It was standing-room-only at the Osseo School Board’s Jan. 22 meeting as district teachers filled the boardroom and overflow seating areas beyond capacity. The district estimates 225 chairs were available, but some teachers sat on the floor in the open area at the front of the boardroom, while others stood in the wings, packed so tightly there wasn’t room to walk.
They had come primarily to express dissatisfaction with the district’s implementation of standards-based grading.
Standards-based grading was intended to make curriculum, assessments and grades the same across the district. Administrators also intended grades to reflect whether a student has learned material and not reflect nonacademic factors.
In conjunction with the standards-based grading system, the district adopted a 0-4 grading scale it initially called the “equal-interval scale.” It has since dropped that label.
Currently in its second year of implementing standards-based grading, the district has faced many complaints from students and parents. The district made adjustments to the system during the first trimester in an attempt to address concerns. Administrators recently reported they were making progress on addressing concerns and outlined how they intended to continue gathering feedback and planning for the future.
But teachers apparently weren’t satisfied.
Six teacher representatives addressed the school board during the public comment period Jan. 22. They claimed standards-based grading is hurting student learning instead of helping it and creating headaches for teachers, parents and students. The audience greeted their comments with lengthy applause and standing ovations.
“As professionals, we want to do what’s best for kids, but we have been facing more and more obstacles that are getting in the way of the quality education that our children and our families deserve,” Annette Walen of Park Brook Elementary said.
Walen presented a stack of 755 letters of concern, each signed by an individual teacher, and said she and her colleagues hoped the night would mark the beginning of honest discussions between teachers and district leadership that would result in improved student learning.
Gloria Singh of Elm Creek Elementary agreed.
“Standards-based grading has been rolled out in a piecemeal fashion without anticipating and addressing potential glitches beforehand,” she said.
Although the system was supposed to bring consistency, she said it has brought the opposite. And she said teachers continue to hear confusing conflicting messages from administrators about how to determine grades.
“The frequent new directives with insufficient training and time to process, organize and prepare, are getting in the way of what’s best for kids,” she said. “The instruction that creates quality education for our children is being replaced by time-consuming, poorly planned initiatives and excessive assessing.”
Marshall Thompson, of Park Center Senior High, agreed. He said teachers are spending too much time on initiatives that have little or no benefit to student learning.
“Make no mistake,” he said. “We’re not here because we’re resistant to change. In fact, we’re enthusiastic about making any changes we can to improve student learning. But that’s not the situation.”
He said teachers aren’t able to spend as much time doing things that really matter, like creating great lessons and connecting with students.
Teachers also said that, contrary to the district’s intent, the new system results in grades that don’t accurately reflect student learning.
Shawn Johnson of Osseo Senior High shared his experience.
“(Students) say things like, ‘This class is almost impossible to fail,’” he said “Or it’s just formative. We don’t need to do it. It doesn’t count.’”
Jennifer Larson and Paul Wardell, both of Maple Grove Senior High, have heard many similar comments.
“Our students our too immature to understand that the formative work actually impacts the summative,” Larson said. She insisted formative work should count for more than the 20 percent of the grade it currently comprises.
Wardell added that the system passes students who are failing. As evidence, he pointed to the fact that at Maple Grove Senior High there were 302 failing grades during the first trimester two years ago. But this year there were only 114. He said that wasn’t due to instruction growing by leaps and bounds.
Johnson said when teachers brought their concerns about grading to administrators, they said to use professional judgment and change the passing grade to a failing grade.
“It is not the teacher’s responsibility to fix a broken grading system,” Johnson said, calling it a systemic problem.
Wardell said the district’s method of grading is not a standard practice among districts using standards-based grading.
“The grading practices have been invented by the employees of this district, none of which grade papers, none of which grade students, none of which use the tool they’ve invented,” he said.
Larson also disliked the four-point grading scale. She said it hurts students at both ends of the spectrum by making it harder to fail, as well as more difficult to get an A.
“What we’re doing is we’re giving hope to students who don’t turn in work and don’t meet the standards, and we’re removing the hope for those who excel,” she said.
The speakers were also concerned that the system teaches students to be irresponsible and doesn’t prepare them for the real world.
Larson specifically cited the fact that teachers can’t penalize for late work. She and one of her colleagues collected 30 late papers during the last week of the first trimester, papers that were due weeks earlier. And she said only 24 percent of her regular students turned in the first step of this trimester’s paper on time. Only 35 percent of her advanced placement students did so.
“What will they do when they get to college?” she asked. “How would the chamber of commerce feel knowing that students think that deadlines don’t matter? That’s what we have.”
The teachers asked the school board to intervene.
“Tonight we find ourselves at wits’ end, here at this microphone, and with a simple appeal: Please stop the policies and practices that undermine our district’s mission,” Johnson said.
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]