Federal Way parents say kids are flunking classes due to new grading system

FEDERAL WAY — It’s a controversial new grading system that is causing a lot of anger. The Federal Way School District in September scrapped letter grades; now they are measuring achievement through a number system.

Parents and students are beyond upset. They call it complicated and unfair and even kids who are normally straight “A” students say their academic future is in jeopardy.

SchoolsTodd Beamer High senior Megan Anderson says she usually gets A’s in her classes but this year she has no idea how she is doing.

“It’s hard to know at this point,” Anderson said.

Instead of A’s or F’s, it’s now 4’s and 1’s.

“The way the numbers fall, if they start off really well and they have 4,4,4,4 and they have a bad day and get a 2, it’s done — they cannot get higher than a C for the rest of the semester,” parent Carrie Newcombe said.

The new grading system tracks a student’s progress throughout the year and no longer allows test scores to be averaged. Parents say it’s causing their kids to flunk.

“In one of his classes he has a 4, 4, 1, 3, 2, 4, 4; his grade is an F so I don’t know how that equates. If you average it out it’s a 3.1,” parent Camille Perry said.

Marie Verhaar with Federal Way Public Schools says the old grading system was often subjective and failed to pinpoint areas of need.

“In the days of old when we gave an 80%, it wasn’t always clear what 20% of that information the student did not know,” Verhaar said.

They say the new 4 to 1 grading system comes with specific target areas.

“Teachers are designing their assignments, designing their instructions in their assignments around those standards,” Verhaar said.

But parents and students say those standards are unrealistic.

“It was a huge mistake on the district,” Newcombe said.

“They have good intentions but the way it’s actually implemented with the numbers doesn’t play out as it needs to,” Federal Way High junior Daanish Khazi said.

“There are many children that will suffer irreparably,” parent Cristi Frederickson-Willis said.

The school district says a year and a half worth of research is behind their decision to change the grading system. Anderson just hopes it won’t affect her chances of getting into her dream college.

“Applying to college is stressful enough, and (now) having to worry about one more thing,” Anderson said.

The school district says it is listening to the concerns and it is in the process of sending out surveys. Many parents say that is not enough, they want the new grading system to stop and to stop now.

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7 comments

  • branden puetz

    This story is moot, this grading system has been in effect for years in Snohomish county and works just fine.. our high schools are still letter grades but the elementary and I believe the middle schools use 4-1 and it reflects how they are doing in each subject even social skills and behavior I believe they will like it after time

    • Cristi, FWPS Parent

      Snohomish may be using Standards based grading, which many of us Federal Way parents have no issue with. Our issue is that we are, in fact, the only entire school district in the nation using the standards based grading with the Power Law algorithm. The district also implemented this system without the proper amount of training for teachers and administrators. The district is now doing NOTHING to fix the training and communication issues that have ensued. This district has changed the grading system three times in the past four years, with this current system is actually causing even some of the most advanced students in our district to see their grades fall. So, unfortunately this story is ANYTHING but moot! The district is not putting the best interests of each and every student in this diverse district first, and for that they must be held accountable!

  • Angela, FWPS parent

    Hana, your time to interview parents and students today is appreciated. I would like to request a correction of the statement in your article that Federal Way scrapped letter grades in September [2013]. Federal Way high school transcripts have always reflected traditional letter grades and GPA. Since Standards-Based Education was implemented in Federal Way Public schools, varying combinations of 1’s and 0’s (i.e. Pass/Fail) or 1,2,3,4 (similar to F,C,B,A) have been translated into letter grades.
    Our students’ grades are calculated at three levels: individual assessments, individual Priority Standards comprised of assessments, and an overall course grade calculated by the Priority Standard Matrix. The underlying granularity and formulas at each level that produce these course grades have been revised three times in the past 4 years. The multi-layer formulas are not easily understood by students, parents, and oftentimes staff.
    The uproar by parents this school year is over the application of an unproven statistical formula called the Power Law based on a theory published in “Transforming Classroom Grading,” Marzano (2000). Parents’ research has established that the theory has never been tested on a high school curriculum anywhere in the United States to produce official high school transcripts. Two independent community members have demonstrated by statistical analysis that the equation currently applied undervalues approximately 30% of grades. It is a formula that “predicts growth over time” on a slope. It is a prediction of what a student will likely perform on the next assessment, not a reflection of what the student has achieved thus far. Check out an interactive example at http://activegrade.com/blog/2010/11/using-a-power
    Parents have highlighted examples where one low assessment by a consistent academic performer (graded as a ‘1’ or a ‘2’) triggers the formula to predict a negative trend. Like Todd Beamer High School student, Megan Anderson, explained in her full interview, she is not sure if she is going to end up with a ‘C’ at the end of the semester due to one low assessment towards the end of the marking period, or if she is going to receive the ‘A’ she believes more accurately reflects her overall performance.
    Parents and students with whom I’ve connected agree wholeheartedly with Mrs. Verhaar that students should be assessed in a manner that demonstrates they meet or exceed every standard for a course in order to move on to the next level. We agree with this premise of Standards-Based Education. However, the call for action right now is to turn off the unproven theoretical predictive Power Law that has been demonstrated by community members to undervalue approximately 30% of grades involving 3 or 4 assessments.
    I sincerely hope FWPS school district administrators and the FWPS Board of Education will make a timely decision to divorce the district’s position on the current Grading System from the commitment to “stay the course” with Standards-Based Education. Parents, students and staff are ready to offer practical solutions to safeguard students’ official transcripts this semester and prevent miscalculated grades from impacting future opportunities.

  • FWPS Parent

    I think we can all agree that standard's based education is here to stay and I think we can live with a 1-4 grading system. What I don't think the families of Federal Way are prepared to live with is a system that applies a complicated algorithm to the earned grades that may undervalue their student's achievements at the end of the semester. I want my children to be able to attend the colleges of their dreams by earning the best grades possible. I don't want the algorithm to impact, not only the final grade outcome, but the stress level of each student who can't predict where his/her grades will land.

  • Jen FWPS parent

    I am also a parent of fwps students in elementary and middle school. The explanation given to me was that when a student has mastered a concept for the first time it is not given as much weight as if they have mastered it a second or third time. They may be given a 4 or a 3 on their first attempt at proving their knowledge of a particular standard but they have actually learned it and/or stored it in long term memory if they are able to do it again and also get a 3 or 4. When students cram before a test are they showing that they really know it or are they showing they can remember for 24 hours? I think this way of grading is difficult but possibly instills more consistency in our children and could result in knowledge that sticks. The unfortunate thing is having teachers who allow one make-up. That has the possibility of guaranteeing a lower grade if they do poorly on the make-up test. The best scenario is teachers who allow as many make-ups as you need to master a skill. It gives hope to students and empowers them to do their best. I don't think that in this short of a time we can have the fullest or clearest picture as to whether or not this grading system will be effective for our students.


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