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Traditional letter grades to be eliminated in elementary schools



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April 10, 2013 - ader Staff Writer

When most people think of letter grades in school A, B, C, D, E and F typically come to mind, but what about M, P and I?

Those are the new letter grades that will be given as a part of the new "standard based report cards," set to take effect in all the elementary schools, grades kindergarten through fifth, starting in the fall of 2014.

"That has been an initiative we have been working on for about two and half years," said James Schwarz, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at the March 27 board of education meeting. "We've had a teacher committee in place, representatives of every building and every grade level working on revising the elementary report cards."

According to Schwarz, the plan was to originally fully implement the program this coming fall, but decided to hold off and do a year of piloting the new program instead.

"With all that's on the teachers' plates this year with preparing for IB (International Baccalaureate) and getting the last of the authorizations through and everything else they are working on," added Schwarz. "We've decided it would do them justice and better benefit the ownership of the teachers to this process and new format if we delayed that full implementation and live implementation for a year."

The new grading system will be on a "three band rubric," The "M" stands for "Mastery," "P" for "Progressing," and "I" for "Insufficient progress." It will also be an entire online reporting system.

"We've been really massaging the philosophy around that whole standards based reporting and rolling it out gently with the teachers over the last couple of years and also working with the technological capabilities to capture what it is essentially we want to report to parents," Schwarz said. "Essentially what this is, is instead of getting an overall grade for say reading and getting a B (and asking) what does that mean? This is actually going to give parents a listing of standards, benchmarks, all predicated on the common core national curriculum we are moving toward."

"Parents are going to be able to see a much fuller report that is going to be much more skill based," he continued. "In terms of specifically what their child can and cannot do, by standard (and) by benchmark in every subject area including PE, music, art and world language."

Another difference besides the grading system, noted Schwarz is that there will not be a "contrived end of a marking period."

"Parents are going to be able to go in at any time and see the progress right along," he said. "It's going to remove the notion of 'end of marking period' as far as grading goes, its going to be an ongoing (process)."

Because the new system is "standards based and skill based," Schwarz said it really requires the teacher to "look differently at how they assess children."

"No longer is that holistic grade, that 84 percent on a chapter test really that important. What is important is looking at each individual item on that test and identifying what particular skill do those items or that particular item match too," he said. "That's what we're going to report on. We're going to report on a series of skills versus just a holistic grade that could mean anything."

It is something they will have to "guide the teachers through," said Schwarz. The year long pilot will help give teachers time to get comfortable with organizing instruction by skill, as well as organizing their grade books and getting used to using the (online) tool to input the data.

Schwarz is hoping to present the board in the fall with a demo of the new reporting system and show how teachers input data, as well as what parents will see when they go into the system and look at their child's grades.

"Instructionally, it's a mammoth change for teachers to think this way (and) organize themselves this way," added Schwarz. "It just makes sense for us to really step back instead of pushing to get it out there and to really reflect on it. To give teachers more professional development (and) more of a chance to input things to personalize for themselves to get comfortable with it and then go live in 2014."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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