Riverside School and New York School won't do away with letter grades next fall but instead will use a new method of reporting student progress along with the traditional grades.
While that decision puts Lawrence school board member Tom Murray more at ease, Murray said he's still concerned about the schools' plans to combine grade levels.
When the Riverside and New York principals presented their proposed changes to the school board March 29, Lawrence School Supt. Al Azinger said the schools could drop letter grades only as a pilot project and only with permission from the school board.
Now that the principals have decided to keep letter grades, they won't have to seek permission to use their new method of reporting student progress.
Riverside Principal Donna Osness said this morning that she could understand concerns that the principals were proposing to drop letter grades before fully developing an alternative assessment. However, she said, the Riverside staff will work out that new reporting method before the fall semester.
"IT WILL BE much more complete than letter grades. We'll be able to say these are the very specific things a student has mastered and these are things he's still working on," Osness said. "Parents in general like to know specifically what their kids are good at and what they're struggling with and what kinds of things they can do to help them improve."
New York Principal Sharen Steele said that while her school also will keep the letter grades, many New York parents seem excited about the new progress reports that will be used.
"The ones I talk to feel like they're better informed by having a more descriptive kind of information given to them," Steele said. "At the end of the year we'll have a survey go out to all the parents asking them to give us feedback as to what kind of reporting gave them the best information."
Murray, who strongly opposed dropping letter grades, said he was pleased with the schools' decision. However, he said he's still concerned about plans to combine grade levels at the schools.
AT RIVERSIDE, students will be either in classes combining grades one through three or in classes combining grades four through six. Kindergarten students will not be part of the multi-age groupings.
New York will have three different combinations: kindergarten, transition first and first grade; second and third grade; and grades four through six.
Murray doesn't like the idea.
"If sixth-graders are going to baby-sit fourth-graders, I wish they could at least get paid for it," Murray said.
Osness said that although sixth-graders will work with fourth-graders in some activities, they will not be baby-sitting. She added that grade levels aren't as important as students' abilities.
"People have to stop thinking about students in grade levels and start thinking about them as high achievers or students who need assistance," Osness said. "We need to look at their individual levels and try to meet their individual needs."
BOARD VICE President John Tacha said that aspect of multi-age grouping is not new to Lawrence.
"We have some kids in the first grade who are reading out of fourth-grade books," Tacha said. "It isn't anything different than what we're doing today."
Azinger said last month that having multi-age groupings is a site-based decision that does not require approval from the school board.