More than 100 students from Moscow Middle School participated in a student-organized walkout Friday afternoon, demonstrating frustrations related to mastery-based learning and standards-based grading.
MMS Principal Bill Holman said while the protest was not a school-sanctioned event, he was impressed with the pains students took to organize a safe, considerate and respectful demonstration.
“I was actually contacted by the organizer and I really appreciated that,” Holman said. “She’s an absolutely fabulous kid and she put a lot of thought into trying to find a way to create an opportunity for her voice to be heard.”
Participating middle-schoolers were clustered near the northeast corner of the MMS campus hefting picket signs, with student speakers taking turns addressing the crowd of their peers. Common concerns mentioned by speakers included frustration with numbered grading, worries that teachers would be fired for speaking out about the new system and doubts as to the efficacy or value of mastery-based learning.
Eighth grader Conner Vettrus said there are a number of problems with the district’s implementation of the new mastery-based system, including that “it has not been executed well, whatsoever.”
“For starters, mastery-based learning promotes mediocrity,” Vettrus said. “By this, I mean the current system categorizes hard-working, straight-A students with average students under the common grade of a ‘3.’ ”
Other speakers said there may be some value to the new system, but they took issue with the district’s switch from the reporting software PowerSchool to a program called TeacherEase. Odin Sita-Smith, also in the eighth grade, said the new software falls short of district expectations and has been confusing to operate and understand for both parents and students.
“The current version of TeacherEase is a joke; it is not what mastery-based learning could or should be,” Odin said. “We need either our old system back, or (for) the new system to be a good system. I’m sure that all of you have seen how TeacherEase is not helpful in any way comparatively to our old system; we need something better than both systems.”
Moscow Superintendent Greg Bailey, who was among those listening, spoke briefly at the end of the event, thanking those in attendance for having the courage to speak and demonstrate and vowed they have been heard. He said at least some of these concerns would be addressed in a workshop meeting between administrators, teachers and trustees scheduled for later Friday. He said thoughts voiced by students match feedback the district has been gathering for the past few weeks.
“It kind of continues on with the information we received from parents, and the part where they’re real frustrated (is) with the TeacherEase program, as well as with 1 through 4 (grading),” Bailey said. “We are going to look at that tonight and I could see us changing back to the letter grade because I think we can still meet what our goals were and make that move.”
Holman said he thinks of these kinds of demonstrations create an opportunity to build skills in collaboration, both for students and for adults.
“There’s no greater learning opportunity than a situation like this, I think,” Holman said. “It’s very real.”
Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.