Archive for Monday, November 28, 2011

First Bell: ‘Informational discussions’ ahead for standards-based grading in Lawrence school district

November 28, 2011


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Parents, teachers and others interested in — or perturbed by — the use of standards-based grading in Lawrence middle schools are welcome to attend informational forums this week.

The forums, called Grading for Learning, are set for 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. Each are expected to follow the same format, but be available at different locations so that as many people as possible can get a chance to attend one that fits their schedules:

• Tuesday: Southwest Middle School, 2511 Inverness.

• Wednesday: Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, 1400 Mass.

The district describes the forums as “informational discussions,” offering formats for attendees to listen to explanations regarding standards-based grading, and to share their own opinions about what works or doesn’t work.

Standards-based grades have been in use in elementary schools for years, and assign students marks based upon their performance related to various standards set by the state. The marks:

• S: Successfully meets standard.

• M: Making progress.

• T: Targeted for growth.

• E: Excels consistently.

Officials say such grades focus on what students are learning, the skills they’re picking up and the learning behaviors they’re employing along the way, rather than simply averaging scores on tests, homework and other assignments and then using those numbers to assign traditional letter grades.

Since the beginning of the school year — when the district told parents that it was adjusting grading procedures for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders — the topic has generated intense opposition from a group of parents who say that the use of standards-based grading is inappropriate for sixth-graders. Parents and teachers opposing standards-based grading contend the grading system:

• Does not give students or parents the information they need to determine how students are doing on daily assignments, quizzes and tests.

• Has reduced the utility of the district’s Skyward computer system, which parents of elementary students previously had used to follow students’ progress and performance.

• Fails to motivate students to strive for better grades, given that achieving an “S” — for “Successfully meets standards” — is the goal students are instructed to meet.

• Overburdens teachers, ones now required to use standards-based grading in addition to issuing A, B, C, D and F letter grades.

• Requires middle schools to maintain two different grading systems: a standards-based model for sixth grade, then traditional letter grades for grades seven and eight.

Parents previously have taken their case to the Lawrence school board, and more than 200 people have signed on to an online petition outlining their criticisms. The board has heard calls for abandoning the standards-based system for this year.

The district has responded by making changes to Skyward, to make some information available to parents earlier than expected. The district also has reduced the number of standards to be graded for sixth-graders, to help lessen the load on teachers issuing standards-based marks. District officials also have met with various groups and attended several meetings in an effort to help explain the system to people with questions and concerns.

The upcoming “informational discussions” are next.

Each event will be expected to include an introduction from Rick Doll, district superintendent, and/or Angelique Kobler, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, plus explanations from a teacher or teachers about what standards-based grading is, and what the system does (the district also provides some background and other information online).

Each event also will be expected to include small-group discussions, for participants to ask questions and receive answers.

The district not only will be providing information but also collecting input during the discussions, said Julie Boyle, the district’s director of communications.

Mark Bradford, president of the school board, has indicated that the issue would be scheduled for a future meeting of the school board.


GMom05 6 years, 4 months ago

Yes, this is our district's M.O. alright. Other districts have the sense not to spring something like this on people and then deal with it after the fact. Other places PLAN how they are going to make it work logistically. Other districts do professional development BEFORE roll out and have enough discussions to get teacher AND parent buy-in, before implementation. Our district likes to do something ridiculously controversial then stand back and be defensive about it when everyone gets angry. Seriously, what were they thinking???

The informational discussions will be a joke as every other forum they have hosted. There will be no discussion of value. It will be them telling us we have nothing to worry about and this is a great thing. We should be allowed to stand up and ask questions in front of the whole group, but, no, they operate on the divide and conquer method by splitting us up into small groups to ask questions of district experts, who will just tell us it's all good. They don't want one big unhappy crowd even if we deserve answers. I'll go to a forum, but I already know it'll be an hour and half of my life I'll never get back.

Windemere 6 years, 4 months ago

Go to the forum(s), please. There will be Q & A in front of the whole group (been promised this). Too bad they were scheduled right after Tgiving (surely that was not considered a good way to keep attendance low...). Again, if you care about these issues, go.

Cogito_Ergo_Es 6 years, 4 months ago

The article doesn't actually say there will be a whole group Q&A. It says Intro by Doll/Kobler, Explanations from a teacher/teachers, and "Each event also will be expected to include small-group discussions, for participants to ask questions and receive answers." Plus Julie Boyle "collecting input during the discussions." If this Whole Group Q&A has been promised, they are reneging, (big surprise!) They wouldn't actually want to face each of us and have to give us answers in front of a huge crowd, that might actually hold them accountable. Or someone needs to fill in Mark Fagan.

Cogito_Ergo_Es 6 years, 4 months ago

I care and I'll go! I'll bring lots of questions too! But, I don't expect any real answers...

Windemere 6 years, 4 months ago

Um, clarification Mark? Thanks a bunch!

mfagan 6 years, 4 months ago

Hello, Windmere. I wrote just what I was told from a conversation I had with Julie Boyle, the district's director of communications. She said there would be a presentation, then perhaps a presentation by a teacher or teachers, and then some discussions in small groups, so that people could have their questions answered. The small groups could include "some facilitation," I was told, but we'll see what that means. I spoke with Julie about this back in mid-November, so perhaps things have changed. I don't know what other conversations others have had with Julie or others at the district (I see that you say you were promised a Q&A in front of the large group). Again, we'll see. The schedule remains the same, of course: Tuesday night at Southwest, and then Wednesday night at Liberty Memorial Central. - Mark Fagan, Schools reporter

Windemere 6 years, 4 months ago

Thanks, Mark. I know that it is most definitely the understanding of some parents that there will be district presentation, plus break out groups, plus Q & A in front of the whole crowd (unsure if groups will be 2nd or if Q & A will be 2nd).

Jana Rea 6 years, 4 months ago

I hope this proves to be OPEN and not another top down pedantic display of arrogance in the face of honest and valid concerns from this district's tax paying constituents. We will be watching.

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