Educator Rick Wormeli speaks to parents during Standards-Based Grading meeting in the Turano-Chrisman Performing Arts Theater at Piedra Vista High School
Educator Rick Wormeli speaks to parents during Standards-Based Grading meeting in the Turano-Chrisman Performing Arts Theater at Piedra Vista High School on Tuesday. (Joshua Kellogg/ The Daily Times)

FARMINGTON — Speaker Rick Wormeli spent nearly three hours Tuesday night clarifying and correcting misunderstandings about the standards-based grading system Farmington schools has implemented and continues to refine.

During an evening meeting hosted by the Farmington Municipal School District in the Turano-Chrisman Performing Arts Theater at Piedra Vista High School, Wormeli spoke about how schools nationwide have successfully implemented the standards-based grading system while increasing rigor and accountability in grading.

Valerie Tulley, district assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said Wormeli was brought in due to his knowledge of the system.

"We've been really trying to focus on communicating with parents and showing them how to communicate with the school effectively about where their students are in terms of academic skill and knowledge," Tulley said.

Wormeli says standards-based grading measures students' progress in relation to specific evidence.

Under the system, grades signify levels of success in achieving specific learning objectives. The system removes elements such as behavior, effort and work habits.

Standards-based grading has been adopted by Farmington schools as the district has transitioned from the traditional A through F grading system to a system using a scale of 0 to 4, which represents a student's achievement of simple and complex learning goals for each subject.

"It's challenging to students, but it better prepares them for higher education and the working world," Wormeli said. "In fact, it closely resembles how adults are evaluated in their professions. It also provides transparency for parents. They are better informed of how their student is performing and what they can do to help their student if he struggles."

Michelle Appleton, mother of a seventh-grade student at Mesa View Middle School, said she was at the meeting because she hope to learn more about the system since she had difficulty understanding her son's report cards.

Appleton said another issue was understanding what her son was working on each week. While she is in constant communication with his teachers and principal, she said, she is still struggling.

Wormeli said some of the challenges school districts face implementing standards-based grading include maintaining clear and frequent communication with parents, conducting professional development of teachers and creating a culture for educators where they can revise their thinking and training. He also said some people confuse the system with Common Core.

"Standards-based grading requires teachers to analyze their assessment and grading practices intensely, opening them up to the close scrutiny of colleagues, and that can be scary," Wormeli said.

Marie Frost, a sixth-grade teacher at Mesa View, was in the audience Tuesday night to hear Wormeli so she can provide information to parents of students.

Frost attended a talk presented by Wormeli to middle school teachers Tuesday.

"When I heard him (Tuesday), he just reaffirmed to me why we are doing standards-based-grading," Frost said. "It's measuring what the kids know rather than what they turn in. It's measuring their knowledge and I like that."

When asked about how Farmington schools is handling its implementation, Wormeli said he was not aware of the full scale of its efforts. However, he said what has seen leads him to believe district is doing the right things with some room for improvement.

"First and foremost for the school board is the need to build teacher capacity for change," Wormeli said. "Followed very quickly by teachers doing their homework on standards-based grading like reading, attending training, trying out some of the ideas, and having constructive conversation about challenges and triumphs."

Tulley said the district will be hosting informational meetings for parents at every school during the spring semester and they'll be distributing a handbook on standards-based grading.

A standards-based grading committee will be formed with district administration, teachers from every school, parents, members of the community and school board members.

"That committee will be used to gauge where we are, and if changes need to be made, they'll have input," Tulley said. "It's a new system and we're in a system of change and every time there is change, you have to communicate 10 times as much as you think you need to."

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.