D91 plans to ditch letter grades

Standards-based report cards begin next school year

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By Maria Maxham

District 91 will transition away from letter grades and switch to standards-based report cards (SBRC) beginning in the 2020-2021 school year.

Math and ELA (English and Language Arts) will be graded using a rubric that descriptively assesses a student's grasp of different concepts rather than a letter grade, such as A, B, C or a percentage.

Other subjects may still be graded in the traditional way, so parents and students can expect a hybrid report card initially as the district transitions to standards-based reporting for all subjects.

James Edler, director of Innovative Instruction for D91, said standards-based reporting has the benefit of assisting teachers in being very clear and specific about what students are expected to learn and pinpointing where students need more work.

"Teachers can look for misconceptions that arise and determine how to integrate what needs work into learning opportunities," said Edler about classes where standards-based learning and reporting is the norm. "Homework is more intentional. It supports learning and connecting to what's being taught in the classroom. Teachers aren't collecting homework for grades in a gradebook. They're assigning work based on evidence that surfaces that helps them know what a student needs to learn next."

Changing the way students are assessed can have the effect of changing the way subjects are taught. If teachers need to assess children based on a standards-based rubric, assignments and instruction will more tightly align in order to make sure kids are meeting goals in specific areas. 

Edler said the district is still in the planning stages, but the report cards will include a "level of learning" with a description and, just as important, what the expectations are.

"This presupposes," said Edler, "that those expectations have been made clear to the student. It's a way of breaking down the state standards into 'I can' statements for the students." 

"We're not talking about a checklist of skills," Edler added. "We're talking about how the particular skills connect to the bigger concepts, which are connected to the standards the students need to master." 

Ultimately, standards-based reporting can assist in a better understanding between teachers and students. 

"It supports a better student-teacher relationship," said Edler. "Students don't feel like they're being punished by getting a bad grade." Instead, they're given a clear set of expectations and concrete ways to achieve their goals of meeting or exceeding grade level standards.

"With so many innovations in learning, it doesn't make sense that we're still using such an old-fashioned system of grading," Edler said.

The shift is underway in D91. According to Scott Dunnell, public relations and communications manager for the district, between now and early spring lots of work will be done by the teachers and administrators in the district to identify and create a rubric for standards-based reporting.

"The district is reviewing each phase of development with the Citizens' Advisory Council," said Dunnell. The Citizens Advisory Council (CAC) serves as D91's improvement planning committee, with members sharing information from the school board to their representative group and vice versa. The CAC strives to have membership that represents the Forest Park community, including the business community, community organizations, members-at-large, parent organization presidents or a designee from each of the schools, teachers, and a representative from the village of Forest Park.

The last CAC meeting was attended by Mayor Rory Hoskins.

Dunnell added that there will be a lot of communication with parents and the community about the new standards-based grading before the next school year. The April Connections newsletter, distributed to all residents and businesses in Forest Park, will focus on the district's move to a SBRC. 

At the end of April or early May, there will be event nights at all of the D91 schools where information on the new report cards will be presented and parents can ask questions. 

Over the summer, as progress continues, updates will be made available on the school website. And back-to-school nights and open houses at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year will be another opportunity for schools to talk more about the new assessments.

Edler said one of the biggest concerns people have is whether high schools will accept an SBRC instead of a traditional one with letter grades. 

Many high schools use a variety of measurements during the admission process, including the PSAT and other entrance exams. Middle school grades are only one part of that. 

"When we've talked to local high schools about it, they've all said, 'We can figure it out,'" said Edler, adding that it's not a brand-new system. The school he taught at previously began implementing standards-based reporting in 2011, and other districts have been using it as well.

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Reader Comments

3 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Michelle Woehrle  

Posted: December 4th, 2019 9:35 AM

Steve is living in an alternate universe if he thinks there are robust safety nets even for the neediest among us including children. Stop trolling and find a heart. People who actually care would appreciate that.

Dion Ewald  

Posted: December 2nd, 2019 10:25 AM

"Core issue is the continuation of wasted taxpayer dollars- funds wasted on properly educating ..." Hey Stevie, if funding education is a waste of money in the first place why do you care how they are graded?

Stevie Pointer  

Posted: November 26th, 2019 4:57 PM

Has the this become an extension to the "Participation Trophy"-are we proposing emoji's and smiley faces? Is the concern is that we do not want to fail a student, but seemingly ok with passing them through a system of mediocrity until they come out the other end and fail. By then it is too late, but luckily the government safety net of housing/clothing/food/phones/medial is in place for these students. Core issue is the continuation of wasted taxpayer dollars- funds wasted on properly educating (assessing students to true learning thresholds) then in the future more wasted tax payer funds to support those that are educationally challenged and unable to support themselves. Brilliant- I would give this idea a F, but don't want to hurt the Mensa teams feelings.

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