Parents, teachers adjusting to new grading system

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

Special to the Local
Two of the three elementary schools in the Henry County School District are changing the way parents will receive information about their children’s progress on report cards.
Letter grades, used to rate academic success – or lack thereof – for generations of schoolchildren, will be replaced with numbers representing each student’s level of mastery of core subjects, as required by the state Department of Education.
For example, instead of earning an A, B, C, D or F, students’ progress will be assessed with numerals from 1-4 to show parents where their children stand in terms of mastering each course.
According to a parent guide distributed at the beginning of the school year, the new “standards-based reporting” was developed over the summer by administrators and teachers in the county’s three elementary schools, which teach kindergarten through fifth-grade students.
Administrators at Campbellsburg and Eastern elementaries chose to implement the new procedure this year. Both schools plan to provide opportunities for parents to discuss the new system with teachers and administrators.
Campbellsburg Principal Mark Johnson said the new report cards aren’t that different from the primary reports issued for students kindergarten through fourth grade.
“Fifth-graders have only had letter grades for a year,” he said.
An informational meeting for parents to explain how the new report cards work is planned for Tuesday, Oct. 18, at the school, Johnson said.
One of the pros of the standards-based reporting system, says Sharon Bright, principal at Eastern Elementary, is that it “measures progress over time. It’s very specific in giving feedback to parents.”
It will, however, require “a shift in thinking,” for parents and educators. “I understand that. As a teacher, I was very much a grade educator,” Bright said. “But, with the training we’ve received, I recognize the value of the new system.”
The new system specifically distinguishes a student’s behavior – how he participates in class or whether or not he completes his homework assignments – from what he actually knows about each subject.
For example, the parent guide explains that a student who is assessed a“4” means the he is on track, academically, and has mastered the subject to the point where he can explain it to others and work independently.
Anything below a “4” means the child is not meeting grade-level expectations: a “3” means the child is progressing toward the standard, but is still making mistakes when doing his work independently; A “2” means the child is moving forward, but still needs additional support and encouragement to meet the standards; and a “1” means the child has not reached, nor is he approaching, mastery and needs additional support and assistance, particularly at home, to reach that goal.
Separately, the report cards rate a student’s “Characteristics for Successful Learners” based on teacher observations. Under “Work Habits,” for example, the teacher assesses a child’s ability to set goals, collect information and use time effectively. Teachers also rate whether a child is attentive, cooperative, responsible, resourceful, reflective and whether or not he completes homework assignments on time.
Another section of the report also indicates a child’s performance in “special area” classes that are not part of the state’s core content. Students are rated “excellent,” “good,” “needs improvement” and “unacceptable” in art, music and physical education.
Providing such specific information to parents is important, Bright said. “Not all kids can master all content at the same time, when it’s taught. This (new system) gives parents the opportunity to see what their children are working on and where they are in the process” of learning.
It also gives the child permission to learn at his own pace, she said. “If the subject is not mastered right away, they have time to master it. … It’s okay to have to work harder or take longer (than other students) to master something.”
Bright said teachers at Eastern have set aside time for longer sessions during parent-teacher conferences after report cards are distributed Oct. 20. “I know parents will have questions. … We are going to allow extra time to talk about the report cards with them and explain what it means.”
In the meantime, Bright encourages parents to call her or to contact their child’s teacher if they have any questions about the new system.
Lane Morris, principal at New Castle Elementary, said Monday that he and his staff opted to hold off on using the new system until the 2012-13 school year.
“We’re not quite ready (to make the switch), to be honest,” he said, adding that parents of children at the New Castle school can expect to see the same type of report card throughout the 2011-12 school year. “We are in the process of educating parents about it and making sure the staff understands how to use it.”
Morris said the school has selected a group of parents who will be trained to decipher and interpret the new system; that group, in turn, will be responsible for teaching the reporting system to other parents.
“We want to roll it out in a systematic way,” he said.
One of the main concerns, he said, is that parents who are used to seeing their children earn all “As” and make the honor roll every nine weeks may have a difficult time comprehending their child’s progress.
The new system will still celebrate success, he said, but in a different way.
Morris said Harvard University is now using a standards-based grading system, and predicts all schools will use the system eventually.
“Colleges won’t be looking at (a prospective student’s grade-point averages), they will be looking at the percentage of standards met,” he said.
Superintendent Tim Abrams also believes the new system will be a positive change. “I’m excited about that,” he said. “I hope to see more of that type of grading system in the middle school and high school.”

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