Four-day week and standards referenced grading discussed at community forum

Big Horn County School District No. 1 school officials addressed the public Thursday evening in a community forum on two transformative proposals for the school district.

The first is the implementation of a four-day week, a schedule officials state is a better fit for the district which sees numerous students absent from its halls Fridays due to athletics. If approved, the changes will take effect in the 2020-2021 school year, the year after next.

The second is changing the grading system for the entire district to standards referenced grading, a system that throws out the A-F rubric commonly used and replaces it with a system officials said will give parents and teachers more information about what their students have learned. 

Ryan Fitzmaurice photo
Ben Smith addresses parents’ concerns about implementing a four-day week within Big Horn School District No. 1. School officials addressed the public at Rocky Mountain High School Thursday night to discuss changes being considered for the district. 

Superintendent Ben Smith said the District is currently interested in modeling a four-day schedule off the schedules of Laramie County School District No. 2 and Converse  County School District No. 2. 

If modeled after those districts’ schedules, the shortened week will result in longer school days for elementary, middle and high schools for the district, with the school day running roughly from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“The thing that drove (the four-day week discussion) to begin with was the impact of our Fridays with activities, particularly at the secondary level,” Smith said. “When we have teams gone, it just leaves very few students in the building for instruction during that time.”

Burlington has as few as 25 students walking the halls on some Fridays, Smith said. 

Fridays in the two districts being examined are active, with students coming into school Friday to do remediation work or work for their enrichment. 

“Your Fridays are structured significantly different from your regular schooldays. Teachers will have the opportunity then to reteach,” Smith said. “If students are struggling with a particular standard, a particular outcome that they’re working, it gives them that opportunity to come and get some additional support that is more focused. It gives teachers the opportunity to teach it differently maybe than what they were able to do Monday through Thursday.”

In Converse School District No. 1, the school day consists of seven periods of 55 minutes a day with 25 minutes set aside for independent study and academic support. In Laramie 2, there are eight periods of 49 minutes a day, with 30 minutes set aside for independent study and academic support. 

Districts, according to the state, are free to organize their schedule as they choose to, as long as elementary schools have 900 hours of instruction a year, middle schools 1050, and highschools 1100. 

Members of public attending raised several concerns regarding the proposal, including the amount of work time that would be lost by staff, the impact on elementary students, whether buses will still be running and the impact on students who join with Powell athletic teams. 

Smith told those present that the four-day week was not a cost saving measure, although some funds would be saved by not hiring substitutes on Friday. Instructional and maintenance staff will likely still come in on Friday. Cooks may still come in if it’s deemed necessary for the school to provide a meal on Fridays. The possibility of running bus routes is still being examined. 

Smith noted that conflicts with Powell swimming and soccer do exist, and that the issue would have to be taken into consideration. 

In districts that have a four-day week, surveys by parents with students at the elementary school level are largely positive, Smith said. 

“They support the four-day week because of that (additional) time they get with their family,” Smith told those present. 

Standards referenced grading

During the same school year the district is considering  moving to a four-day week, the district is looking to implement standards referenced grading district wide.

The initiative comes after the switch to standards referenced grading was called for in the district’s strategic plan, which was passed in 2017. Standards referenced grading has been used in the district’s elementary school’s for the past two years. 

“The goal is to improve student learning,” administrator Ryan Boettcher told those assembled.

In standards referenced grading, the rubric of A-F is discarded and students are then ranked on a four point scale on each learning objective in a class. A 1.0 would mean a student lacks understanding of a subject while a 3.0 would indicate that a student is proficient. A 4.0 would indicate a student is performing above proficiency. 

A teacher’s goal will be to get every student to a 3.0 in when it comes to every academic standard. 

 The most successful element of standards referenced grading is that it solely reflects academic understanding and not behaviors or other elements. 

“So, if you get a 2.5 that means you’ve demonstrated some of that skill but not all of it. As a parent, if you saw a 2.5, you’d know they got the basics down, but they’re not quite there yet,” Boettcher said,  “Opposed to an 85. What does that tell you about that skill? What’s figured into that? I don’t know. 150 points extra credit for bringing in cans for the food drive? That’s what we’re taking out.”

The system would bring a significant change into not only how grades are determined but about how behavior problems are managed in the school district. For example, Boettcher said that not turning in assignments will likely no longer be reflected in the grade, nor will tardies or acting out in class,  because adding those into the mix would reflect behavior and not academic understanding. 

“The most accurate academic achievement reporting is those that separating academic achievement from behaviour reporting,” Boettcher said. “So if the student fails to turn in work, we don’t give him a zero and bring his grade way down, we have other means to do that, that’s one of the things we’re developing in our schools, how are those things going to look. The goal is student learning.”

Boettcher said a citizenship grade, already in place in the district, will instead be used to manage and report on such behaviors.

Grades are also not set in stone in the system, with students encouraged to work with teachers to relearn and retake assessments in order to demonstrate their learning of a topic. Students will work with teachers on forming a contract which will specify what instruction they will undergo and what they will have to relearn in order to retake an assessment, Smith said. 

“Every one of us have different learning styles and different personalities and we all don’t get it at the same time,” Smith said.

“Whether students get it on day one or day 33, it doesn’t matter,” Boettcher added. “As long as our teachers are making sure students get it.”

Those at the meeting expressed concerns that the grading system would give students more leeway to not take responsibility for their learning and that the system would privilege underperforming students over high-performing students. 

Rocky Mountain Elementary Principal Karma Sanders said the system has made a positive difference in her school. The system shifts a school’s attention away from grading and toward learning, Sanders said, and that’s where
a school’s attention needs to be.

“It’s what we’re familiar with that we get a little panicky about (losing), but it’s really about learning,” Sanders said.  “Are we making sure that kids learn? That kids know and are able to do what is expected of them so they are successful?  We are focused way too much on grading in this country.”

By Ryan Fitzmaurice