DALLAS, Texas — Every kid imagines a school without test scores, grades, or even deadlines. Now, the Denton Independent School District (ISD) located north of Dallas is bringing that dream to life through a new grading policy that’s guaranteed to rock the report card for students in grade 6-12. The district voted on it last Spring and now it is rolling out in the name of accountability and retention.
That is right, it is all about what they remember, if they remember, because under the new guidelines they do not have to remember. Missing work will not get a big fat zero either. A student gets an “incomplete” and it is all okay as long as the work gets completed sometime during the nine-week grading period. Also,tests can be taken and retaken throughout the year. The highest grade will be recorded.
However, make no mistake, this experimental grading policy was intended not to lower standards but raise them by taking a huge bite out of high-stakes deadlines. There may not be real world consequences attached to late papers but the goal is reprioritize student learning and processing skills and in doing so, students will learn to take charge of their own learning.
It is a pilot program that Denton ISD superintendent, Dr. Jamie Wilson, defended in a lengthy statement on the Denton ISD website page “Secondary Grading System Changes.” He wrote, in part, “The result of this new grading concept is that our teachers want more, not less. They want more accountability for learning, more self-discipline for our students, and ultimately a better-prepared graduate. Time management skills and importance of deadlines will receive more attention, not less.”
That read like a riddle so for a more concrete understanding of Wilson’s declaration, how the district will accomplish this and the radical reality on the grading, tests and deadlines spin, Breitbart Texas spoke to Sharon Cox, Denton ISD Director of Communications.
She explained, “the idea was to help students become more motivated and accountable for their own learning no matter how quickly or slowly they learn .”
The premise was to make sure that the subject matter going in was actually sticking to the students. There is a fundamental principle of learning that suggests that it is through processing and not just memorizing that true learning happens.
Although the district recognizes the traditional rigmarole of deadlines, turning in assignments on time, test taking and grades are considered desirable behaviors and outcomes, it does not promise that a student has learned anything. It is the district’s hope to hold students to account with more than just a grade.
Wilson also wrote on the district’s webpage, “if students fail to meet deadlines or turn in work, our teachers will no longer simply accept laziness or irresponsibility. Students will be required to do the work. There will be consequences for such behavior; they will be working before school, after school, and other times when they have failed to meet learning requirements.”
Wilson continued, “Under a traditional reporting system, a student could take a zero and never learn the material. No longer will that be acceptable. Accountability for learning has been raised, not lowered.”
Cox added, “The unique part is that student have the opportunity if they don’t know their multiplication tables they can retake a test as a tool of continued learning.”
Although Breitbart Texas asked if just taking and retaking the test was a futile exercise until students get it right, Cox insisted that each time they take thatsame test, it forces them to better learn what they did not know.
She added it wasn’t about getting the “A,” it was about the meaningful learning behind that “A”. Likewise, Denton ISD is trying to use the test as a measurement of learning rather than just as it has been used as an instrument of outcomes and results.
Cox also explained that the program had been piloted in the district’s secondary schools for two years prior to this official roll out. “It’s a teacher initiated, teacher/student based collaboration and we not only studied the possibilities of the program on paper, we took it into the classroom,” she added.
Despite the hype, she noted that there will still be scheduled tests that are not on the redo list.
“All end-of-semester exams are final and will not fall under the same standards as course work issued during the nine week grading periods. Semester exams are, by design, reassessments and the grades earned reflect a cumulative mastery of the content standards,” the site also stated.
Yet, according to the Dallas Observer, some of the secondary schools in Denton ISD are finding ways around the grading policy by adjusting the guidelines to their own policies. For example, they cited “one high school limits students to five days after a grading cycle to turn in an assignment and after that point students are given a zero.”
It is too early to know whether this departure from the traditional grading will reflect the mastery of content that the district is trying to achieve or if this will set students up with a false sense of reality.
Follow Merrill Hope, an original member of the Breitbart Texas Team, on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.