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Schools trade ABCs for 1-2-3’s

Post Independent Photo/Kelley CoxSopris Elementary technology coordinator Chris Sullivan (blue shirt) assists first-grade teachers (left to right) Connie Cooper, Susan Rice and Anita Parker as they input grades into Re-1's computer-based grading system Tuesday.
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Art teacher Libby McNeill tapped away at one of the blueberry-colored iMacs at Sopris Elementary School Tuesday afternoon.

McNeill was finishing up one of the classic teacher tasks: filling out report cards.

But for McNeill, and every elementary and middle school teacher in the Roaring Fork School District, grading has taken on two major changes ” it’s being done electronically, and there’s not an A, B, C, D or F in sight.



In what’s called standards-based grading, gone are traditional letter grades. Instead, students are graded using a numbered system.

A “1” means the student has not yet demonstrated proficiency. A “2” means the student is partially proficient, a “3” means the student consistently demonstrates proficiency, and a “4” means the student is not only proficient but applies the skill or content area to new skills or knowledge.



At Sopris Elementary, students receive grades in seven subject areas, such as writing, reading, math and art. Those subjects are broken down into specific skills that the child must master before he or she can progress to the next skill, and kids get number grades for every skill.

400 report cards

Tuesday afternoon, McNeill used the new method to complete 400 student report cards, in preparation for the end of Re-1’s third trimester this Friday.

The school was relatively quiet since the kids had the day off, and parent-teacher conferences were held throughout the Roaring Fork School District.

That gave teachers like McNeill a little extra time ” between parent meetings ” to complete their students’ report cards, as technology coordinator Christine Sullivan stood by,

“Not all of us have a computer brain like she does,” McNeill said, with a laugh, of Sullivan’s expertise.

Sullivan is one of three technology coordinators who work at Sopris Elementary. Besides assisting students, the techs have also been working with teachers since August 2002, when the Roaring Fork School District implemented computerized standards-based grading for all its elementary schools.

Re-1 middle schools started the grading system in August 2003, and the district’s high schools will follow in August 2004.

What’s so different?

Sopris Elementary principal Howard Jay explained that standards-based grading helps keep students from falling behind, and allows for students who are demonstrating proficiency to move forward at their own pace.

For example, Jay said, with traditional grading a student might receive a passing grade based upon his behavior.

“The student might not say much in class, and get a passing grade because he’s quiet,” Jay said. “But that letter grade doesn’t necessarily indicate whether or not he has mastered a certain content area.”

With standards-based grading, however, the student must demonstrate that he has achieved a level of proficiency before he can proceed to the next skill. Using this system, a student can’t simply receive a D or F and move on. Instead, he must stay with the skill until he masters it.

“This guarantees that we can assess where a student is in his learning,” Jay said. “And if he isn’t ‘getting it,’ we can devise a proficiency plan to tell us what we need to do to get him there.”

A paradigm shift

Standards-based grading is part of “a paradigm shift,” said Jay, that’s taking place throughout Colorado and across the country.

Both the Roaring Fork Re-1 and Garfield Re-2 school districts have introduced standards-based education into their schools’ curriculum.

Theresa Hamilton, director of districtwide services for the Garfield School District Re-2, said that each Re-2 school has developed its own report card based on standards, but hasn’t yet created a districtwide report card like Re-1’s elementary and middle schools.

“We’re currently investigating the possibility,” said Hamilton. She said each school’s report card “meets the needs based upon the programs the schools have implemented.”

Jay said Re-1’s innovative grading system has taken some getting used to ” especially by teachers who have had to learn the system and keep detailed records on each student’s skill level electronically.

But what hasn’t changed, he added, is “the art of teaching. Every teacher has his or her own way of ‘getting there’ with each student. We’ll never lose that.”

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

cclick@postindependent.com


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