How this Gainesville charter school does standards-based grading

Livi Stanford

An “A” rated charter school in Alachua Fla does not employ a traditional A-F grading system. Indeed, when Boulware Springs Charter School opened in 2014, the school’s principal, Kay Abbitt, implemented a standards-based report card.

Students may bring home report cards that are 11 pages long, as opposed to a traditional one-page grade sheet. Parents can see which specific learning goals their children mastered and which need more work.

Boulware grades students on scale of 1-4, with 4 meaning mastery, on each standard. The score of 1 means the student is a novice, 2 means they are developing the standard, and 3 is approaching mastery.

As a result, students receive more than one grade in each subject area. For example, in kindergarten reading, a report card breaks down how a student mastered standards such as using frequently occurring nouns and verbs and printing upper- and lowercase letters.   Once students leave the K-5 school, it must convert their grades back to an A-F system.

Elementary schools elsewhere in Florida have employed standards-based grading for years. But a bill’s death in the waning days of Florida’s legislative session may hamper efforts to create similar grading systems for middle- and high-school students.

RedefinED spoke with Abbitt about standards-based grading. See a sample report card from the charter school embedded below.

How effective is this grading method?We have been doing it for four years. I opened the school with my daughter Megan Lane. My daughter came to me and said we need to do standards-based grading. There haven’t been any problems or issues. If you are {grading} the traditional way everything is based on {the amount of time they spend in class}. We can look at kids who master standards and they can move on. We have four fourth graders who have been in a fifth-grade classroom doing fifth grade work all year. The learning becomes more personalized. Teachers can look at the standards and see who mastered the standards. It is very visible to see what standards they covered and which ones they didn’t.

Why are the standards-based report cards more effective in helping parents gauge their child’s progress than an A-F report card?

It helps because it provides guidance to the parents who want to help at home because they know exactly what to work on. They have more of a growth mindset and feel like anything that happens can be improved. Teachers are more honed in on what they can teach to help students master their skills.

Why should someone choose this method of grading as opposed to the traditional A-F method?

This is a wealth of information the parents are getting. It is a wealth of information for the teacher. It makes me feel like I am accountable, and I can look at that and can say, ‘I covered that standard.’ It is making sure we are checking off and doing what we are supposed to be doing.

When you implemented the standards-based grading method four years ago, how did parents react?

It takes some adjustment on the parents’ part. Parents are asking. Can you give me an average grade? Every year we have a parent night where we go through the grading. We show samples of report cards. We have parents ask questions.

Does this new system change the discussion at the kitchen table between parents and their children?

You are speaking about numbers instead of letters. The biggest change is the fact that parents know exactly what their child is not able to do. If a parent sees a C they have to figure out what he is not doing well. But with the standards-based grading the parent can look and see, for example, (my son) can’t compare and contrast because he only got a 2. I am going to work on comparing and contrasting with him.

What is the hardest thing about implementing the grading system?

A: The biggest difficulty is we are alone, and we are just on an island by ourselves. It would be so nice if it was something everyone did, and it did not seem so foreign.

Sample report card Boulware

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