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Workshop on competency-based grading set for tonight in Nashua

By Barbara Taormina
Union Leader Correspondent

January 14. 2014 9:30PM

NASHUA — The ongoing debate about the Common Core standards and the Smarter Balance assessment tests has often overshadowed other aspects of education reform such as changes that are coming with competency-based grading.

On Wednesday, Jan. 15., the Board of Education will meet at 6:30 p.m. in the lecture hall at Nashua High School North for a second workshop on competency-based grading in the city’s two high schools, and what it will mean for students and teachers.

Since 2005, New Hampshire high schools have been required by the state to have a grading system based on a set of specific outcomes, competencies and skills students are expected to acquire from each course. Credits toward graduation are based on each student’s ability to demonstrate those competencies.

For example, a U.S. history course might require students to demonstrate an understanding of how different cultures have interacted and affected one another, or the positive and negative effects of new technologies on American society.

And a language arts course could require students to demonstrate an ability to understand and analyze different types of texts, and to write for different types of readers.

A student’s competency is typically ranked from 1 to 4 and reflects whether he or she exceeds expectations, meets the goal, needs improvement or needs remedial work.

“In Nashua, we have had competencies that fulfilled that state requirement, but they may not have been as strong as we want,” said BOE member Robert Haas.

And the competency-based system was created with the idea that it would be updated as needed. That need arose when the state adopted the Common Core standards as the minimum educational standards for New Hampshire schools.

Nashua teachers and administrators have been working on updating competencies for each course, and Haas said the goal is to have the new system in place by next September. But there are still a lot of questions.

Haas said at the first workshop in November, board members wanted more information on what report cards will look like, what happens if students pass some competencies but not others and will there be an overall numerical grade that will accompany a student’s grades in competencies.

Board member David Murotake has suggested that competency-based grading could put an end to Carnegie Units or the number of school or classroom hours that students must log in order to gain credit for a class.

Several communities in New Hampshire have already introduced new competency-based grading systems, and some school officials have praised the new systems for eliminating the subjectivity and vagueness of a “B.” The new system also clearly defines a student’s individual strength and the areas where he or she may need to improve.

Haas said he expects the workshop to begin with a presentation. Overall, board members has been supportive of the changes.

“We want students to have a greater depth of knowledge,” said Haas. “This system will let them show us they really do understand what’s going on.”

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