Federal Way students confront grading system | Slideshow

Elizabeth Bennett holds a sign for a protest march Dec. 13 involving the school district
Elizabeth Bennett holds a sign for a protest march Dec. 13 involving the school district's controversial standards based grading system. Bennett is part of the recently formed Occupy Federal Way movement.
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/The Mirror

With the conversation swirling around Standards Based Education (SBE) and Standards Based Grading (SBG) since the start of the school year, one group that hasn't really been heard from so far is Federal Way students.

A few here and there have taken the time to share their thoughts at Federal Way School Board meetings, but the conversations have mostly been dominated by parents and teachers. The students made a stand during the Dec. 13 meeting, with a good chunk of the 22 public commenters being high school students from Federal Way. (click here for a slideshow of a student protest march)

Leading off the night, and perhaps providing the best explanation of the grading system, was Thomas Jefferson High School student Julie Huber. Using a visual aid, Huber explained her thoughts on the unfairness she perceives within the system.

"I believe there are many inequities with standards based grading, but today I will only address my most immediate concern. The unfairness of power standards," Huber said. "In the current set-up, a grade is composed of power standards and learning targets as you see here. Each power standard includes learning targets, with grades only taken from the number of power standards reached. And to receive credit for the power standard, the student must receive credit for every single learning target under it."

Huber continued.

"This can be incredibly unfair to students, because if a student receives credit for all but one learning target under a power standard, he or she does not receive credit for the power standard. In other words, if you don't get this one, you don't get any of the rest of these," she said. "In this system, a difference between a B, C or D is not the amount of information a student knows, it's the classification of the information."

Huber said she feels a relatively easy fix for SBG would be to have students evaluated, and their grades determined by, the learning targets instead of the power standards.

"Using only learning targets, the system would look like this: Grades are determined by the percentage of content that the student understands, it has nothing to do with what type they are. This proves a much clearer reflection of a student's true achievement, it makes more sense to everyone. Not to mention, the sole use of learning targets would make it much easier to calculate semester grades," she concluded.

Decatur High School junior Ethan Coggins said he feels politics are being played by the district administration when it comes to SBE and SBG.

"We have a 70 percent graduation rate, and to fix this, I was told the school board implemented Standards Based Grading to help our graduation rate," he said. "Well, this has been a disaster. The students are less certain about their future than ever before. Misinformation is rampant, even among those who are in control."

Coggins said he had spoken with Superintendent Rob Neu, and assistant superintendent of teaching for learning, Dr. Josh Garcia, recently, and came away confused.

"(I had a meeting) with Superintendent Neu and Dr. Garcia yesterday, and Superintendent Neu said the retake policy is up to individual teachers. However on King 5 news, after one of the protests, assistant superintendent Josh Garcia said 'The policy affords students to retake an assessment at any time, so if the family wants to get an A, they have the right to get an A, and they know exactly what they want to do to get the A.' That is not true. Those are both contradictory and that is very concerning."

The Decatur junior feels this mixed messaging could be a sign that something has gone very wrong with SBG and its implementation in FWPS.

"It seems to me, instead of working hard to improve a poor grading system, the people in charge are being political, spreading the blame around, and are either misinformed or dishonest, and both possibilities are dire," Coggins said.

One of the arguments against both SBE and SBG is that it creates a sense of complacency among students, and that achievement isn't rewarded by the system. Student Virginia Green happily admitted she felt this was going to be to the case for herself under SBG, but has seen it only confuse and frustrate her fellow classmates.

"At the beginning, I didn't have a problem with this grading system. From the looks of it, you might not see me as a C student, but I am. To tell you the truth, I don't do hard in school…and there's other people who do that though," she said. "(This was) my rocket to an A. This is my chance to shine, without trying."

Green said she feels SBG is hurting students more than helping them, even students like herself who are content with C grades.

"I'm not a passing student. To tell you the truth, I'm not motivated at all. I failed my freshman year. My sophomore year, I was lucky, I got A's and B's. I thought this year would be my year to shine, to be able to show them, I'm made of something. But now, there's no chance I'm going to pass high school," she said.


Click here to see photos from a Dec. 13 student protest march in Federal Way over the school district's grading system.

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