Nashua district enters world of competency-based grading

Students will soon be receiving new report cards with slews of scores that reflect their knowledge and abilities in each course.  The school district is piloting the new competency-based grading system that will track academic progress and provide a detailed a picture of each student’s performance in each subject. Rather than just a single letter grade, students will receive multiple scores on their understanding of different aspects of a subject and their level of ability based on a system-wide set of expectations or standards.

Teachers and administrators have held several workshops with the Board of Education to explain competency-based grading. While board members support the goals of the new system, there are some questions of how it will affect the growing workload for teachers and how students and parents will adjust to the new report cards.  “Competency-based grading will increase the standardization and reduce the variability among teachers,” said David Goldswith, head of the Social Studies department at Nashua High South.

Many students and parents have seen how different teachers who are offering the same course give different grades based on a variety of subjective factors. Students may be able to earn A’s without much trouble in one teacher’s classroom while students in another class may struggle for a B- in the same course.  And in a lot of cases, it’s not clear how a teacher decides a student has earned an A or an F.  Competency-based grading relies on a common set of four or five expectations, or competencies, for each course. For example, a competency in Algebra 1 might include the ability to demonstrate how to manipulate and solve equations using different techniques.

BOE member Dotty Oden asked about teachers who had classes with significant numbers of students who may require credit recovery plans under the new system.  Goldwith said competency-based grading will be more work for teachers, but the change is needed to keep pace with wave of education reforms taking place to better prepare students for college and careers.  “The reality is that now, grading isn’t the end,” said Goldwith. “It’s the beginning of how we get students to a level of mastery.”

Read the entire article by Barbara Taormina in the Union Leader at http://www.unionleader.com/article/20140123/NEWS04/140129620

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