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Should Utah’s academic grades ignore missed classes, extra credit?

Schools » A state task force is recommending a shift to competency-based grading.

First Published May 05 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated May 05 2014 10:57 am

Imagine a school where missing class wouldn’t hurt a student’s grade.

Where extra credit wouldn’t be a way to boost a B to an A.

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Where students would be graded only on their mastery of concepts and nothing else.

No need to imagine. Some Utah schools are already grading students based solely on academic proficiency, and if some Utah education leaders get their way, such competency-based grading could eventually go statewide.

A state Graduation and Grading Task Force is recommending the state school board urge school districts to move to competency-based grading, and the state school board will likely consider the idea in June. The new grading would likely be optional, left for districts to decide, and schools could possibly include attendance, extra credit, participation or behavior as separate citizenship grades on students’ report cards.

The state as a whole is still probably a long way from making such a broad change. A number of education leaders, however, are enthusiastic.

"We want the academic grade to reflect the person’s academic progress, the competency in that academic area," said State Deputy Superintendent Brenda Hales, "not whether or not they’re tardy."

When the Box Elder School District moved its grades K-7 to competency-based grading a handful of years ago, many parents weren’t thrilled.

"We’re so used to percentage-based [grades]," said parent Amber Rust, chair of Brigham City’s Mountain View Elementary school community council. "I think it was probably a harder transition for the parents than it was for the kids."

It’s not uncommon for elementary schools to eschew letter grades on report cards in favor of numbers or other measures.

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But kids in Box Elder elementary schools almost never get letter grades — not on essays, quizzes, homework or tests. Instead, they get a 1, 2, 3 or 4, with a 3 representing grade-level proficiency.

‘A 3 is great’ » Competency-based grading doesn’t have to disallow letter grades, but that’s how Box Elder has chosen to implement it in its elementaries.

District students who get a 1 or 2 generally get additional help from teachers. In some classrooms 4s are rare, given only when students understand a topic beyond grade level. On report cards, kids get numbers for different concepts within subjects as well.

Students are evaluated separately on life skills, such as work completion, participation and behavior.

"What we wanted to do was try and give parents more tools as far as working with students and identifying what students know," said Mary Kay Kirkland, Box Elder assistant superintendent over instruction.

The district also asks its high schools to grade students on proficiency.

"If they have the proficiency, we shouldn’t penalize that student because they didn’t come to class," Kirkland said.

That’s not to say, however, truant students don’t face consequences for truancy; it’s just not reflected in their grades.

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