Independence Primary School introduces new grading system

by Martin McConnell

In an effort to channel student voices and put emphasis on the learning process itself, Independence Primary School is doing away with the traditional letter-grade and point system. Instead, the school is now employing the lesser-known “standards-based grading” system.

This new system relies on the principle of individualized learning. The new grading rubric is designed to help teachers assess whether their students are beginning their understanding of a new topic, developing that understanding, or are secure in their knowledge of the topic.

While following state requirements, the district has determined grading standards with the aim of making the evaluation as concrete as possible.

“Districts across the country are turning to this new form of reporting,” IPS principal T.J. Ebert said in a recent letter to parents. “Teachers are able to gather information on your child, come together as a team, and more authentically communicate student growth throughout the year to you.”

Standards-based grading comes as a response to teacher feedback. IPS staff has worked for the past four years to implement the new rubric. The system is now ready a year early, despite needing to put it on the back burner for a year due to the pandemic.

“I had veteran teachers here that said report cards hadn’t been touched since they started, and we’re talking fifteen, twenty years,” Ebert said. “We had a waiver day where we were going to give time for teachers to start this work, but then we found out our schools were closing because of COVID.”

One goal of the new grading system is to ease pressure on students. The new rubric works as a linear indication of progress rather than a cumulative one, and IPS hopes that will eliminate worries about letter grades among students.

“With letter grades, if you average a D, D, C, C, but then the last two assessments you have an A and an A, that averages out to a C,” curriculum director Mike Pennington said. “Now, if that lightbulb goes off on those last three assessments … then you’re secure. We’re not averaging.”

In addition to changing how students view grades, the new system has changed the approach that teachers take. IPS first-grade teacher Meghan Zale was one of the strongest supporters of implementing the standards-based system, and was on the official grade-changing committee.

“It was exciting to change,” Zale said. “[The first-grade teachers] loved the idea of creating something new and really pointing to the standards that we thought needed to be on the report card.”

One of the points that IPS focused on was transparency between students, teachers, and parents. With the new grading system, it becomes easier for parents to see how they can help their children, and students to see where they can improve themselves, without the pressure of grades.

“The standards used to just be, on the report card, ‘knows the concepts of math,’ and a parent looking at that, [might ask] ‘what concepts?’” Zale said. “This way, it’s broken down so parents can really see, ‘oh, my kid really gets shapes, but they’re struggling on this other concept.’” ∞