Eagle County Schools begins making changes to grading practices to ensure greater equity, student success
District’s superintendent calls process ‘one of the most challenging, but important, changes we can make as an organization’
Over the past few years, Eagle County Schools has made strides to address disparities between students and create equity across its processes.
By prioritizing equity, the district hopes to create safe, inclusive and welcoming learning environments for every student, regardless of background.
“When we talk about equitable access, opportunities and outcomes, equitable doesn’t mean we’re expecting the same thing of everybody,” said Superintendent Philip Qualman. “What this means is we want to give everybody the same doors, the same access to opportunities, the same supports if they need them, to be successful.”
And when it comes to identifying where the district is falling short, Qualman said that this equity work was about examining the district’s own practices.
“What we seek to do is to examine our own practices, to see where we can make adjustments as the adults in the system to improve outcomes for kids,” he said. “We ask every school, every employee, every student to join us in that process so that we evolve to become a more inclusive and compassionate school community.”
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As part of this work, led in large part by Tia Luck, the district’s equity coordinator, Eagle County Schools has identified three key priorities around equity. These three areas include creating equitable grading practices, building a sense of belonging for all staff and students, and promoting youth voice.
While the district has been discussing changes to promote equity in each of these areas for some time, it is making changes to address each priority as it kicks off the school year.
Equitable grading practices
One of the district’s biggest priorities going into the next three years is re-envisioning and standardizing the way that all its schools and teachers grade students.
Qualman called this process “one of the most challenging, but important, changes we can make as an organization.”
According to Luck, the district intends to move toward “aligned, effective practices that dignify our students by telling them exactly where they are at academically and what they need to be successful.”
There are a few reasons the district is making these changes. Currently, Luck said, the district has “traditional outcomes in grades,” meaning that there are variances between demographic groups like gender, race, disability and socioeconomic status.
Going forward, “It’s important that we make sure that our practices aren’t creating that predictability,” she said.
Additionally, through a teacher survey conducted in February, the district identified that there was large variability in the way that teachers were grading, not only between schools and grade levels, but between classrooms at the same school, in the same grade level. This variance included different practices around whether or not homework or soft skills were included in an overall grade as well as variance on whether or not students could redo assessments.
Making sure there is consistency in grading between all schools and classrooms in the district will make it “meaningful from class to class,” Luck said.
The final reason the district is making changes is to improve student and teacher relationships. According to Luck, a strong relationship is one of the “most highly effective predictors on student achievement” and added that “traditional grading practices sometimes undermine that relationship,” by being punitive in nature.
This year — which is the first in the district’s three-year trajectory on changing these practices — all schools, classrooms and teachers will be working to issue grades based on academic proficiency and to build a culture of revision.
What this means in practice is that with grades given, students should have an expectation of what that grade means against grade-level expectations. Luck said this means eliminating grading on student behavior in classrooms but rather evaluating if they are learning what they should be learning.
With the culture of revision, this means giving students the opportunity to improve the understanding and to “keep learning until you reach your highest level of proficiency,” Luck said.
Not only that, but Qualman added that “the learning process should include error and that should be OK.”
Allowing students to engage in a learning process where students understand where they went wrong, where they get the opportunity to improve it and where they take that opportunity is the goal, he said.
These practices will set the district up for its next change to its grading practices — which is in the plans for the next school year. Starting in the 2022-23 academic year, the district intends to move to a consistent grade scale using a 0 to 4 grading scale across the district.
Luck called this system a more accurate way of showing where students are at in their learning.
Qualman said there was both a mathematical and logical reason for the change. Not only will this solve consistency issues across the district, but it will train kids from a young age to understand the GPA scale that colleges use. And mathematically, the traditional 0 to 100 scale sets aside 60% of the scale for failure, where in this 0 to 4 scale every grade has the same proportional value.
“Why would we implement a system where the majority of your opportunity in that class is around failure,” Qualman said.
In the third year of its plan, or the 2023 to 2024 school year, the district will focus on making sure all grading systems are aligned and represent the standards students are learning.
“We want our practices to promote the most aspirational thinking of what our students are capable of as learners, regardless of their background,” Luck said.
Belonging and youth voice
The district’s equity work over the next few years will also focus on creating a sense of belonging and promoting youth voice in decision making.
According to Luck, creating a sense of belonging is “at the heart of what equity is for us.”
Some of the ways the district is tracking this is through evaluating whether students respect each other’s differences, whether classroom materials reflect the cultural backgrounds of its students and whether students feel like an important part of their classroom.
To build this up, every school in the district has an equity team that is focused on creating inclusive environments. The district is also working with deep equity consultants to identify other areas for improvement and is aligning this work with its wellness and mental health work.
The third priority, youth voice, is centered on the idea that by increasing student engagement and promoting leadership opportunities, students will have a greater chance at success.
This year, some of the ways the district plans to promote this is through increasing student participation with school board meetings and the grading committee, having students address teachers in a formal capacity and also through programs like the Youth Voice Board of Education and individual school student leadership opportunities.
“If we listen to kids and what their experiences are, they will be more successful,” Luck said.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at email@example.com.