Dysart Unified tests new way to grade

District using pilot program for standards-based system


Students traditionally receive grades that are averaged over the course of the semester.

But research shows standards-based grading changes the mindset of whether the student mastered what was needed.

Dr. Shelley Isai, the administrator for curriculum, instruction and assessment for the Dysart Unified School District, said districts that have switched to standards-based grading have seen a reduction in stress and anxiety in kids. Plus, she said it helps them to focus on learning and not to worry about a numerical formula.

Students are mainly graded from assessments. Homework and projects are still assigned, but teachers use the work to give feedback.

The tasks are placed into the gradebook but don’t factor into the overall grade. A low mastery score isn’t worrisome as other mastery evidence will be collected throughout the course of the semester.

“Standards-based grading we find, if it’s imposed by the district, it gets done in name only and we want to make a philosophical mindshift,” Ms. Isai said. “Not just racking numbers up to figure out how to get extra credit doing things that have nothing to do with math to get to a passing grade.”

Utilizing a proficiency scale encourages kids to examine their own work and understand attributes they need in order to score high on a 1-to-4 scale.

A “1” is “minimally proficient” and means the student is still working to understand the standard.

A “2” is “partially proficient,” signalling the student is still working to master the standard.

A “3” is “proficient” and means the student has mastered all parts of the standard.

A “4” signals the student’s knowledge of the standard goes above the state’s mastery level.

Kids can challenge themselves, build differentiation and find direction to know what is needed to meet profi ciency.

“Students have the ability to analyze their own work and talk about what is needed to be collegeand career-ready,” Ms. Isai said. “Students will be able to evaluate their work and engage in critical thinking.”

Ms. Isai gave an example of benchmark data for an ELA class currently in the pilot program at Shadow Ridge High School, 10909 Perryville Road.

She said students can use their own data to pick the path and do the extra work and lay the foundation.

“ Then, it requires a lot on our side of the house on curriculum and instruction and looking at if we have the tools to get students to “ 2” or “ 3,” and it requires a subjective analysis and the writing component,” Ms. Isai said. “ We have to think about how we assess kids in the pilot group and how can we use more points in our assessment to measure what they know.”

Ms. Isai said kids learn at different times and the system currently used has never really represented that — as all kids take the same unit test on the same day.

“With this model, if we are going to grade on the more recent grade in writing and someone got a “2” in September and now he is at a “4,” then we are giving them the grade they are demonstrating proficiency on,” she said.

The theory of grading the work and moving on and leaving some kids behind must end, she said.

Dysart believes equipping all kids with standards- based learning will ensure success at the next level.

The pilot was originally set for three years, but district officials said it would likely be extended to five in order to collect proper data to ensure success for all students.

Editor’s note: Ms. Jimenez is a regular contributor to Surprise Independent.