Area schools replace traditional grades with colors, numbers and symbols

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WINNEBAGO COUNTY, Wis. Parents say they're confused after schools in the area say they've started to make the move from A's and B's to a "target-based grading scale." This means teachers would use colors, numbers or symbols instead of traditional grades.

Garth Larson helped guide both Winneconne and Neenah school districts develop a target-based grading system.

"On a test a student no longer gets a 88 percent. Instead they have very clear objectives that they want to accomplish, and they're going to get proficiency-related scores as a result of that," said Larson, president of First Educational Resources in Oshkosh.

Those proficiency scores come in the form of colors, numbers or symbols. Neenah School District officials say they use a color code of red, yellow and green to measure how well a student is understanding material. Green would mean a student is proficient, while red means the student needs to work on the concept.

"The scale is confusing and it's difficult to explain,” said Amber Demerath, parent of a Neenah High School Freshman. “I've had it explained to me multiple times at conferences this year and I still don't fully understand it.”

The Neenah School District says only some teachers are using the target-based color-coded grading system right now, but by the 2019-2020 academic school year that system will be implemented for all middle and high school students.

Larson says typically those codes will be calculated into a final grade at the end of the year.

"Most high schools that I've been fortunate enough to work with across North America are still using some type of a conversion to say, 'Alright, the student is getting you know this level of proficiency,' but on the back end there's some type of a conversion, so there's still a letter achievement score," Larson adds.

"If we're just going to bounce back and translate back to the A through F scale, then why are we doing the green, yellow, red in the first place?" Demerath asks.

Even though it may be confusing to some, Larson says the system was designed to help students who don't understand what they're learning get a second chance.

"So if they weren't proficient yet, they can go through a re-learning process and be able to demonstrate that and they're actually not going to be penalized for not getting it the first time. They're actually going to be able to recover from that and actually demonstrate proficiency on like what we call a reassessment, so a retake," said Larson.

Even with some doubting of the system, Demerath agrees a second chance is a positive change in learning.

"I think that's beneficial that a child gets a second chance, you know there's always extenuating circumstances," says Demerath.

Meanwhile, the Winneconne Community School District already fully implemented the target-based grading using numbers and sees positive results.

"We feel like kids are leaving going, 'I really understand whatever it is I need to learn,' so for them they have the ability to actually recognize what they're going to be learning, how they're going to be assessed, and then the ability to reassess if necessary," said Peggy Larson, District Administrator for the Winneconne Community School District.