U-46 parents, students criticize new grading system

 
 
Updated 9/30/2014 1:19 PM
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Several Elgin Area School District U-46 parents and students complained at Monday night's school board meeting that a new standards-based grading system is too subjective.

Standards-based grading has been used at the elementary level for five years but has been implemented at the middle and high school levels only in the last couple of years, officials said. District CEO Tony Sanders said the grading system is new to teachers and administrators as well.

It requires teachers to grade students' progress on a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 indicating "mastery" of the subject matter. It is based on students learning key concepts and skills they are required to know in that particular class.

But students and parents said the term "mastery" is understood differently by teachers themselves, who then apply it subjectively.

Parent Colleen Ottens called the rollout and implementation of the new grading system "an unmitigated disaster."

"As an educator, I understand the intent of this new system; however, it is a bit idealistic, even if being used correctly. And this district is in no way using it correctly," she said.

Ottens said since this is the first year teachers are teaching to the new Common Core state standards, they don't yet know what "mastery" of a subject really means.

"The teachers should have been given at least one year, if not two, to get used to teaching Common Core state standards before any type of new grading system was put into place," she said.

Ottens said parents have been told any kinks with the grading system will be ironed out by 2016, but that's too late for her son, who is a junior now.

"My son, and thousands like him, are once again being used as guinea pigs by the district for its latest round of 'new' theories," she said.

Elgin High School environmental science teacher Deb Perryman spoke favorably about standards-based grading, saying this was her third year working under the new model and she stands by it.

"I can also honestly say that it has been a rocky road, particularly in the beginning," she said.

Perryman said she is fully behind shifting to the new grading system, which is better aligned with the Common Core state standards and the Next Generation Science Standards.

"My expectations are clear and much more rigorous," she said. "I am able to give more one-on-one time for students ... better able to pick professional development for myself."

Streamwood High School senior Hunter Roark said he had gotten the signatures of 200 students who share the concerns about standards-based grading.

"Students worry about how this is going to affect our college applications," he said. "If a 4 is borderline possible for us to obtain because it requires mastery in something we haven't been taught, that makes it difficult."

Nick Del Giudice, another Streamwood High senior, said there is a lot of confusion about the grading system, and even if students understand how it works, the way it is implemented is faulty.

"It will hurt several friends and myself trying to get into college," he said. "Mastery is hard to achieve. It's not quite up to the teachers to decide what the standards are. The standards simply do not align."

Teacher Jeanette Ward said the new grading system was never voted on by the school board, nor was it discussed in public board meetings.

"It demoralizes them (students)," she said. "They are being punished for not yet learning and mastering materials they haven't been taught yet. This new policy was supposed to eliminate subjectivity. It seems to have increased it. It is killing the spirit of high-performing individuals."

Suzanne Johnson, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said the district administration will address the issues raised immediately but won't eliminate the grading system.

"I think there's always been a level of subjectivity to grading," she said. "I don't think it's ever going to go away." She added, the onus is on the teachers and administration to communicate better with parents, students and the community about the grading system. She said the district also needs to provide more professional development for teachers and administrators to apply the standards fairly.

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