As Keene High School works toward implementing a competency-based education model, some parents in the Keene School District are showing trepidation about the changes that could come with it.
About 50 people attended a “questioning session” on the topic at the high school Tuesday night, which Principal James F. Logan said was scheduled after a group of parents reached out to him with concerns.
Under a competency-based education model, students must show they have mastered a competency — or learning goal — before moving on to the next goal in a given subject. The N.H. Department of Education requires in its minimum standards for school approval by the state that schools move to competencies.
Keene High has been in the process of researching and beginning to incorporate aspects of competency-based education for the past three years, according to Logan.
But fears surfaced at a June 11 meeting of the Keene Board of Education, where several parents spoke during the public input portion of the agenda. They said they were worried about information that had been provided to teachers listing upcoming changes to assessment and grading at the school as part of the shift.
Those documents, obtained by The Sentinel through a right-to-know request, indicated the school would eventually eliminate GPA, class rank and traditional grading. One document included changes to be implemented as early as the upcoming school year, such as eliminating midterm and final exams.
But at the June school board meeting, and at Tuesday’s session, Logan said no final decisions have been made about assessment changes. He added Tuesday that the dates on the documents were initial target dates that are no longer applicable.
“It’s up for discussion. The staff has spoken up, we have a committee working on it. Listen, I understand everybody’s got questions. Nothing’s solidly written in stone here,” Logan told parents at the June meeting. “Everything’s up for discussion.”
Andrew Tremblay, a parent of two children in the district, said at that June meeting he felt the district hadn’t adequately communicated with parents about the potential changes.
“So I think we just wanted to open a dialogue and conversation of, what has been the decision process, where are we in the decision process, what opportunities do we have as parents and citizens to be able to have input into this for our kids?” Tremblay said.
Another parent, Jessica Pierannunzi, said in June she is concerned that doing away with GPA and letter grades could hinder children’s academic progress and even discourage high-achieving students.
“I think just to make it clear, we understand that competency-based education is not a bad thing. This is something that is more the assessment, and the way that students will be receiving a report card,” Pierannunzi said. “In conversations to date, it has not been provided to us what that will look like, and that’s a big piece of the puzzle.”
Those concerns were echoed at Tuesday’s session, though few answers were offered, as Logan said staff would take down questions and post answers on the high school’s website as soon as possible.
He reiterated that shifting to a competency-based education model is a long process, and noted that a school committee has been researching the topic for several years.
“We don’t expect this to be a cakewalk moving forward; this is huge. This is a big shift on how we’re going to do education at Keene High School,” Logan said. “But at the end, I think that we have to keep in mind we’re doing what is best for our students, and we’re not going to make the wrong decision for our students.”
Parents asked questions for a little over an hour Tuesday, many of them focusing on how and when changes would take effect. Many raised concerns about how changes to grading would affect college admissions and eligibility for scholarships, as well as whether honors or advanced courses would still exist under a competency-based model.
Jon Perry, an English teacher at the high school, said he’s seen a number of new education models implemented at Keene High over his 27 years there.
“For me as a teacher, the big philosophical change [with competency-based education] is a switch from just ‘what do you know’ to ‘what can you do with what you know?’ And for me, educationally, that makes a ton of sense. The reporting piece — that’s kind of where we are right now,” he said. “How are we going to report this out so that it makes sense to everybody?”
Attendees also wanted to know what type of professional development would be provided to teachers, noting that students had come home with conflicting information based on what staff told them. Some parents said their children were emotional about the issue and no longer felt motivated to try in school because they thought grades wouldn’t matter.
Logan responded that he would make a point to clarify with students where the school is in the process at assemblies at the beginning of the new year.
Keene is not the first Monadnock Region district where parents have pushed back against efforts to implement elements of competency-based education. In the fall, parents in the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District began raising concerns about new grading protocols rolled out as part of an ongoing shift to such a model.
In that district, parents questioned whether the new system, under which academic performance is graded separately from “work habits” such as effort and preparedness, would mean less accountability for their children. Others praised the school district for moving toward what they described as a more tailored approach to learning.
Logan said answers to more immediate questions about competency-based learning at Keene High, such as whether any changes will be implemented next year, will be posted on the school’s website, khs.keeneschoolsnh.org, early next week. Additional information about competency-based education at the high school is available at bit.ly/2JnmSHD.