Federal Way parents and teachers surveyed on controversial grading policies

Teachers and parents at Sherwood Forest Elementary recently shared their thoughts and concerns over Federal Way Public Schools' controversial Standards Based Education (SBE) program and its grading component, Standards Based Grading (SBG).

A massive tug of war erupted after the policies were implemented. Students, parents and teachers formed camps for and against SBE and SBG. Some people feel the policies are failing, and argue that the policies result in students trying less because of the policy of retakes and a distinction between homework and "practice" assignments. Those in favor of the policies argue that there has never been a clearer level of understanding for students and teachers on what needs to be taught, and how to gauge whether that information is being retained by students.

Barbara Bergman, principal at Sherwood, and Sherry Lowe, an instructional coach and intern at Sherwood, shared their findings of how teachers and parents have adjusted to the policy.

"A half-page survey went home with our report cards," Bergman said at the Feb. 28 school board meeting. "115 parents responded, and most all of our teaching staff responded."

Bergman reviewed the teacher survey, saying the question to teachers was simple and straightforward: How has Standards Based Education transformed or informed teacher instruction and student learning?

"This is what we found out. They answered the question to say three things stood out. (SBE provides) clear learning targets that are aligned to Power Standards. Instruction is more intentional and focused. More time is spent assessing student learning," she said

A relatively informal survey revealed that Sherwood's teachers feel SBE has streamlined many things, Lowe said.

"When we asked what the positives of standards based grading were…the standards had been reduced," Lowe said. "In third grade alone, under the previous system, there were 95 reading expectations (for students to achieve). With Power Standards, that's down to 11, which helps make their teaching more intentional. Students are also assessed on clearly defined skills. Students have multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery. So, all of these have been positives."

A few things teachers were concerned about with SBE and SBG were that it was time consuming, that the report cards did not clearly communicate to parents what grades were being met by their students, and finally, that an unusual spike in data occurred, in which large portions of students are either "exceeding standard" or "below standard."

Some suggestions the teachers had to improve the system were to take the district's current "data" days and make them "SBE days," where teachers would have a day to do data entry and analyzation and other similar tasks. Along with this would be providing opportunities for cross-collaboration across the district at each grade level.

"At these days, teachers could share resources, develop common assessments, and create high quality integrated units," Lowe explained. "This would avoid having us creating the wheel 23 times across the district."

Finally, the teachers suggested that quarterly benchmarks be re-instituted on report cards because they feel it more accurately reflects student progress toward end-of-year goals.

Bergman reviewed the parents' responses, saying it consisted of four statements, and used the familiar agree, don't agree, strongly agree, strongly disagree format.

For the first statement of "the standards based report card has identified what my child has learned this year," Bergman said 31 parents strongly agree, 63 agree, nine disagreed, and seven strongly disagreed. When asked if the standards based report card identifies areas where students need help, 31 parents strongly agreed, 54 agreed, 15 disagreed, and eight strongly disagreed. The next question asked parents if the new report cards help identify areas of excellence for their children, with 35 strongly agreeing, 51 agreeing, 17 disagreeing, and seven strongly disagreeing.

Finally, parents were simply asked if SBE and SBG had improved learning for their child: 27 strongly agreed, 44 agreed, 14 disagreed, and nine strongly disagreed.

Parents also shared their thoughts on how things can be improved. Bergman said parents feel that some of the data needs to be clearer and more easily referenced; that a list of all power standards needs to be provided, so parents and students know what's on the horizon; and also for the language of the power standards to be simplified, with parents saying as they stand, they're in "teacher-ese."

"Those are some of our comments and feedback," Bergman concluded. "We know this is a topic district-wide, and district staff and board members are receiving many, many recommendations, and we appreciate this chance to share ours."


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