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Editorial: A good grading system measures mastery of subjects

System should measure learning.

First Published May 07 2014 03:44 pm • Last Updated May 07 2014 04:43 pm

Every adult remembers classmates from those early school years who skipped class and whose behavior earned them disapproving looks and influenced their grades negatively despite their intelligence and high test scores.

And then there were the kids who loved school and excelled by doing extra-credit work, racking up perfect attendance records and offering to help teachers after school.

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Some of them grew up to become teachers themselves, moved up the administration ladder and continued a system that confuses good behavior with academic competence. They tend to believe part of a school’s responsibility is to imbue students with respect for rules and authority, and they are right about that.

But abiding by rules of conduct is not the same thing as showing proficiency in physics, in biology or literature.

A state task force is recommending a new grading system — optional at first — that would end the practice of knocking down a student’s grade in a class because of something like poor attendance, even when the student is demonstrating proficiency in the subject being taught.

It’s hard for those steeped in the old-school tradition of incorporating "citizenship" into a course grade to imagine allowing a kid who cuts class but does well on tests to get an A. It’s called "competency-based grading," and it makes a lot of sense.

Box Elder School District is easing parents and teachers into such a system by introducing it in elementary schools, where students no longer get letter grades, but a numerical rating of 1, 2, 3 or 4. Those who earn a 3 are doing academic work at the appropriate level. And only competency in the subject is considered.

Schools award separate citizenship grades that recognize those who do extra credit, attend class regularly or go the extra mile in other ways — or don’t.

And under a similar reform proposed statewide, students who do not earn a 3 or a letter grade indicating competency would not advance to the next grade level until they learn the material. Older students would have to retake a course until they can show competence.

It’s a good idea because a grade could not be influenced — or at least not as much — by subjective criteria. Only extra study, not extra credit or cleaning erasers after school , would get you a better grade. It would encourage intelligent students who don’t "fit in" and would help identify each student’s real strengths and weaknesses. And isn’t that what school should be about?


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