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Change not always best

We’ve heard several arguments in support of the standards-based reporting system being used at the Denton school district’s Hawk Elementary School, but we’re not convinced that the new system merits a passing grade.

The standards-based reporting system means that students no longer get numerical averages or letter grades on report cards or schoolwork.

Instead, students are rated on their knowledge of essential skills that must be learned to advance to the next grade level.

Ratings range from 1 to 3 for students in kindergarten through second grade, and 1 to 4 for students in third, fourth and fifth grade.

Ratings are: 1, insufficient progress; 2, making progress; and 3, meets expectations. A rating of 4 in grades three, four and five identifies a student who has exceeded expectations.

Hawk Elementary began the new system at the start of the 2012-13 school year, and it’s the only Denton school district campus using a standards-based reporting system schoolwide.

Principal Susannah O’Bara said the new system has increased accountability for everyone involved — students, teachers and administrators. Standards-based reporting, she told us, has allowed Hawk Elementary staff members to create “clear learning paths” for each student.

We also understand that the change was not made on a whim. A lot of research was conducted, and the research proved that this was the direction to take, O’Bara told us.

More than three years ago, the school stopped issuing numerical grades on homework and looked at it as an independent practice, she added. Instead of numerical grades, teachers wrote feedback on homework assignments so that students learned if they understood the homework and the areas where they might need improvement.

Launched at Hawk Elementary in the 2011-12 school year, the standards-based report card was distributed to students in second through fifth grades as a supplement with traditional report cards. In April 2012, the Denton school board voted 7-0 to pilot the standards-based reporting system at Hawk Elementary beginning with the 2012-13 year.

Currently, throughout the district, standards-based report cards are distributed in grades kindergarten through second grade.

There’s a plan to extend the model to all elementary grade levels within the next several years, according to district officials.

At the district level, a standards-based reporting model is being created for third-graders and will be used in the 2013-14 year. Work on creation of a districtwide standards-based report card for fourth-graders will begin next year, said Mike Mattingly, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and staff development. Kindergarten through fifth grade will be the focus for the standards-based reporting, he said.

O’Bara said it’s her staff’s goal, through use of the standards-based reporting, to help children understand their role as a participant in the learning process and to help them embrace learning.

She said they want their students to leave for secondary school prepared and with confidence that their role is to do their best and that the numerical grade won’t matter as much.

Helping children embrace learning is a worthwhile goal, a goal that should be encouraged in every way possible. But under the current grading system used in a majority of public schools, numerical grades do matter — a lot — and students need to learn that lesson.

That’s the way of the real world, and we believe we should be preparing our young people to compete.

Implementing the standards-based reporting system is a radical change, and it’s one that we’re not sure is necessary. Students have enough pressures to deal with in today’s system.

Why fix something that doesn’t seem to be broken?