New grading system for Swain elementary schools

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For many adults, the A-F grading system is all they’ve known. While every parent might want their children to be an A student, it can be difficult to know what’s missing when they don’t bring home top-notch grades especially when they are still elementary school students.

Swain County Schools is looking to change that by introducing the standards-based grading system for K-5. Instead of “As, Bs or Cs”, students will earn a “3,2 or 1”—with “3” meaning the student has demonstrated consistent understanding at grade level.

A “1” will mean the student demonstrates a minimal understanding of key ideas at grade level and “2” will mean they are progressing. Report card will include comment sections for each subject. Subjects will include English/language arts, math for K-5, as well as social studies and science.

A committee of K-5 teachers has been working on the change for the past year.

The new system is based on learning goals and performance standards. Teachers would track behavior standards separately and there would be no penalties or extra credit points.

“There are lots of activities that might not be a part of the grade. The actual grade is about meeting that final goal and is proficiency based,” said Janet Clapsaddle, K-8 Director of Instruction and AIG Coordinator at the Swain County Board of Education meeting on Monday, June 5.

The hope is that the new grading system will actually provide more feedback for parents to learn about what areas a student’s strengths are in and what needs to be addressed. In parent-teacher meetings, a teacher will be able to provide more feedback on things parents can do to improve a child’s proficiency of a subject.

It’s about a growth mindset. The grades are connected to well-defined standards that students are expected to learn in their grade. Teachers will actually track growth on proficiency tied to objectives.

“What is the grading all about anyway?” said Superintendent Sam Pattillo. “I think ours should be about growth and taking a kid beyond where you got them.”

Clapsaddle said in the younger grades, teachers are looking at the standards being converted into “I can” statements, such as “I can count to 10” for them to take ownership of achieving their goals.

School board member Lambert Wilson said, “The big thing is that it’s totally individual.”

Clapsaddle added that some of the digital tools utilized at the elementary schools now are already growth based.

Core standards will still be met in each class, but the hope is the new grading system will foster a better understanding for how students can grow.

“It’s based on identifying what you do well and working on those skills where you are deficient,” Pattillo said.

Parents will have the opportunity to learn more about the new grading system at the beginning of the year, with parent information meetings planned in August-October.

The new grading system will begin for elementary schools in the 2018-2019 school year. Some teachers have already moved to a standards-based grading system at Swain County High School.

“It’s making an impact in our classes already,” said Swain High Principal Mark Sale, adding that students have been able to improve their academic performances in class significantly.

The district may look at expanding the grading system to upper level grades in the future. Since the grading system is fairly new, details about how to make it work at the high school level, where GPAs and other measures are tracked for college admittance is still unknown.

Smoky Mountain Times

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