BRIGHAM CITY — Students in the Box Elder School District can no longer earn A's on their report card — or F's for that matter.

A new grading system implemented this year for students in grades K-7 has school officials feeling optimistic, despite the headaches and confusion it's caused for both parents and teachers.

The new system is no longer based on letter grades or even percentages. Instead, students are scored from 0-4, with various degrees of proficiency.

While the numerals are the same, it is entirely different from both the standard grade-point system and the state core assessment.

A student who is considered proficient at grade level standards set by the teacher will be scored at a 3. A score of 4 means that student is performing above grade level. Similarly, students who score a 1 or 2 on the state core assessment are below grade level, which is not the case under a standards based assessment program.

Clark Funk, who teaches P.E. at Adele C. Young Intermediate in Brigham City, describes a 3 as meeting the grade level goals for the class, while a 2 indicates the student is "really close" and a 1 says the student is "kind of close."

Keith Kline, principal at Alice C. Harris Intermediate School in Tremonton, said for years, students have been graded on both academics and behavior.

Under the traditional grading system, a student's grade reflects not only his mastery of a topic, but also tardies, absences, missing homework or assignments turned in late.

This means many students may have 100 percent mastery of class material but didn't turn in the homework, resulting in a failing grade, said assistant superintendant and curriculum director Mary Kay Kirkland. Or, on the flip side, a student might complete all assignments and perform well on tests — but overall, they do not grasp the concept, even thought they scored well.

The district's new Standards Based Assessment allows behavior issues to be sorted away from academics, resulting in a more accurate reflection of a student's progress.

Those behaviors are still important, Kirkland said. But they need to be graded separately. Under the new system, participation, work completion, behavior and the ability to work in groups now appear on a student's report as "life skills." And the academic score is just that — a reflection of the students mastery of a concept.

While it sounds good in theory, it has been extremely confusing to parents and a lot more work for teachers.

Susan Petersen has had mixed feelings about the new program. As a sixth-grade teacher of world civilization, she classifies her experiences with this program as either "warm and fuzzy" or "pull your hair out."

Petersen finds it frustrating when there are so many students that she has difficulty helping the ones who need one-on-one attention. There are so many new procedures to learn all at once that Petersen said there have been many times she was "literally sobbing" at her desk.

But, she said, the warm and fuzzies come at "those great times when you know what you are doing is good for the kids."

Over time, Petersen said Standards Bases Assessment gives her a better idea of how a student is progressing. And part of the changes have included increased collaboration between teachers.

"We feel like one big team," she said.

In a recent school board meeting, board member Nancy Kennedy said her e-mail has been filled with messages with frustrated parents.

In addition to not understanding the new grading system, parental issues with the program include transition back to the letter grade system in middle school and high school, and meeting the needs of students who are working above grade level.

Parent Donovan Malone of Brigham City said he believes there are places where the school district is behind in the curriculum.

"(This grading system is) a huge step that will allow you to sling shot ahead," he said.

Other school districts are moving in that direction, Kirkland said. The transition to standards based assessment is part of the state curriculum. Logan School District is implementing the same program, while Cache School District is using a similar version and Weber School District is using their own program.

"When you change a 100-year-old system, you have to expect pushback," Kirkland said. "There have been some bumps in the road, but we're still excited."<

Kirkland and Kline have both said they are willing to meet with parents to explain the new system to them. Chris Churnous, principal at Adele C. Young Intermediate in Brigham City, said she has held two meetings specifically for parents, with less than 10 percent attendance.

"I would have them once a week if people would come," she said.


E-mail: a_macavinta@yahoo.com