Letters to the Editor

Call to action for FW school district's grading system | Letters

I would like to continue the conversation started by Mr. Federal Way in his opinion published on Nov. 7.

Since FWPS parent Mike Scuderi's presentation to the school board on Oct. 15, parents and students have been spreading the word and trying to understand how the grading system currently in place impacts students.

The consensus of individuals with whom I have communicated agree that the Power Law equation, in general, is misapplied by FWPS.

Students and parents have been challenged to understand and navigate the FWPS grading systems since standards based education was first implemented districtwide in the fall of 2011. For this reason, one group of parents have summarized their current view and call to action as follows:

1. We support standards based education and its implementation by FWPS.

2. We believe the percentage of errors produced by the grading system and its impact on students can and must be remedied.

A. Impact on students taking high school courses for credit: The current grading system undervalues approximately 30 percent of priority standard grades comprised of four assessments. 100 percent of students do not know if one or more of their grades falls into this pool of errors. Official transcripts affect life opportunities after high school, and students must be able to track and achieve their grade goals through learning and effort on assessments.

B. Unclear communication: Teachers, students and parents must all understand how every grade is calculated by the grading system and how each teacher interprets and applies professional judgment to grades entered into the grading system.

3. We request the school district and the school board to address points A and B above and identify and apply a solution before the end of the 2013 first semester grading period (Jan. 29, 2014).

A. Suggested solution: Turn on the averaging feature in the grade book. Use the Power Law only as an advisory tool. Revisit and revise the Priority Standard Matrix.

How did we formulate this view and call to action?

First of all, in our research, we have not found another school or school district in the United States that applies the Power Law equation to a grading system generating grades for high school credit courses.

FWPS has chosen to lead the way in applying a theory based on the last decade of research by Dr. Robert Marzano. This theory, however, has never been tested on a real high school curriculum to produce assessment data.

This point causes great concern. Why would the school board and school district administrators approve testing in real-time a theoretical equation on its entire student population?

Secondly, the Power Law is a predictive formula best designed to show growth over time for a narrowly defined skill (See FAQ: Scores and Standards at easygradepro.com). While this idea, in theory, is an excellent way to measure and report the learning process in some areas, the FWPS standards based education is not developed to a point at which this equation can be applied to calculate official course grades.

First, and foremost, very few FWPS standards are narrowly defined. Rather many standards include more than one fact or skill to master (sometimes up to five or more) as well as more than one critical thinking skill. To apply the Power Law correctly to such broadly defined standards requires a teacher to design three to four comprehensive assessments covering all aspects of the standard.

When comparing our students’ grades online, parents can see that very few teachers have entered more than two or three assessments per standard. Often these two or three assessments are not comprised of enough elements to measure all aspects of a broadly defined standard.

Staff and students have not been provided the tools or information they need to understand the model and input data. Thus, the Power Law equation, as integrated into the FWPS grading system, cannot calculate the growth over time for which it was designed

In sum, through reviewing sources of information identified by other parents, such as “Transforming Classroom Grading,” Marzano (2000) and User Manuals on easygradepro.com, I have learned that the Power Law is a theoretical predictive formula designed to show growth over time for narrowly defined standards.

FWPS has much work to do before an equation like the Power Law can be applied to calculate grades.

From my perspective, by taking the decision to be the first school district in the nation to perform a live test of a theoretical formula, the school board and school district administrators have failed to safeguard students’ best interests.

It is for this reason that parents and students are uniting to call for immediate action to remove the Power Law equation from this year’s grading system and instead use a grading system based on proven models that clearly demonstrate and communicate the status of student achievement throughout the grading period.

Susan Hendricks, Federal Way

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