In an exclusive interview with Pony Express News reporter senior Haven Ramos, Morton High School District 201 superintendent Dr. Tim Truesdale answered some questions about the district grading policy. Here’s what he had to say:
Haven Ramos: Do you think the grading system will improve student performance?
Dr. Tim Truesdale: I do. The grade book is set up to help students identify the key pieces of learning — the key concepts and skills they’re supposed to master at the end of the semester. That should have an impact right away.
Our students can see by the structure of the grade book: “These are the major outcomes I’m responsible for over the course of the semester or school year.” With this structure, (students can see) the common assessments with the highest weights and their (academic progress) over the course of the semester. This helps to determine that the student has achieved mastery.
You know, if it’s a good assessment, then the score on that assessment should be a good indicator of what level of learning the student has achieved.
HR: So, you would say that if there are five concepts, the gradebook helps students determine whether or not they have mastered these concepts — learned them, so to speak — by looking at the scores?
Dr. TT: Correct. Like when you look at your journalism class, right? There are a certain number of concepts or skills that are supposed to be mastered over the course of the semester. That takes some of the mystery out of what (students are) supposed to be learning here. The way that scores are entered in the gradebook and (the way that those scores) are grouped according to those skills helps you (understand) that you’re supposed to be successful on skills, not just (compiling points towards an overall grade).
HR: What do you think are some flaws in the system that should be changed and addressed?
Dr. TT.: I think (we can work on) better alignment between formative assignments, interim assignments, and common assessments. To use a sports analogy: there’s practice, then scrimmage, and then the big game; if the practice and the skirmish are not a good match for what the student is going to have to do when they eventually play the game for real, then we have to focus on how we address that.
So. if there are (assignments) that are being (completed, collected) and scored in the gradebook, that really aren’t (showing this progress), we need to really look at that. The common assessments are the most impactful towards your grade. But, I think we need to look at the number of assignments that are being included in the gradebook and whether they’re all necessary and impactful. Maybe in some cases there are so many assignments being given, that sometimes they start to lose meaning. Again if (the assignments) are not aligned to preparing students to be successful for those common, end of the unit assessments, then we need to take a really close look at that.
HR: What do you mean that some assignments start to lose meaning? Do you think the more assignments there are, it becomes pointless to some students and classes, because there’s already so much you’ve done before?
Dr. TT: Possibly. That’s a better question to ask students rather than me. It was very apparent that one of my children, who is in high school now, was getting overwhelmed with the amount of work given to him online, during remote learning. I think that’s something we have to look at. When does it get to the point where that sense of overwhelm, outweighs the value that assignment might provide in terms of learning? It might not be the assignment; it might be whether or not it should belong in the gradebook.
If it’s something to provide practice, or reinforce skills to provide students with the opportunity to try something that they haven’t necessarily had a lot of instruction on at this point — maybe just to gauge students prior knowledge or level of mastery — does that belong in the gradebook? (We need to ask these questions.)
HR: Do you think the final should be worth more or less because there are times when you could skip the final and pass?
Dr. TT: Sure. That’s an interesting question just beyond what the weight of the final exam plays in the overall semester grade. That’s another question we started to look at as a district: what is the value of the final exam? You know we have common assessments for each one of the units, key concepts or skills (for each) course, so does the final exam provide value to the students and teachers? (Does it allow teachers) to make determinations from the curriculum standpoints on what might need to be different next time, based on how students score?
(However), I would not like to see kids walk away from high school never having sat for a final exam because there are definitely going to be courses after high school that are going to require you to take a final exam. If you never had that experience in high school, we’d be putting you at a disadvantage.
But, at the same time I think we have some opportunity to rethink what final exams look like. I think we could be looking at more authentic real-world application end-of-course assessments that require students to show “Here’s what I learned,” “Here’s how I’m going to use it now that this class or semester is over with,” and “How can I demonstrate what I’ve learned here is going to be applicable beyond high school.”
But, I think to answer your question on some students not taking the final and maintaining the same grade: we used to be on a total points system. Let’s say there were a thousand points in a semester, and if you got 900 of them you got an A, 800 a B and so on. Well, back at that time, depending what grade you had and what class, come final exam time, if you had a high B you could get a 40 percent and keep your B, so it’s not a new concept or a new matter when it comes to gradebook and grading. I would argue that anyone who’s got a high B is not going to have a hard time getting a 40 on the final. Otherwise there’s something wrong with the final.
What we currently have in place, if a student can be exempt from the final and still maintain that high B or maintain that high A, I’m not sure if that final is really measuring the student’s performance over the course of the semester. This is something we need to continue to examine as we determine the best way to assess mastery at the end of the course.