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Parents still don’t understand SBG

Report shows interpreting grades on PowerSchool continues to stymie

SOLON– Parents just don’t understand.
A year didn’t do a lot to improve the comprehension of standards-based grading (SBG) for parents in the Solon Community School District (SCSD).
An SBG report presented at the April 14 meeting of the Solon school board showed that parents participating in a spring survey have not significantly improved their understanding of what their student is learning.
“We definitely need to do a better job helping them understand PowerSchool,” Director of Instruction and Technology Matt Townsley told board members. “That continues to be a concern.”
Townsley presented the findings of the most recent survey to the board, and outlined the steps that have been taken to date to help implement the assessment system.
In SBG, the abstract nature of a letter grade on a quiz or test is replaced by a specific skill set that can more easily focus student attention.
SBG downplays homework and instead concentrates on demonstrating the mastery of an identified learning goals through repeated assessment. Letter grades are based on tests, quizzes and project work, emphasizing the most recent evidence of learning.
Limited implementation of SBG began at the middle school and high school levels with the 2012-2013 school year, with all middle school and high school classes on board for the 2013-2014 school year.
Teachers and students appeared to be pretty well on board, according to the survey results, which were contrasted with an almost-identical survey from the spring of 2013.
The number of teachers who don’t like the system dropped by 50 percent, while the biggest concern shifted from the time required to make the change to the time needed to provide reassessment opportunities.
The percentage of students who felt they understood assessment policies increased, and a larger percentage had a positive impression of SBG, although they still expressed concern about homework and practices not counting toward their letter grades.
And while a larger number of parents indicated they understand reassessment policies better now, the majority of respondents didn’t feel PowerSchool gave them a better picture of student learning.
According to the survey report, 53 percent of responding parents reported, “I do not have a better understanding of what my student is learning” as a result of viewing PowerSchool.
PowerSchool is the widely-used student information service, developed and marketed by Pearson Education, Inc., which tracks a variety of tasks, from attendance to assessment.
“We did not make as much improvement in that area as we’d hoped to,” Townsley said. The district took a number of steps, he said, including the creation of a parent guide to PowerSchool which was emailed to all families.
“If we spent a year trying to improve people’s use or perception of it and didn’t really have much result, what next?” asked board member Dean Martin.
Townsely said the district would try to make more personal contacts with parents, even to the point of fielding questions face-to-face about how PowerSchool can be used to keep track of student achievement.
While board members agreed the problem needs to be addressed, no one had a concrete suggestion for making it better.
“We’ve got to figure out how to make it work,” board member Tim Brown said. “Otherwise we’re going to continue to face these struggles.”
Board members discussed whether PowerSchool was the best way for the district to pass that information on to parents, but other software platforms have been investigated and could present problems in other areas.
“We know this is still a work in progress,” middle school math instructor Nancy Trow said. With a new math curriculum pending, many teachers will have to write new assessments, and Trow said the informal consensus among teachers was to not make changes to the system for the upcoming school year.
What teachers will focus on instead, she said, would be finding ways to show parents what it looks like.
Some teachers, Trow said, feel there should be less focus by students on the overall grade and more attention paid to individual assessment scores.
“If they get a three out of four or a two out of four (mastered standards), they ought to think about reassessing,’ she continued. “But if I’ve got an 89 percent (for the quarter), I’m not going to reassess.”
Martin questioned whether taking the quarter grade off PowerSchool would make the situation worse for parents who were already having a hard time understanding.
Trow said now that some students have had almost two full years under the system, “there’s more understanding going on all the way around.” In the upcoming years, she added, hopefully most of the questions will go away as familiarity with SBG increases.
Board President Dick Schwab suggested the district make its problems known to PowerSchool’s creator, Pearson.
Townsley said as more and more schools adopt SBG to align themselves with the state’s common core, there will be more of a voice collectively to talk with the software developer about possible improvements.
“I think we should be pushing pretty hard, because I think they’re pretty anxious to learn from us, and we could help them help us,” Schwab said.