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CCSD says grades are improving under controversial new system

Updated September 23, 2022 - 11:14 am

More than a year after introducing a controversial change to its grading policy, the Clark County School District is reporting that fewer students are receiving failing grades and more students are receiving A’s.

The update on its grading policy came at the district’s board meeting Thursday. The district changed its grading policy last summer to allow students to revise assignments and retake tests and also stopped factoring in behavior like attendance and classroom participation into grades.

The improvements in grades this year are consistent with students across all grade levels and ethnic groups, as well as students who are learning English as a second language and special education students, district officials said Thursday.

After the changes were implemented last year, those in the school community who opposed the changes said the new grading guidelines would lower standards for students.

On Thursday, Trustee Lisa Guzman expressed concerns about students who might forego studying if they knew the district had an option for them to simply retake a test.

But district officials said that the new guidelines had been developed alongside school leaders and educators, and that there had also been flexibility in the implementation.

Assistant superintendent of assessment Greg Manzi said there were misconceptions in the school community about what constituted reassessment.

“It’s not just taking another test again,” he said. “It is the opportunity to retest corrections and maybe a performance test.”

But district parent MaryAnn Powley said that, while there may be a correlation between the new grading policy and the positive changes in students’ grades, the grading policy did not cause those improvements.

Instead, she said the district was using numbers from the first semester of a year where students were just returning to in-person classes after more than a year of distance learning.

“Of course we would expect an improvement in students’ grades regardless of what grading reform was done,” she said.

Why was change made?

The updated grading policy was passed last year as part of the board’s consent agenda with no discussion about the changes.

At the time, Superintendent Jesus Jara said that the new policy would allow all children to demonstrate what they learn and know, and that some principals were already doing work around grading reform.

In recent years, some districts across the country have moved toward grading models such as standards-based grading, which forgoes traditional letter grades and instead gives a detailed view of a student’s mastery of a subject.

Under the district’s new policy, schools must establish reassessment opportunities for students who have not met standards and establish an opportunity for reteaching and relearning, according to the district’s director of assessment Rebecca Meyer.

Priority areas

On Thursday, the district outlined four priority areas that it will focus efforts on implementing under the new grading policy:

■ Implement an equal and balanced grading scale

■ Remove behavior as part of the grading process

■ Implement a consistent reassessment policy in order to ensure mastery of state standards and curriculum

■ Implement consistent weighting and categories for classwork and final projects and exams

Meyer said the district had looked into what other school districts have implemented related to grading reforms over the last decade, including the San Diego Unified School District and Mesa (Arizona) Public Schools.

Many of the district’s own schools have been engaged in grading reform for the last 13 years, she said, and students deserve a shift from traditional grading to a model that will focus on their learning and mastery of a subject.

“This is not new work,” she said.

But Powley, the district parent, questioned who the new grading policy was benefiting, saying it didn’t benefit students struggling in school, students with test anxiety or teachers who are being asked to find new tests to give the students to assess their mastery of a topic.

“I guess it does benefit students who naturally do well on tests,” she said. “This is inequity at its finest.”

Contact Lorraine Longhi at 702-387-5298 or llonghi@reviewjournal.com. Follow her at @lolonghi on Twitter.

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