“The most dangerous experiment we can conduct with our children is to keep schooling them the same at a time when every other aspect of our society is dramatically changing,” says Professor Christopher Dede of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
“We cannot maintain the status quo when it comes to preparing our students for the world ahead,” says Superintendent Jill Gildea. “Our educators know the critical need of always finding better ways to teach and assess.”
Academic excellence is one of the strategic pillars of Park City School District which is to “develop the potential of every student through data-driven and best learning practices to be academically successful and prepared for life beyond graduation…”
Park City High is currently ranked 28th in Utah and 3,381 in the national by US News & World. “This is not the best result we can achieve in this community. If our target is to be ranked in the top 1,000, we need an aligned system (including curriculum, instruction, and assessment) which requires intentional and purposeful change.”
The change had its beginning at Ecker Hill Middle School. During the 2005-06 school year, EHMS teachers attended a conference where standards-based grading was discussed. Teachers had been looking for ways to better report student learning and immediately began working on reporting systems in individual classrooms to better reflect student learning.
“Grading belongs at the classroom level, as does professional development, and school-based decisions,” says Dr. Gildea. “At the district level we help ensure that assessment and reporting practices are being reviewed and are responsive to the needs of students.”
As a school, EHMS began the work of unpacking and prioritizing standards through curriculum mapping. Many teachers began to see success as they started to implement standards-based grading. “Our educators are professionals and I’m incredibly proud of them for wanting to move forward with this way of assessing students and reporting progress along a continuum of learning,” says the Superintendent.
Standards-based assessment is not about students competing against one another, according to Dr. Gildea. “It is about the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for next generation access to life, career, and college ready outcomes.”
When schools adopt a standards-based mindset it requires a cultural shift. This is not a new system of grading. It has been around since 1983. Dr. Gildea’s previous district has been using standards-based assessment for more than 20 years.
National education consultant Kevin O’Connor says parents have a hard time making this shift. “Standards-based grades are not what parents know so it changes the conversation to an emphasis on words about strengths and weaknesses, not single symbols per subject that have little meaning.”
While some parents may have frustrations about moving to a new reporting system, Dr. Gildea continues to receive positive feedback from teachers, parents and students about this shift and how much it assists teachers in personalizing instruction and learning for all students.
The successes seen in the early stages at EHMS, prompted other schools in the district to begin looking at standards-based assessments. School administrators, instructional leaders, and teachers have had and continue to have external and internal development work. This professional development has originated in a school-based manner with the district providing external experts such as Bob Marzano Associates, Tom Guskey’s team, and Tim Brown of Solution Tree.
Teachers, principals and parents have donated their time, suggestions, learning, ideas, and input in order to fully develop an implementation timeline for all schools. This summer elementary teachers will continue their work aligning mathematics standards, while secondary teachers will continue working on refining the proficiency scales and vertical articulation of learning targets. Ongoing professional learning will also be available through the Digital Teaching and Learning Grant the district was award earlier this year.
This fall, internal and external experts will host parent forums on college admissions as well as the shift toward a competency-based approach. In August, the district’s Back-to-School Convocation will focus on “Learning Transformed.”
Dr. Gildea anticipates the implementation in schools will continue through 2021-22 with junior high and high school retaining both letter grades and GPA. “We remain committed to defining a system that measures actual student learning, provides meaningful feedback to students and their families on their academic progress, and motivates students to achieve and persevere.”
For more information about standards-based learning and assessment visit the district’s Teaching & Learning homepage here.