Rochester dumps anything goes experimental grading system

Even educators can learn their lessons, though all too often at the expense of students. After 30 some years of failed fads led to embarrassingly low reading test scores statewide, this year the Minnesota Department of Education suddenly embraced legislation that effectively mandates schools revert to the formerly unfashionable but effective technique of teaching reading through phonics. The ob-vi-ous solution all along.

A similar epiphany has hit the educrats at Rochester Public Schools, just in time for the resumption of fall classes. After a disastrous experiment with a trendy new approach to student assessment called “Grading for Learning,” RPS has announced a return to traditional methods of grading based largely on test results and papers.

Some disillusioned teachers dubbed the failed experiment “Grading for Apathy” for reasons outlined in the Post Bulletin.

Rochester Public Schools rolled out Grading For Learning over the course of several years before it became fully implemented in the 2020-21 school year.

Far from being a silver bullet, Grading For Learning became a flash point of controversy. Among other features of the system, it didn’t allow homework to be counted in students’ grades. Meanwhile, it did allow students to retake exams multiple times, deincentivizing the need for them to prepare.

No credit for homework or class participation, open-ended opportunities to take tests. What could go wrong? There’s nothing flashy about the system being implemented this fall, but students will get credit for the effort they put into learning and no longer get away with gaming the system.

So what does the new grading framework look like moving forward?

Firstly, summative assessments — which include things like final tests and final papers — have to account for 70%-100% of students’ grades.

[RPS Superintendent Ken] Pekel said the range in the percentage is to allow for teacher discretion while also providing parameters that students will be able to anticipate.

“The majority of what students are getting as a grade in middle and high school classes is the result of their final demonstration of the knowledge and skills that they’ve learned,” Pekel said.

A few remnants of the discredited grading system will survive the transition to the more traditional student assessment model returning this fall. But nothing like before.

While students can’t have as many exam retakes as they would like, they will have the opportunity to retake a summative exam at least once within two weeks of the original test.

The new framework, Pekel said, resulted from work group as well as the results of a survey of the teachers in the district. Pekel said that survey resulted in thousands of comments from teachers.