The district focuses on specific skills such as collaboration, problem solving and responsibility. Each skill is looked at individually instead of receiving a general letter grade for all of them. Daniel Dempster/Mustang News

Lindsy Mobley
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Students dedicate years of their lives to seeking the approval of a letter grade, which defines their performance in academia.

One district has decided to change this dynamic.

The San Luis Coastal Unified School District has implemented a pilot program for grades K-6 to eliminate letter grade report cards and adopt a standards-based report card.

Amy Shields, elementary director of learning and achievement for the San Luis Coastal Unified School District, believes this new report card gives students and teachers a better understanding of where the student is and what can be improved, she said.

She also pointed out that report card skills such as collaboration, problem solving and responsibility are behaviors that are important to have as a 21st-century student.

“It’s much more relevant to the kind of teaching and learning that we want our students to be involved in,” Shields said.

According to Shields, a factor in adopting the new report card system was teachers’ concerns that the old system was not showing “a very accurate picture about where students were performing at any given moment of time.”

The process of adopting this new system took a year and a half and involved 37 teachers, principals and coaches — and they will continue to evaluate the system moving forward. After going through the pilot this year and getting feedback, they will present the system to the school board in hopes of officially changing the board policy, Shields said.

Shields acknowledged the shift will take a tremendous toll on teachers because the new system requires a more specific standard of achievement. The letter system is open to interpretation from teacher to teacher, but the new standards-based system is more uniform across teachers and schools.

“(It’s) a lot of extra time because you have to change your teaching,” she said. “And you have to truly understand the new state standards and what they’re asking students to know and be able to do, in order to be able to assess correctly how they’re doing on it.”

To assist teachers with this, the district has developed a teacher handbook for each grade level that explains how grading should look as well as which assessments can indicate where a child stands at the end of the trimester, Shields said. The district has also provided a surplus of information that explains what the new standards ask of the children. They also provided a template of the new report cards for parents to review, Shields said.

President of San Luis Coastal Unified School District’s Board of Trustees Jim Quesenberry is on board with the switch to standards-based report cards, he said.

“I think this is more descriptive of what the students are to achieve, what goals are being set, what goals are being agreed upon,” Quesenberry said. “And it meshes better with the core curriculum so that students will be mastering the information and the skills they need to be successful in middle school, high school and hopefully post secondary, so somewhere in college or technical schools.”

Shields believes the system would become more complex if implemented in high school because A through G requirements and college applications are added to the mix. The standards would have to fit all these rules.

Shields’ jurisdiction ends at sixth grade, but she said the secondary director is looking at moving toward the first step of aligning grading between schools, teachers and subjects.

“I think we need an overhaul of the college acceptance system,” Shields said.

Shields watched two of her children go through the system and believes the college acceptance system is deeply flawed.

“But I think if we could get the college on board to understand what the Common Core is asking of students, and the rigor of that, I think that would be the first door in opening the idea that maybe there is a better way of grading our students than this A, B, C, D, F level,” she said.

Shields also said a standards-based system evens the playing field for less privileged students who do not receive a lot of assistance at home.

With trimester grades coming out soon, people will have a chance to evaluate the new system.

“The elementary is starting very soon to do their conference week, which will be utilizing these reports,” Quesenberry said.

Overall, the system is supposed to help students be more motivated about learning, not getting a grade, Shield said.

“We are looking to help build intrinsic motivation in our kids and do less of the motivation by grades,” she said. “More motivation for the sense of learning, for the sense of personal accomplishment, for the pride that they feel when they work really hard on something that’s difficult.”

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