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Grading system: School board responds to criticisms, Neu hints at change
Federal Way School Board members sat through another round of haranguing by parents and others during the board's Nov. 12 meeting.
Board members and Superintendent Rob Neu said they're listening, although it may be difficult for concerned community members to see that. Neu, in fact, gave the first indication that a change in direction might be coming after the recent weeks of controversy, mainly regarding the district's standards based grading system.
"What I want to assure you is, that we were listening, we are listening and will continue to listen," he said. "One of the things I want to emphasize, is that the (grading) system was developed with a tremendous amount of input. There was a committee that worked throughout the year to put the grading system together. In fact, we're pulling that committee back together next week for a continued conversation and to review the effectiveness of the grading system."
Neu then asked those present, by a show of hands, how many would support the district averaging "the priority standards at the high school level." Almost all of those present at the Nov. 12 meeting raised their hand in agreement.
Neu also mentioned that a survey is being distributed to teachers, parents and students regarding SBG. The school district hopes to have the results of that survey back by the time of the board's work study session regarding SBG on Dec. 3.
Board member Tony Moore gave perhaps the most vocal defense of SBG. Moore said the district has been working on improving it for a while, with a lot of the drive to change and improve it coming from higher education schools in the region.
"We have been working on the grade problem for a while. This is not something new that we are just recently tackling," Moore said. "It goes beyond just getting an A in a class because (students) worked hard. My concern is making sure that the children who graduate and walk across the stage, they've actually learned something. That when they go to college, they don't spend the first two years of their college careers sitting in remedial classes, because they got ripped off by our schools because we just socially promoted them through, and you end up paying another $50,000 a year because they did not get in high school what we should be giving them."
Moore said the board is hearing the concerns of students, parents and community members loud and clear, and he hopes that with those groups' help, the district can "get it straight."
"Criticism is wonderful, constructive criticism is even better," he concluded.
Board member Danny Peterson was the most conciliatory, saying the district faltered and that it's unfair to all those affected that "we are in November, and we don't have a clear grading system that you understand."
"I don't think it's right," Peterson said.
"We should have looked through this, tested this, and figured out a lot of these fails before we ever implemented it in September," Peterson continued. "But we are where we're at now. This grading system should be clear and easy to understand for your student and for yourself as a parent. (It's) obviously something that is not clear."
"It's important to have this dialogue. Please don't give up," Peterson added.
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.
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.
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.
• 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.