Teachers speak out against standards based grading at Osseo Schools

Osseo School District teachers ranging from early educators to high school instructors packed the Osseo school board chamber Tuesday night to rally against what one instructor called a "broken system."  

Teachers say the district is requiring educators to take on time-consuming assessments for which they haven't been trained and is requiring them to measure students' success using standards based grading, which they say sets students up to fail. 

Nancy Sibley is a first grade teacher at Birch Grove Elementary, and she told 12 News she and her colleagues are constantly being forced to do different assessments that take their focus away from teaching.

"I’m running around trying to assess each student because first graders have to be assessed individually.  But that means out of 24 students I’m zeroed in on one, and the other 23, what are they doing?" said Sibley.  "As a first grade teacher I feel like I’m continually assessing children and not teaching the children."

Secondary teachers complained about standards based grading.  Osseo Area Schools is in the second year of a three-year implementation of this grading system that is designed to make grades and assessments more meaningful, accurate and consistent.  

The teachers at the school board meeting spoke out about the limitations of grading students on a scale of zero to four and the frustrations of having to allow students to retake tests and turn in late assignments.  

"Teachers are seeing final grades that do not accurately measure student learning," said Shawn Johnson, teacher at Osseo Senior High School.  "Grades have been pushed to the center; few A's and few F's."

"What we’re doing is we’re giving hope to the students who don’t turn in work and don’t meet the standards, and we’re removing hope for the students who excel," said Maple Grove Senior High School teacher Jennifer Larson.

Echoing those sentiments was a stack of 755 letters, written by equally frustrated teachers and presented to the board.  Some teachers who spoke at the meeting asked the school board for help in the form of time, more resources, and support to carry out these policies and programs.  Others asked for the district to make changes to the grading system.

"There were a couple of things that I heard that I thought were discouraging," said Osseo Superintendent Kate Maguire.  She acknowledged that teachers are working harder than they ever have before.

"It's much more complex than it used to be because we're much more compelled now to help all students meet high standards," said Maguire.  "That's the complexity you heard."

Maguire mentioned that without additional state funding, the district doesn't have the resources to ease the teachers' workload.  She said if the district doesn't pass a levy or get additional state funding soon, the district will likely have to make staff cuts that will put extra burden on the teachers who remain.

While she didn't say whether the school board would address the teachers' concerns at its next meeting, Maguire said the district will try to work with the teachers to make any necessary changes to the system.  But she said the overall goal of standards based grading won't change.

"We want all of our students to be able to meet rigorous expectations so that they can go on to post secondary education or career," said Maguire.

Renee Banot

January 23, 2013


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