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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.

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The high schools, however, have kept A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s and F’s. Kirkland said parents just wouldn’t buy into number grades at that level.

"There’s just so much emotion and tradition around these letter grades," Kirkland said. "Parents said, ‘A 3 isn’t motivating to my child.’ "

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At the elementary level, parents generally accept the number assessments now, but many still miss the days of letter grades.

Rachel Post called the number system confusing. She said it can be hard on her daughter, now in seventh grade at Adele C. Young Intermediate School.

"She’s very self-motivated, and when she was only getting 3s, she felt like she wasn’t doing her best ... even though the teacher said, ‘A 3 is great,’ " Post said.

‘Changing the conversation’ » The Granite District has been exploring competency-based grading as well, said Linda Mariotti, its assistant superintendent. A committee studying the issue has agreed that the district should focus more on competency.

In Granite, that might mean not docking students’ grades for turning in late work and/or giving them the opportunity to re-take tests. It might mean separate grades for citizenship.

She said Granite is still likely years away from such changes and specifics would have to be worked out. But many feel that things like participation, homework and behavior shouldn’t be part of academic grades in Granite.

"The first thing you want to do is focus on changing the conversation," Mariotti said.

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Schools nationwide are still generally a ways away from fully implementing competency-based grading, said Scott Ellis, CEO of Learning Accelerator, a California-based nonprofit that aims to promote competency or mastery-based progression.

He said he hopes to see schools move a step beyond such grading, letting proficient students move forward and giving others more time on certain concepts as needed.

"If they’re lost or need extra support, they don’t move on just because the rest of the class moves on," Ellis said. "They get the help they need."

He agreed, however, that it can be difficult to persuade parents to embrace a new type of grading system.

Hales said parents are accustomed to grades meaning one thing, and change can be difficult.

"There’s bound to be some rough moments," Hales said, "but a lot of times, it’s worth the pain if the end result means you get better information about your student."


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