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Grading system 'is screwing us all over,' say students in Federal Way

A packed house once again greeted the Federal Way School Board as parents, taxpayers and students spoke up about the continued glitches they've all experienced with the controversial standards based grading (SBG) system's implementation and execution this year.

According to the district, SBG allows for a more precise level of learning by requiring students to meet a number of "power standards." The system also replaces letter grades with a 1-through-4 scale.

"Every year, I've worked hard to earn and maintain a 4.0 GPA," said Federal Way High School (FWHS) sophomore and Cambridge program student Jaclyn Gillis at the Nov. 12 board meeting. "Under the current grading system, I've studied more than anyone in the class, and got four 4s on my tests, and on the last test, I got a 3. But when my classmates blow off the work and study at the last minute and get 4s on the tests, and the last one is a 4, they end up with an overall higher grade than me."

"I don't think that's fair," Gillis continued. "I understand you're trying to see progression over time, but in all honesty, it's not working. Because those of us who continuously work hard and do well should receive the better the grade. At the last board meeting, it was stated there's no evidence that students will be turned down for scholarships or admissions into college. But I'm already looking at colleges, and when I talk to the admissions counselors, one of the first things they ask is what my GPA is. It's not fair that because of your system I cannot show them grades that reflect who I am."

College was also on the mind of FWHS senior Kayla Butzeron.

"The standards based grading system has gone from one extreme to the other," Butzeron said. "The grading system does not reflect properly the whole image of students in this district. If they get a 1 or 2 at the end of the semester, then their grade drops. The way the school board has been using us to test their theories for a new and better education has gone too far. The school board…to me it seems like, that you don't have what is in the best interest (of the students). Because many universities, especially the ones I'm looking at, who offer the best educational programs in the country, know of our grading system and how it hasn't been working as well as others in the country."

Fellow FWHS senior Katelyn Coburn used more direct language, saying she's happy she's only a few months away from being out of the school district entirely.

"I'm going to put this as nicely as I can, (the grading system) is screwing us all over," she said. "There really isn't any other way to put it. I had a 4.0 my entire high school career. And most of my school career as well. And I've always tried my hardest in all my classes, and I've never seen an F on the online grading system or any of my progress reports."

Coburn continued, saying this was the first year she ever saw an F in her grades.

"But this year, come the end of the first grading period, I had an F…Any other grading we've had, I would have been passing," she said. "As a senior, I'm glad to be getting out of this mess of a grading system. I probably wouldn't stay in the district if I weren't a senior."

Background info and public forums

The initial motivation for replacing the traditional grading system with SBG was to improve the district’s graduation rate, which currently hovers just above 70 percent. SBG went into effect in fall 2011, and sparked a public debate over its strengths and shortcomings.

In addition, teachers have had a difficult time explaining the grading system to parents and students who don't understand it.

The district is hosting forums at Federal Way middle schools for parents to learn more about the new grade book and how grades are calculated.

Upcoming forums:

• Kilo Middle School: 6 p.m. Nov. 20

• Lakota Middle School: 6 p.m. Nov. 21

• Sacajawea Middle School: 6 p.m. Nov. 25

• Educational Service Center, 33330 8th Ave. S.: 5 p.m. Dec. 3. The school board will host a study session.

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