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Slide from TUSD's presentation on standards-based grading

After years of discussion, Tracy Unified School District is ready to transition away from reporting on a letter-grading system in favor of a standards-based grading system for its fourth and fifth grade students.

Already being implemented in grades Kindergarten through 3rd, the standards-based grading system takes on a different approach for students, encouraging them to take ownership in their learning to help build soft skills like responsibility and accountability.

“We started when we were witnessing the jump that our students were making from third to fourth grade, and the stress and confusion that it could take make on the report card for parents,” said Megan Jimenez during a presentation at TUSD’s board of education meeting on March 23. Jimenez is part of the fourth-grade team at George Kelly Elementary school, which was conducting a pilot program to test out the standards-based grading system for its fourth-grade students.

“Our purpose was to move forward with a student-centered system. We wanted to shift our practices as standards and expectations shifted. We wanted to focus on academic accomplishment tied to the standards without future perception or student behaviors influencing a grade,” said Jimenez.

Shifting to a standards-based grading system was always in the cards when TUSD revamped its curriculum about five years ago but its grading system for its upper elementary students had stayed in the traditional letter-based format, where students would receive an A, B, C, D or F grade based on their academic performance.

“There was a lot of discussion about why are we still continuing to report letter grades when we are teaching standards based curriculum,” said Julianna Stocking, associate superintendent of Educational Services for TUSD.

The pilot program was proposed to TUSD’s Curriculum Council Committee – which is comprised of teachers from throughout the district that represent the different school sites and grade levels – by TUSD’s fourth and fifth grade teams.

“They wanted to really commit to going through this process and, depending on the outcome, make the recommendation to either stay with reporting both letter grades and standards or shift away to standards-based reporting as our K-3 teachers are doing,” said Stocking. “So through that process we had our team at George Kelly volunteer to pilot the standards-based grade reporting and not implement the grade reporting, and it really had a lot of positive outcome.”

A standards-based approach would encourage students and teachers to work together to figure out where a students’ mastery level on a subject is and what a student needs help working on as opposed to them working with the focus on achieving a high grade. The grading rubric uses a 1-4 numbered system to measure the level of academic understanding. This approach also helps teachers focus on student understanding on essential standards and celebrating their learning growth.

“We want students to develop a growth mindset focus to help relieve stress at home and in the classroom. This allows students to not have to be perfect right away, and helps parents understand their child's progress,” said teacher Tina Orino, who also took part in the presentation to the school board.

Starting at the 2021-22 school year, all TUSD schools will be implementing the standards-based grading for fourth and fifth grade.

Though there are no plans or discussions to use this system for middle and high school students in the near future, Stocking sees the potential to implement standards-based grading for students of all grades down the road.

“For pre-K through 12th, all of our curriculum is standards-based. But in terms of reporting, that would be a shift for us if we were to explore that for 6th through 12th,” she said. “We do know that – this year actually – California Department of Education put out guidelines on best grading practices so, that's something that districts are now starting to explore further and revisit board policy and their administrative regulations.”

• Contact Brianna Guillory at bguillory@tracypress.com or 209-830-4229.

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