms and applying those terms. Before, kids felt like … if they had a bad two weeks they were in a hole they couldn’t get out of. This allows every kid to survive and thrive. In the end, students win. Students have a positive outlook because they have a fighting chance.”
Math teacher Jake Shafer has also been using the grading scale in his classes. He said that in a single year, failing grades in his class have dropped by 97%.
“If we think of grades as climbing a mountain, a traditional grading system tells students how far they are from getting to the top. Standard-based grading congratulates them on how high they’ve climbed,” Shafer said. “Now I’m saying, ‘Look how far you climbed, let’s try climbing a little bit farther.’”
Shafer added the biggest difference is that “grading and assessing have been constructive for students instead of punitive things.”
“I told them at the beginning of the year, ‘I will never take a point from you again,’” Shafer said. “The students have a different outlook.”
Assistant Superintendent Craig Heath said many districts have been adopting parts of the scale but not to this degree, and he’s excited to see the scale grow at Hayes and throughout the district.
“(We’re focused on) priority standards and getting true learning,” Heath said. “(It’s) changed the way you assess kids because we’ve been doing it the same way for hundreds of years now. This is taking that next step forward and making sure we’re truly assessing students on what those priority standards are.”
While the scale is only being used in two courses this school year, Reeder said it will expand to seven courses next year and will continue to expand in subsequent years.
“The concept totally changes what we’re doing,” he said. “There’s no homework grades. It’s all about what you can do on the scale. We’re trying to get kids a skill set … We have a lot of work to do and there will be challenges, but the key is we’re steadfast on getting the building very consistent and on the same page. We’re trying to improve our instructional craft. It’s hard to change but you’ll see the value as we go forward.”
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.