PWCS Will Evaluate Its Standards-Based Grading Policy

Task force to review inconsistencies and evaluate the method


Superintendent of Prince William County Schools Dr. LaTanya McDade has assembled a task force to review the school division’s standards-based grading policy. McDade made the announcement at the school board's May 17 meeting, opening a discussion on the matter. 

Initially, McDade seems most concerned that the policy has been unevenly implemented across the division. However, at the behest of the school board, the division will also be evaluating whether the standard-based approach is the most effective grading policy for promoting student learning, mastery of skills and life-long success. 

This is the first time PWCS will evaluate the grading system since it was implemented eight years ago under Superintendent Dr. Stephen Walts.

Standards-based learning is based upon the philosophy that grades should reflect students' achievement, and teachers should provide opportunities for all students to reach “mastery” of their skills. To do so, teachers ought to allow students to revise or retake summative assignments. Within the standards-based learning model, homework and classwork are deemphasized because they are preparatory.

Teachers who strictly follow SBG will grade their students on a scale of 1-5. When converted to the 100% grading scale, 50 becomes the lowest possible grade, and a 60 (2) is passing.

Yet even as teachers offer multiple opportunities to achieve mastery, grades have not increased. Now, with a push to return to normalcy since Covid, school board members are asking if the model encourages the wrong set of behaviors.

McDade said the policy is being unevenly implemented across buildings and in some cases even classrooms. She has made a push this year to see that not everything falls under the umbrella of site-based management, and would like a consistent policy.

However, she also agreed that the task force should evaluate whether the policy is indeed beneficial to students, at the request of the board.

The Problems with Standard-Based Grading.

Gainesville board member Jennifer Wall asked that the division evaluate whether SBG is effective in promoting student learning.

“I’m glad to hear that we are evaluating the grading policies and evaluations, and I would include maybe even the philosophy and approach that we’re currently using for standards-based grading,” Wall said.

In recent years, Wall said she’s seen a decline in the quality of student work and in students’ grid and dedication towards school.

She said teachers tell her students are less motivated to study because they can always retest. They are lax about adhering to deadlines since there is no penalty for handing work in late, and they are less inclined to do homework and classwork since they are worth very little grade-wise. 

While the idea behind the standards-based grading may have been a way to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to master a skilled, she finds it has had the effect of demotivating students. 

“I’m not really sure we are getting the results we thought we were going to get. I think we’re getting - especially at the secondary level-  students who are gaming the system, who are smart, and lazy, maybe, not quite getting their work done,” she said.

Reciting from the recent staff presentation she noted that only 63% of PWCS high school students were passing all of their classes by the third marking period when one would assume they would have received ample opportunities to improve. 

“That’s with our policy of remediation and liberal grading that we’re getting those kinds of grades," she said. 

PWCS practiced standards-based grading since 2015, and the Walts administration encouraged teachers to adopt a similar approach before it became the official policy. 

However, during Covid teachers were encouraged to be very flexible in collecting late work and allowing opportunities to retake an assessment. 

Many of those practices have continued and students have even been allowed to redo work from previous marking periods. 

Some school board members believe it is now the school division's policy to become stricter in regard to late work and make-up work. 

Wall believes the division ought to compare achievements before and after the division adopted SBA and see if there has been a measurable decline. 

“Can we take some hard data like SOLs and SATs? Did those results change? How are our graduates doing?” she asked. “We might be reinforcing the wrong set of behaviors.”

But Occoquan board member Lilly Jessie thought she did not give the method enough credit.

“It’s not a philosophy; it’s really resource-oriented,” Jessie she.

She said she looks at it as taking the driver's test and you take it again until you pass.

Arlington County has decided to adopt standards-based learning, Jessie noted.

Justin Wilk (Potomac) said he was a teacher when the policy was implemented. He thought it was a good idea at the time but now sees there are unintended consequences of students using the policy to their own advantage. 

Woodbridge member Loree Williams said that no matter what the policy teenager will always find ways to "game the system."

But Coles member Lisa Zargurpur said she wants students “to have the habits of the mind and skills to be successful when they leave here,” and so would recommend evaluateng the policy.

Adele Jackson (Brentsville) added that the task force looks at how homework is being assigned and graded as well.

Chairman, Dr. Babar Lateef said he believes a review is warranted.

“While it is a research-based practice and I recognize that…. I think it is important with any practice that we do that it is reviewed and updated on a regular basis, so first the first time, we’re gonna do this, and I think it’s critical.”

Prince William County School Board, school board, PWEA, Jen Wall, Gainesville, Superintendent LaTanya McDade, schools, standard-based grading, task force, May 17


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