BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A shift may be coming in how your students grades are reported in Fort Madison School District.
At Monday’s regular board meeting, the board heard from the district’s four building principals on how each school is migrating toward the new way of reporting student progress.
In other words, grades may eventually be a thing of the past.
Kim Harmon, the district’s curriculum director said the transition to a Standards Based Learning system was hung up with the COVID pandemic and the fluid nature of learning this year.
“It’s been an odd year in terms of learning, but one of the things is that out of all this, we have poised ourselves to take on the challenges this year has presented,” she said.
Harmon said the language will be new to parents and students, but educators have been having conversations for several years.
For years, teachers in the elementary school have used reporting systems like S for Satisfactory, S+ for students doing being than satisfactory. That system could be converted to a 1-4 point system where 1 would be no evidence of learning, 2 would indicate developing and three would be proficient. A 4th point is being considered for advanced students.
The points would be assessed on well-defined learning objectives and standards, Harmon said.
District elementary principals Adrian McKay and Tracy King both said the transition is underway and the shift will be somewhat easier at that level than the higher levels.
McKay said the elementary schools stayed with the 3-point system this year due to the pandemic’s impact on learning.
“We’re still in somewhat of a traditional level, despite not being focused on letter grades. We’re poised to shift to Standards Based Learning. We were on our way and didn’t realize it,” he said.
King said the system won’t only be used on the math, science and traditional coursework, but also on the PBIS systems so parents can see how their children are doing with respect to behaviors at school.
“Not only do they get the academics of it, but they get the social and emotional as well,” she said.
She said the goal is to ultimately get the new platforms to PowerSchool so it can be updated weekly.
Fort Madison Middle School president Todd Dirth said this first year was rough because the district’s online course vendor Canvass didn’t perform well in the PowerSchool platform.
“Canvass and PowerSchool didn’t play well together so the first trimester was a mess. Nothing worked out the way we wanted.”
But he said the school was in good shape to be able to move more fluidly now in the second and third trimesters since those problems have been identified.
“We’re in good shape to provide that evidence of proficiency – developing – proficient learning, we just need to know what, mechanically, it will take to get teacher data in (PowerSchool).
Fort Madison High School Principal Greg Smith said it’s a bit tougher for secondary educators to let go of traditional models of learning that interrupt their curriculum.
“Secondary teachers look at things differently and they focus so much on content it’s difficult to look at that and take things out. That’s a hurdle for us,” Smith said.
But he said a big plus of the program is that it takes the competition out of the process.
“One of the huge benefits is it takes the competition out of the school. It’s very black and white and specific to the standard. Kids will struggle with it at first, but in the long run they will feel like they are getting feedback that’s important to them and parents as well.”
Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater said the transition is a big process and the district will keep the board informed of the progress.
In other action, the board:
• set a hearing on Feb. 16, to move from tracking days of student instruction to instructional hours starting in the 2021-22 school year.
• approved a request for travel for FMHS welding instructor Chris Bolander to a welding competition in Nevada, Mo. for Jan. 28-29.