Des Moines Public Schools shares experience with USD 259’s new grading system


WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – USD 259 announced the implementation of a new grading system called Standards-Referenced Grading (SRG).

Instead of an A, B, C, D or F, students are on the 0-4 scale.

Elementary schools will use the new system this year. The, sixth through eighth grade will get it next year, and the year after, it goes to high school students.

KSN’s Amanda Aguilar reached out to staff at Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS), where the grading system has been in place for seven years.

“It’s well worth it,” explained Noelle Nelson, executive director of Teaching and Learning.

DMPS implemented the system to have a consistent grading practice across the district.

Before the switch, Nelson noticed the level of learning and grading expectations varied — usually based on where a student lived.

“It was really about equity,” said Nelson. “It doesn’t matter what your zip code is. We hold you to the same high expectation.”

While traditional grading typically averages student work and uses additional factors to determine a final letter grade, SRG focuses on what students have learned and are able to do.

For example, on a second grade progress report for Reading, it might read:

  • Produce complete simple and compound sentences – Level 2
  • Recognize and read grade-appropriate irregularly spelled words – Level 3.5
  • Explain how an illustration or image contributes to or clarifies a text – Level 1.5

Nelson said the 0-4 scale has helped Des Moines parents and students.

“Those who really want to dig in to figure out where their student is struggling or where their student is excelling, it’s tremendously helpful,” she said.

According to a recent survey, around 60% of DMPS parents support the system.

Nelson acknowledged the system is a big change that can be hard to adjust to.

“The highest-achieving students are the ones that struggled the most,” Nelson shared. “Because frankly the old system kind of works for them.”

The old letter system allows some students to do well in school by “chasing the points.”

Since SRG focuses on learning, teachers can use its grading practices to help students learn and absorb the material being taught.

Instead of a teacher telling a student they need to do a certain amount of extra credit or makeup assignments to get a good grade, they can now specify what needs to improve.

“It’s ‘We need you to get better at citing textual evidence because that’s what the standard requires of you,'” Nelson said.

Officials from Des Moines Public Schools had conversations with USD 259 staff and believe the district will benefit from the change.

“It takes a lot of collaboration, communication and long-term planning,” Nelson said. “But most importantly, patience from everyone.”

Wichita Public Schools is hosting four question-and-answer meetings. KSN has provided the dates and locations below:

  • Wednesday, Aug. 28 – Alvin Morris Administrative Center, 903 S. Edgemoor
  • Thursday, Sept. 5 – Isely Traditional Magnet Elementary, 5256 N. Woodlawn, Bel Aire
  • Tuesday, Sept. 10 – Dodge Literacy Magnet Elementary, 4801 W. 2nd Street
  • Wednesday, Sept. 25 – Seltzer Elementary, 11660 E. Lincoln


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