NASHUA — After rolling out the next generation of report cards at a pair of public workshops with a panel of teachers, a PowerPoint presentation and plenty of multi-colored handouts, school administrators have decided to delay launching competency-based grading until September 2015.
The new grading system, which ties in with a comprehensive wave of education reform rooted in the Common Core standards, tracks progress with a combination of scores on each student’s level of working knowledge, skills and a traditional letter grade that will be used to determine class rank and grade point averages. Competency-based grading also provides an ongoing credit recovery option so students can redo work and improve their scores and grades throughout the quarter, semester or year.
“We have a lot of folks working hard on this, and we will have an implementation plan for 2015,” Superintendent Mark Conrad told the Board of Education at its meeting on Monday night.
David Murotake was the first of several BOE members to support delaying the new grading system.
“I am thrilled we will be approaching this in a more measured fashion,” said Murotake. He also said that with competency-based grading, Common Core curriculum changes and new Smarter Balance assessment tests, teachers have their hands full.
BOE Chairman George Farrington described competency-based grading as the first major change to student assessment in the past hundred years. Schools will change the methods used to assess students and offer alternative ways to earn make-up credits, such as after-school programs and online work. The new system also includes a set of scores on other aspects of student performance, such as communication, citizenship, problem-solving and responsibility, which are not factored into a final course grade.
“Competency-based grading will increase the standardization and reduce the variability among teachers,” said David Goldsmith, head of Nashua High School South’s history department, during a BOE workshop held earlier this month.
Not only will grades become less subjective, students will also have clearly defined expectations and explanations of which aspects of their course work they need to improve.
Although BOE members supported the goals of the new grading system, several felt it hadn’t been presented in a way that students, parents and the community could clearly understand. Several board members said they had heard from parents worried about how the new grades would affect their children.
“We know there’s a lot of angst out there,” said Conrad, who added that the year delay should be enough time for everyone to become familiar with the new system.
“At some point you lose momentum if you’re not going forward,” he said.
Conrad added there may be some elements of competency-based grading that will move forward sooner. He said there were already some teachers who were using course competencies, or district-wide standards and goals, to determine grades and credits.
A group of 75 to 100 teachers have also volunteered to take part in a competency-grading pilot program this semester. Teachers will keep traditional records of grades for students but also use a competency-based grading program to test how it fits with the electronic system now in place.
Conrad described the pilot program as a “behind the scenes” test run and stressed it would have no effect on students grades or transcripts.