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Poplar Ridge School got rid of the percentage system of grading and replaced it with an outcome-based system.
Students now take home report cards that have a list of outcomes — sometimes as many as 20 per subject. Each outcome is rated at one of three levels: at grade level, approaching grade level or not yet.
The staff of the school decided to go with the new approach after evaluating various options, says Wayne Phillips. The experts they consulted consistently said that what really mattered was outcomes and then explained how to shoehorn outcome evaluation into a grade system, he explains. "We decided to just go all the way and evaluate outcomes directly."
One big challenge was selling the system to parents. The teachers involved parents from the beginning and explained what they were doing and why. Parents were invited in for workshops and encouraged to stay in touch should they have any concerns as the system rolled out.
A second challenge was figuring out how to motivate the students. "Even with a conventional system, one of the things you really don’t want is to have kids settle for good enough," he explains. "At Poplar Ridge, good is not good enough.”
The challenge of explaining and justifying the outcomes-only approach has gotten easier as the years have gone by, and the teachers have been able to show that kids continue to do well as they move along. "Our school feeds about 20 percent of the population of the middle school but our kids make up about 50 percent of the top students."