Berkeley Co. Schools want to ditch traditional teaching and grades for personalized approach

Berkeley Co. Schools want to ditch traditional teaching and grades for personalized approach

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Two Berkeley County schools want to move away from the traditional grading system to a more personalized approach that will bring changes to classrooms and report cards.

Westview Primary and Westview Elementary schools plan to pilot a competency-based education program starting next school year.

It will begin with the 2nd grade class at Westview Primary and 3rd grade class at Westview Elementary for the 2019-2020 school year.

Then, the program will be implemented for the 1st grade class at Westview Primary and 4th grade class at Westview Elementary for the 2020-2021 school year.

Finally, kindergarteners at Westview Primary and 5th graders at Westview Elementary will be transitioned to competency-based learning the following school year.

There is also talk about implementing this program at Westview Middle School in the future.

“This system does not grade behavior. This system only grades learning, and so we don’t penalize kids if they don’t have a support system at home or if they forget their homework or if they’re not quite organized enough yet to keep up with things,” said Westview Elementary Principal Shawn Wimmer. “Right now, we have kids that are doing poorly because they don’t have developmentally the behaviors that support academic success mastered yet. This pulls that off the table so that the child is not penalized for that. we really are evaluating true genuine deep learning using this system.”

Competency-based education is a very personalized approach to classroom time and a more inclusive way to teach.

Students collaborate with their classmates and their teachers on hands-on projects.

“With a traditional system, you have universal pacing, and you’re going to keep moving on,” Wimmer said. “Too many times, educators will tell you, you receive children that have significant gaps that we are trying to close so that they can be successful. So, this helps us make sure we don’t send a child on unprepared.”

School officials believe this change will motivate children and help them enjoy learning, and teachers say they are excited about the transition, too.

“It’s a lot of up-front work, but then it’s a lot on the kids after that. They are the ones driving their instruction. As far as grading goes, a lot of the grading that we do is in class. I’m grading alongside the child, so I don’t take a ton of papers home this year,” said one Berkeley County School District teacher.

While there may be concerns about teacher overtime, the goal is for teacher’s to focus more on actual learning and less on preparing students for standardized testing, according to Berkeley County School District officials.

“Teachers involved in this year’s pilot said there was no extra work, but different work, additional time spent planning on the front end was saved in the grading process,” said BCSD spokesperson Brian Troutman.

“Students utilize portfolios for project-based work in all core subjects,” according to documents presented to the Berkeley County School Board earlier this month. “The student and teacher also have frequent conversations, and the teacher may document these as evidence that a student understands a concept or skill. The teacher may also ask a student to demonstrate understanding by using manipulatives or other classroom resources. Parents are encouraged to schedule a teacher conference to view their child’s work and assessment results or to get detailed information about their learning progress. Students are also involved in routinely scheduled Student-Led Conferences to support ownership of their own learning, goal setting, and pathway development. At these conferences, teachers can offer individualized feedback regarding other supplementary resources that a student may need.”

Other districts across the state and country are already utilizing this strategy, including Clear Creek Independent School District in Texas.

“I would say the biggest success in my perspective is the idea of the students owning their own learning,”said Susan Silva, CCISD’s Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction. “The teacher is still the facilitator. It’s not just students doing whatever they want. But the students have gone from really waiting for the teacher to dole out the new information to understanding what they need to know and how they can chart the path to get there, set their goals.”

CCISD has been using this strategy for at least 4 years.

“It is a clear indication of what their student knows or doesn’t know for any given grade level or subject. Sometimes parents have a false sense their students are doing better than they are doing because a grade may be inflated because of things that don’t have to do with actually learning the content of the subject,” Silva said. “In a similar way, the teachers are very aware of what the students know and don’t know to provide. The teacher’s job is to help the students master those standards of the grade level.”

The strategy for Berkeley County School District will include a new kind of report card called a “Learner Profile.”

Officials say this new way of documenting student progress is more descriptive than the traditional report card.

“On standardized testing data, I have children that are in the bottom quartile, yet I also have those same children who are earning a’s and b’s on a report card. That’s meaningless,” said Wimmer. “Our plan moving forward is to actually look at student work samples so that our professional learning community, essentially we are going to take that learning progression…we are looking at project-based hands on work that kids are creating and coming back as a team and evaluating student work samples so that everybody is on the same page with what does ‘demonstrating’ look like because when you have those conversations from classroom to classroom and you come up with a consensus of what it looks like…that’s much more meaningful than me shutting my door, going into my classroom, finding something to grade so that I have enough grades on the report card to average…this is not an average. It’s a moment in time and so we are going to build consensus that way.”

Berkeley County School Board officials believe this change is in line with the future of education.

“I think we are on the cusp of a major shift in education,” one Berkeley County School Board member said.

Wimmer said another benefit of this change has been teacher retention.

“Right now, our classroom teachers, we have 100% retention. We don’t have anybody leaving us,” Wimmer said. “I think that’s directly related to the autonomy teachers have in being able to do what they need to do for every individual child in their classroom.”

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