Federal Way schools revise controversial grading system

“We can’t turn back, folks. The work that we’re doing, as hard as it is, as difficult as it is, we’re not going back,” said Rob Neu, superintendent of Federal Way Public Schools. - Courtesy photo
“We can’t turn back, folks. The work that we’re doing, as hard as it is, as difficult as it is, we’re not going back,” said Rob Neu, superintendent of Federal Way Public Schools.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Federal Way Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu announced some adjustments the district will make to its oft-discussed Standards Based Grading (SBG) system.

During the Dec. 13 school board meeting, Neu announced that three things will change:

• Teachers will be allowed to grade at the power standard level, meaning that not all of the multitude of learning targets under each power standard have to be met in order for a student to be deemed proficient at the particular power standard.

• Secondly, a clear designation between homework and “practice” assignments has been installed for students and teachers, a move aimed at clearing up the perception that under Standards Based Education (SBE) and SBG, homework is inconsequential.

• Finally, teachers have the choice to move from the current “zero and one” grading scale to a four, five or seven point scale, depending on whether the class is an “advanced” class. This change in scales is in response to students and parents being displeased with the lack of specificity that a simple zero and one scale has.

Outside of those changes, Neu said the controversy over SBE and SBG is actually a positive.

“Here’s the secret success to what we’ve done with the implementation…Everybody in this community is involved in this conversation. And I am blown away and pleased by the level of conversations I have had the opportunity to have with varying people, whether they’re directly involved with the system, but also folks out in the community,” Neu said to a full room at Tuesday’s board meeting.

The initial motivation for implementing SBE and SBG was improving the district’s graduation rates, and making sure that Federal Way students are truly prepared for the next level in their academic career, whether it’s a four-year college or a technical program.

“If you look at the last few years, we’re getting about 73 percent (of our students out) on time. That’s not good enough. If we’re serious about ‘all means all,’ then we’re falling short by 27 percent or so every year,” Neu said. “If I were to stand 10 of our students who spoke (tonight) in front of us, and pick which ones will make it…and out of the seven of them, 53 percent will make it with minimal requirements to get them into a university. 40 percent of those students will have to take remedial classes at college. Unacceptable.”

The actual graduation rates for Puget Sound area students is even more sobering, another factor that led the district to SBE and SBG, Neu said.

“24 percent of the students in Puget Sound actually graduate from college or earn a technical certificate. And in this region, one of the most technical and economically diverse in the region, 65 percent of the jobs in our region will require a college degree or technical certificate. This system is raising the bar, and you heard from kids tonight struggling to get there, and I apologize for that. This is a tough, tough, change, and it hasn’t been as even as we’d like. We knew it was going to be messy at times, and it has been.”

Another issue Neu addressed was the fact that under old grading systems, students were able to achieve inflated grades through the use of make-up assignments and extra credit. Those inflated grades, he said, led to Federal Way students being woefully unprepared once they hit college. Through SBE and SBG, the hope is to eliminate that issue.

“We can’t turn back, folks. The work that we’re doing, as hard as it is, as difficult as it is, we’re not going back,” he said. “That’s the challenge of the work. Where can we find that common ground and a sense of unity that moves us all forward? This isn’t easy, but it is honest.”


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