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School officials consider change in grading policy

Grading.

This was the topic of an Archuleta School Board work session led by district assistant superintendent Linda Reed.

“We talk about differentiated levels of instruction, but what about differentiated levels of feedback?” Reed asked the board. Grades, of course, being the feedback referred to.

The discussion of grading policy first came to the board, with the thought of changing the 94-100 is an A policy, and has now evolved into not changing the policy but changing the practices at the schools and, most directly, those of the teachers.

Areas considered varied from which grading scale to use, how to grade, what was the purpose of grading, concentrating on the end result, how can grades help foster the student, etc.

An area of concentration, highlighted in videos featuring Dr. Doug Reeves of the Leadership and Learning Center in Denver, was the practice of giving zeros for assignments not turned in. The argument made by Reeves was that, on a 100-point scale, a zero was not fair.

“Zeros on a 100-point are not accurate,” Reeves said. The letter grades are separated by six to 10 points, and then, below F, there are 60 points. The zero brings the student’s average astronomically down and does not motivate the student.

High school assistant principal Sean O’Donnell commented that D- and F-kids aren’t motivated by zeros. At the semester’s end, students see an impossible mountain of low scores and missing assignments. Since they feel they cannot pass, they give up and stop going to school.

Other grading topics discussed were not giving students grades based on behavior and aligning grading practices throughout the school. A child doing the same work for two different teachers should get the same grade for that work, regardless of the teacher. The personal grading practices and subjectivity of a teacher’s grading was what was called into question.

Reed presented five attributes a grading system should have: accuracy, fairness, effective, timely and understandable. The board agreed, though, not all members agreed on definitions of those attributes.

“Can you accurately grade a student?” board member Ken Fox asked. “I think it comes back to the teacher.”

Students, he said, pick up on the enthusiasm and feelings of the teacher and respond accordingly. If the students think the teacher really cares, their performance, in the way of grades, reflects that by receipt of high marks.

Superintendent Mark DeVoti said that in the current broken system, the same independence that is praised in adults is punished in students.

Middle school principal Chris Hinger said he would like to start implementing new grading practices by the beginning of next school year. O’Donnell said that the high school had the same implementation date in mind but that this would be more of a philosophical change that would take time.

The new grading practice would involve consistency and alignment of grading practices for all teachers. The details and means of implementation of new grading practices were not set.

“The timing is too ambitious,” Fox said. Grades, the board and present school faculty agreed, are a sensitive matter steeped in past tradition. Fox said that to change this within a few months would be rushing it.

Board member Joanne Irons added that during the dialogue concerning change of the grading system, she wants student involvement.

O’Donnell mentioned an additional area of concern was the “extra credit hoops,” with little or no relevance to the subject matter, that teachers throw out at semester’s end.

“For a student to change their grade, they need to acquire more knowledge,” O’Donnell said.

Elementary principal Kate Lister did not think the matter of grading practices and policy was as relevant to students in lower grades. There, teachers are concerned with students reaching standards of knowledge; for instance, learning multiplication facts up to 12. Students are not punished by low grades if it takes them awhile to learn the skill, as long as they eventually learn it. However, Lister said that some uniformity in grading practices from teacher to teacher is desirable.

“This is a start,” board president Linda Lattin said, drawing the work session to a close. For any definite changes to be made, more research, study and dialogue between school administrators, teachers, students, parents and board members will need to first take place.

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