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Proposed Grading System Getting Mixed Marks

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Following in the footsteps of Kalispell Junior High and Elementary Schools, Bigfork Middle and Elementary plan to change the way they grade students.

Wendy Miller moved with her three school-aged children to Bigfork from Charlotte, North Carolina three years ago, in part, to get away from the same grading policy now being proposed in Bigfork Elementary and Middle School.

"I found that over the course of the next couple of years, my children's motivation to really do their best really went down because they found very quickly that they could do this much work, and work really hard and get a P for proficient on their report card or they could do this much work and not work really hard and still get a P," said Miller.

Instead of assigning an averaged letter grade for an entire subject like math, Standards Based Grading assigns individual grades for each individual concept, such as multiplication tables and fractions.

Rather than the traditional A through F system, students will receive grades of Advanced Proficient, Proficient, Nearing Proficient, and Novice.

"What Proficiency means is that you can complete the skill that is asked of you at that grade level," said Matthew Jensen, the Principal of Bigfork Middle and Elementary School.

For those students that struggle to master certain concepts, Jensen suggests tailoring lesson plans to their specific needs via special workshops during the school day.

"It is a lot more work for teachers," said Jensen, "What I'm asking every teacher to do is not only keep track of the standards and each standard and each student and how they're doing in relationship to the standard, but also keep track of how they're doing as a student."

Jensen claims, though, the faculty fully supports the transition to a new grading system.

On the other hand, Miller still has misgivings, especially regarding the culture shock from moving from one system to another between middle and high school.

"Junior high school is meant, or middle school, is meant as preparation for high school, so how can they be prepared to have a measuring stick using letter grades when they've never experienced that before," said Miller.

On September 18, the school board will vote to approve or postpone the decision on the new grading policy. If it is approved, it will only apply to third trimester of the 2013-2014 school year, and then only to English and Math classes.

Jensen says that the two schools in Kalispell using standards based grading adopted the new policy almost three years ago.

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