Wellesley Dumps Standards-Based Grading

By contributing reporter Jennifer Bonniwell

Wellesley High School has decided to end standards-based grading beginning in fall 2023, Principal Jamie Chisum announced on Friday in the email bulletin sent to WHS families. 

“Wellesley High School will not be using the standards based grading system moving forward. We will put individual grades on individual assignments, those grades will be averaged into a larger term and final grades. We will use pluses and minuses,” Chisum said in the email bulletin.

Standards-based grading will still be used in foreign language classes, which pioneered the grading system 15 years ago, Chisum said. The grading also will continue in the project-based Evolutions Program, which juniors and seniors may opt in to. 

Standards-based grading assesses students based on their mastery of a single skill rather than an average of tests at the end of each section of material. For example, a class may have five to eight skills during a single quarter and students are graded on their mastery of each. Some teachers give a full letter grade for each skill mastered; others grade based on a weighted average of scores for each skill. 

WHS has faced criticism since rolling out the system during the pandemic-shortened 2020-2021 school year. The new grading system was intended to help teachers assess students in the shortened teaching time and with dramatically changed curriculum. 

Complaints from parents came to a head earlier this year, starting with a presentation to the School Committee on Jan. 31 and a March 9 open forum. Chisum said during the open forum that the school would announce changes to the grading system before the end of this year.  

Here’s the complete announcement from the May 12, 2023 e-bulletin:

Standards Based Grading is Going Away 

I’ve been hearing from a lot of our parents asking about Standards Based Grading for next year so I want to get right to this update on that topic.  Wellesley High School will not be using the standards based grading system moving forward. We will put individual grades on individual assignments, those grades will be averaged into a larger term and final grades.  We will use pluses and minuses. Evolutions will continue to use SBG and the World Language Department will continue to use the system they’ve been using for at least the last 15 years. We believe the grades should not be causing confusion or angst and we think the best way to remove that is by returning to a grading system families are familiar with and trust. Our courses will still have standards as they always have – they need to answer what are the most important things each course is about. The state continues to have required standards for most departments (and has for decades in some departments). We still believe in the course alignment work we’ve been doing, so we will continue to do that work too. I’m not parsing or selling anything here, just trying to be clear. Will we likely still have challenges with grades in the fall? Yes. We always have, and this adjustment might not be perfect right away, but I truly believe it will be extremely comforting to anyone who has been concerned with the classes that were using standards based grading. 

If anything else comes up as the teachers work through the necessary adjustments for this change, I will certainly let you know all about it.


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