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Federal Way schools prepare for new grading policy

One thing Federal Way school administrators and staff can agree on: The new Standards Based Education (SBE) policy is a good idea.

What they can't agree on, however, is the timeline.

After the school board passed the SBE policy early this year, district staff, led by Teaching for Learning Director Josh Garcia, immediately began working on setting up some of the new changes.

The new policy includes:

• Course grades are determined by scores from district adopted standards assessments. It's not a one test system, but rather one where students have multiple opportunities to show they understand the material. Assessments can include unit quizzes, tests, research projects, major projects, published writing pieces and long term projects. Homework will not be included in the course grade.

• Course grades will be earned from individual assignments, not group work.

• Effort, attendance, participation, behavior, improvement, ability to met deadlines and attitude can be reported separately but are not part of the student's course grade.

• Extra credit is not part of the grade.

• Students can retake portions of tests to show they know the standards. The teacher can limit the number of retakes.

• Coursework will be standardize throughout the district with common course rubrics.

The first policy change that has been brought up comes regarding grading and reporting.

Teachers were concerned that the policy change would require a great deal of professional development time, and that they would be unable to finish that training before the policy goes into effect in the fall of 2011.

The new policy change was approved on June 22. Several concerned teachers have come forward at school board meetings.

After the first few teachers shared their concerns about the timeline at the the June 8 meeting, Board President Tony Moore said that the district was moving ahead with the issue.

"That train has left the building," Moore said. "It's the right thing to do."

However, teachers came back again for the June 22 meeting, still with concerns about the policy change.

"We share some concerns," said Felix Angeles Jr., a Decatur High School teacher. "We're not against the underlying philosophy. It's the details that cause concern...We would like to know how to safely board that moving train."

More details

Garcia laid out a schedule that had 15 out of each teacher's 37 planned professional development hours dedicated to the topic. In addition, schools can use their staff meeting time, around 30 hours, to further that development.

In total, he found about 180 hours that could be used for that. However he did admit there were plenty of other things the teachers could and would be using that time for. Teachers have other state-mandated changes in math or in their individual schools that they also have to learn about.

Other teachers spoke of the positives that come out of the policy change.

Sacajawea Middle School Principal David Brower remembers going to basketball games to get extra credit.

"What did that have to do with English?" he asked. "(The policy is) not just better, it's absolutely imperative we do this for all kids."

Erin Hassen, a teacher at Lake Grove Elementary, told how there is nothing hidden with SBE.

"The targets are transparent," Hassen said. "There's a common language between multiple schools."

The common rubrics are hoped to help the many students in the district who move around and change schools frequently. Federal Way Public Schools has a high mobility rate districtwide.

Moore also sought to ease the teacher's fears.

"The train is moving very slow, we want everyone to get on it," he said. "The board plans on getting it right."

The next step is identifying a professional development plan, coming up with the power standards, finalizing their pilot projects and implementing the program district wide.

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