Column: Student Questions Grading System

Is the new target-based grading system at NHS for better or for worse?

The question many people ponder:  Is the target-based grading system in the best interest of NHS? 

The question many people ponder:  Is the target-based grading system in the best interest of NHS? 

Kiana Valeri, Staff Writer

Mixed thoughts exist between students, parents, and teachers as NHS entirely transitions to target-based grading, which is supposed to shift the focus on learning and change NHS for the better.  The N.J.S.D. Board of Education has been working on making this switch for the past three years. 


As of 2019, the switch is fully implemented. Many schools in both Winnebago and Outagamie counties already made this switch,  such as Kimberly, Hortonville, and Winneconne, whom NHS has worked closely with throughout this process. 


“The worst thing anyone could do is think about report scores as a grade,” Principal Brian Wunderlich said as he explains why NHS decided to change the grading system. 


The question many people ponder:  Is the target-based grading system in the best interest of NHS?  While being a student at NHS, I firmly believe that the new target-based grading will help students in their future, making it in the best interest of NHS. 


While the majority of the student body at NHS are not impressed with this new system, shown by a recent poll I conducted that got roughly 164 votes. In the end, the percentages came down to 17 percent voting “they like it” and 83 percent voting “they dislike it.”  As I saw this percentage, I wanted to try to understand my peer’s perspective and analyze why do they not like this switch? I then encountered a weird correlation to why the majority of students do not like this change; they do not understand it.


Unfortunately, students and parents find themselves confused about how it works and why it needed to be set in place; therefore, what is target-based grading?  Target-based grading is a unique way of having students learn the material presented in class. Just like the name says, it is a way to grade students based on a range of targets. Every teacher has to consider one question as they determine what their targets will be, “What do my students need to know?” 

Targets are what teachers believe their students must know as they leave their class. This method uses a grading scale of red, yellow and green according to Neenah Joint School District Target-Based Learning and Grading, a PDF found on the district website that lays out the new grading. In that PDF, there is a slot that explains how the scale works. First, it explains how a red stands for beginning where a student shows minimal understanding of that target. Second, is a yellow which stands for developing, this is given to a student that applies a partial understanding of that target. Lastly, green or proficient, this is where a student shows and applies a comprehensive understanding of that target.


Following this, I interviewed sophomore Isabel Hoffman, who is a high-aiming student that has always been consistent with A’s, sometimes B’s. She stands with 83 percent of the student body that disagrees with target-based learning; in fact, she said, “I completely hate it.” 


One reason she said to why she hates it is because, as a student and friend of others at NHS, she notices that there is no middle ground with the grades. She asserted: “The results shown are polarizing.” She continues voicing her concern that students are either receiving greens and yellows or yellows and red. Although she does see some positive that comes from this system, specifically to the group of individuals who generally get B’s and C’s, this system allows their grade to get boosted and helps them see their improvement.  Ultimately, she cautions that in most cases, it is subjective, meaning that since every teacher has a different grading scale, only those teachers can decide on what determines a yellow, red or green. 


Overall she believes that there is no specific grading system; however, there is a particular point of grading all teachers use. All of the teachers at NHS will take student work and base it on student’s skills showcased, depending on the information taught. Based on the knowledge of the target, it all goes into the determination of if a student should receive a red, yellow or green. 


According to Standards/Target Based Grading Q&A, a PDF on the N.J.S.D. website, which explains questions often asked by guardians of students at NHS, it explained that teachers have been asked to communicate their grading structure to the students as they always have. It has been known, just like years before, that teachers tend to utilize the grading system depending on what best fits their classroom. It is not whether all classes use the same grading tactics because they do — all use the basis of the target-based grading system.  Teachers will make sure to achieve the core meaning of this change, giving students constant, profound, and significant feedback.  


Still, many students tend to panic when they see an update in the student portal of red or yellow, but which is often looked over; this system allows reassessing. Surprisingly, this is another mixed opinion revolving around this system. Bringing up a frequently asked question, should reassessing be allowed?

Principal Wunderlich said that this is a question he tends to hear from parents and teachers. Wunderlich thinks students would find value in this perk of the new grading, but not everyone does.  for example, Hoffman believes this is one of the downsides of the new system since it puts emphasis on retakes. Although retakes can be noticed to tie into responsibility, by the students being responsible for getting a better understanding, it should not be the backup plan for students.

“People should not have to retake every test, which this system makes students dependent on,” Hoffman said.

Retakes, as both Wunderlich and I believe, do lead to success for students who are college-bound because, by the time students finish redoing summative work, they will understand the crucial targets better by the feedback from teachers. Even if students are not college-bound or future-driven, having a better understatement of targets can help individuals accomplish many things.


Lastly, regarding this new grading system, people do not feel like this switch will help us in the future. This opinion is making people believe this system is not beneficial.


Hoffman questions that colleges do not have a grading scale like this, and even after college, life is not do graded, so what is the point?


Although numerous people are not informed that every college has a different grading scale, they always undermine what this scale will do for the kids who see college in their future and who do not. This scale is set into place to help students take their knowledge with them that will broaden their future. Since colleges have a different way of grading, NHS decided to continue showing letter grades on your transcript, allowing a regular GPA to show quickly.


Principal Wunderlich believes that once the students reach the 9-week point, they will find this system helpful and more beneficial than others they have used in the past. 


“We need to give this new system time to settle,” Wunderlich advised.

This system has been identified to click to students by the 9-week point, and suddenly by the end, they don’t want to learn any other way. They found this correct last year by asking the small group of kids that had been in the limited classes at NHS how they feel toward it, which they said, “I wouldn’t want to get graded any other way.”

Principal Wunderlich hopes students reach the end result, believing: “I can do this,” and guide knowledge into the world waiting beyond high school.