Ever wondered what school would be like without letter grades? In Martin County, that’s the reality for elementary-aged students -- instead of getting letter grades like “A’s,” “B’s” or “C’s,” students get “M’s,” “P’s,” and “N’s.” If the concept sounds unfamiliar, it’s because it’s not widely used in Florida. The new grading system has left Martin County’s school system all shook up -- and parents aren’t too happy about it.
In the past, students in Martin County used to get the same regular old letter grades that have been used for countless years. “A’s” and “B’s” were the norm. But since 2011, Martin County has changed tracks in the way it grades its elementary school students. Now, all elementary school students get graded based on their “level of progression.”
“Students will understand more about their own learning and what they need to do to be successful,” said Martin County Superintendent Laurie Gaylord.
Students receive one of four “progression” grades as part of Martin County’s “Standards Based Grading”: Mastering Grade Level Standard (a student has mastered the grade level standard), Progressing Toward Mastery of Grade Level Standard (the student is approaching or progressing toward mastery of the grade-level standard), Not Mastering Grade Level Standard (the child has not yet mastered the standard) or Blank (the student has not yet been assessed).
Sample report cards show students will be given the new grades based on being able to complete certain tasks in each subject. For English Language Arts, kindergarteners are assessed on whether they can identify the front and back cover of books. Fifth-graders are graded on whether they’re able to identify themes in texts.
In science, second-graders are evaluated on whether they can identify objects and materials as solids, liquids or gases.
Initially, only grades K-2 participated in the Standards Based Grading system, but that all changed this school year when the district extended the grading system to grades 3 to 5, which means all of Martin County’s elementary students are finished with the traditional grading scale.
Martin County says the new grading is a better way for students to learn and grants teachers the opportunity to actually teach to concepts instead of teaching to tests.
"It’s no longer teach test move on" said James Adcock, MCSD's public information officer. "it’s more based on what students know and what they are able to do.
"It allows students who may be struggling in math, for instance, more time to learn before moving on to more complex problems."
Reports last year said many parents weren't happy over the changes. TCPalm reported in October that several parents were concerned over using SBG over the traditional grading scale.
“Since when did a “C” put him right where he needed to be?” asked Rhonda Flynn about her son’s “P” grade.
But Adcock cited a survey of students and parents which said most were generally in favor of the new grading scale.
Out of the 5,000 elementary school students surveyed, 84 percent said they felt SBG had helped them.
Over two-thirds of parents -- 65 percent -- said the SBG report card informed them of their child’s progress, but Adcock did not say how many parents were surveyed.
The topic of Standards Based Grading was a hot issue during this week’s school board meeting. Members talked for nearly an hour about the pros and cons of the grading system and heard feedback from parents and teachers about the standards based grading.
There was no action item on the meeting’s agenda, however. It appears as if the grading is here to stay. In other states, the grading system has been implemented in higher grades, all the way through high school.
Adcock did tell Sunshine State News that Martin County had no intention of extending SBG for grades higher than K-5.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen