Oregon’s New Grading System Places Subject Mastery First

What matters more, effort or results? While the question has plagued education experts for decades, Oregon has made its decision. Results matter – effort, not at all. At least that is the conclusion one can draw from the new grading guidelines being pushed to all Oregon schools this fall.

Teachers are being told that from now on, their course grades must be decided solely on mastery. Even if students are late with homework or fail to turn it in at all, as long as they demonstrate mastery of the material, they earn an A.

Turning everything in neat and on time, bringing back signed forms and racking up extra credit won’t boost grades. Turning assignments in late, skipping homework and talking during class won’t hurt, as long as the student can demonstrate the key skills and knowledge covered in the course.

In reality, it won’t always work that way, especially not in this first year that, by law, grades must be based purely on academic achievement. But educators agree it’s causing emotional discussions, big policy changes and a huge culture shift in schools.

Even in schools where results largely determined grades, teachers would still consider effort in homework and in class to some degree — but no more. This leaves instructors and administrators in the state with a major problem: how to motivate students to do their homework, write their papers and turn in their assignments on time if they will earn nothing from the effort.

However, some administrators are strongly on board with the new approaches even if they admit that it ties educators’ hands when it comes to teaching students study discipline. Amy Jackson, a curriculum director for Reynolds school who believes that the new approach is a change for the better, notes that making sure students know how to apply themselves is a good lesson to teach that can improve their academic outcomes down the road.

In reality, it won’t always work that way, especially not in this first year that, by law, grades must be based purely on academic achievement. But educators agree it’s causing emotional discussions, big policy changes and a huge culture shift in schools.

“Even if I turn it in late, someone needs to tell me whether it is good or not,” he said. “But are there educators out that who still believe that behavior and turning things in on time need to be pulled into the final grade? It’s a real struggle. Are we unanimous about it? Obviously not.”

According to Betsy Hammond of The Oregonian, while administrators appear to be largely on board, many parents and students aren’t so sure.

Parents and some students are more attached to traditional A through F grades based on every test score, quiz result and homework score than most teachers are, Casteel said. “There is a whole lot of emotion and politics we have to work through.”