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Pasco school district revamps grading rules to focus more on learning

District leaders want to remove behavior, non-academic ‘assignments’ from the equation.
The Pasco County school district updated the codes teachers may use in gradebooks, in an attempt to provide more clear information about student performance. The district also is implementing new grading practices at the secondary level.
The Pasco County school district updated the codes teachers may use in gradebooks, in an attempt to provide more clear information about student performance. The district also is implementing new grading practices at the secondary level.
Published Jun. 4, 2019

Forget about extra credit, points for meeting deadlines and single types of assessments to determine students’ abilities in Pasco County middle and high schools.

Citing concerns that the district’s grading system might not be accomplishing the goal of communicating academic progress, Pasco leaders have issued a set of new rules aimed at ensuring that students and their families can use grades to know how well they’re learning.

Under the most recent practices, said Leading and Learning director Lea Mitchell, “students can behave their way up and down a grading scale.”

By that, she meant that they could improve their marks by doing things that have little to do with their actual courses, such as when teachers award credit for bringing in supplies or having a parent sign a document.

The goal, though, should be to have academic grade reflect achievement of the standards and course expectations, officials contended.

So teachers are being advised that they no longer may issue extra points for neatness, participation or effort, or for doing things like attending an after-school performance. Also on the disallowed list are granting added learning opportunities to only some students, accepting only one piece of evidence per standard, and giving students only one way to show they have mastered their material.

But the two-page document detailing the revised practices, which has been distributed to teachers, prompted a series of questions from School Board members who worried about how the plans would affect students and teachers alike.

For instance, vice chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin raised some issues Tuesday with the ban on issuing credit to students over missed deadlines. She pointed out that, if taken strictly and literally, a student could sit on work for an entire semester and then turn it all in at the last minute, altering the GPA rankings of their class.

Chairwoman Alison Crumbley, meanwhile, wanted clarification on the blanket prohibition on extra credit. While she supported the idea of ending the practice for kids bringing in classroom supplies, for instance, Crumbley suggested other instances might exist where extra credit might be acceptable.

“Every class is different. Every group of students is different,” added board member Cynthia Armstrong. “I just want to make sure [teachers] have that flexibility” to do what’s best for their classrooms.

Mitchell said she hoped the rules would bring clarity to teachers, freeing them to have the flexibility they need within the guidelines. At the same time, she said, the district needed to add some more fairness so students are not boxed out of grades simply because they cannot afford to complete the extra work that a teacher might assign, or might not have the opportunity to participate.

She agreed that some more detailed information could help everyone understand these ideas, which will be the part of offered teacher training.

“Our entire system would benefit from having clear responses with frequently asked questions,” Mitchell told the board.

The Pasco school district has been exploring ways to detach behavior from grades for several years. Three years ago, officials explored the idea of standards-based report cards to help with that effort, but never moved ahead with that concept.

The district has established updated grading codes for teachers to use toward that same objective. It includes Incomplete, to alert students that their performance cannot be determined until they turn in the assignment.

M would be for missing, indicating that the incomplete assignment never arrived.

Zero would be left for assignments in which the students submitted the work but didn’t get anything correct.

Assistant superintendent for middle schools Marcy Hetzler-Nettles said having such a system of grades would give students honest information about how they are doing, while stripping behavior out of the process. They would continue to get behavior grades separately.

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