Archive for Wednesday, November 30, 2011

First Bell: Standards-based grading holding at sixth-grade level; board president prepares to ‘move on’; teacher describes ‘E’ work

November 30, 2011


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The Lawrence school district’s “informational discussion” Tuesday regarding standards-based grading in middle schools included plenty of — you guessed it — information, both during formal presentations and the responses they generated.

Here are three items folks may find of interest:

First: Don’t expect standards-based grading to expand beyond sixth grade, at least not anytime soon.

Kim Bodensteiner, the district’s chief academic officer, assured attendees during Tuesday’s forum at Southwest Middle School that she would not soon recommend extending the use of standards-based grading to other grade levels.

“There are some changes coming in the standards from the state,” Bodensteiner said. “And so I would not recommend that we do anything different at (grades) seven and eight, certainly not next year — maybe not for at least two years — because I would like to be sure that we know what those changes in standards are going to look like. And that’s not going to happen for two or three years.”

A parent raised the issue during the forum, expressing her concerns that the grading system — one that is tied to state standards, with teachers awards an “S” for successfully meeting a standard, an “M” for making progress, a “T” for being targeted for growth, or an “E” for excelling consistently — could inch up into higher grade levels.

The parent clearly doesn’t want that, and had posed a direct question: “Can you guarantee us it will not go 7 through 12?”

Bodensteiner’s response: “I don’t know that I can guarantee anything. …

“There are people who have talked to me who are wishing we did have standards(-based grading) up in higher grades. Some people would like to see more specific feedback for students beyond just the letter grade, even in our high school classes.

“We have not had any formal discussions about doing anything in high school. There has been some discussion about what this should look like in middle school.”

The parent’s response: “I still don’t understand why we’re not just leaving it in elementary, and leave well enough alone?”

Bodensteiner: “I will not be making any recommendation to increase anything. …”

Parent: “Will it be sprung on us, the way this was?”

Bodensteiner: “I'm certainly not interested in doing this again,” she said, referring to the district having to conduct informational forums to communicate. (FYI: A second forum is set for 7 p.m. today at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, 1400 Mass.)

Bodensteiner's line drew a bit of laughter from the members of the audience, some of whom had came to the forum after having previously attended school board meetings to express their concerns, having signed an online petition to document their concerns, and having scheduled individual and group meetings with administrators and school board members to outline their concerns and make suggestions about how to change a system they clearly regard as substandard.

Bodensteiner, for her part, noted that when the district started planning for the reconfiguration of schools — turning junior highs for grades 7, 8 and 9 into middle schools for grades 6, 7 and 8 — teachers served on 20 committees for middle school and even more for changes at the high schools. District officials had discussed the use of standards-based grades for sixth-graders at meetings of school site councils.

She hadn't expected that retaining the same grading system that's been in place for sixth-graders since 2003 would generate any opposition as it made its way into middle schools this year.

“I misread this, clearly,” Bodensteiner told the audience. “I misread it. I get that. We are here now, and so I want to talk about how do we do this, so that we can provide good feedback for kids, provide good feedback for you, and not make a decision based on a lot of emotion that’s happening right now but make a careful decision about what’s really good for our students.”

Members of the Lawrence school board plan to discuss the issue during a meeting sometime in December or January.


Lawrence Fire Chief Mark Bradford.

Lawrence Fire Chief Mark Bradford.

Mark Bradford, president of the school board, generated some tension when he discussed the district’s plans for standards-based grading at the sixth-grade level.

The board will decide the issue, after hearing from parents and teachers and anyone else who wants to offer input — through letters or forums or emails or petitions or any other format, Bradford noted.

And teachers who may not like it, he suggested, essentially would have a choice to make — just as people decide where they want to live, or where they might choose to work.

“Once the decision is made on how we’re going to do grading in this school district," he said, “then that’s the way it’s going to be.”

Kim Beeler, a parent from Southwest who has been critical of standards-based grading in middle school, quickly stood up and accused Bradford of “bullying” the district by suggesting that teachers could “choose to work here.”

“It’s not fair,” said Beeler, who referred to 30 teachers having signed a letter opposing the grading system for sixth-graders. “There’s a real disconnect with the teachers. This is our town, and our schools that we pay money for. It’s really frustrating to hear that.”

Bradford stood his ground: “I’m just saying: When the decision is made about which way we’re going to go, if you want to work here, that’s how you have to do it.”

Beeler described Bradford’s attitude as “insulting,” especially considering that the district didn’t schedule any teachers opposed to the system as speakers during the forum.

Bradford assured Beeler and others that his thoughts reflected a simple reality.

“We have to move on,” he said. “We could have teachers from both sides here, (and) it’s not going to change anything. But a decision has got to be made, if you’re a teacher, on what we’re going to do so we can move on.”


One teacher who accepted the district’s invitation to make a presentation to the audience was Therese Brink Edgecomb, who teaches sixth-grade language arts and social studies at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School.

Edgecomb drew positive comments from attendees regarding her consistent use of standards, her clear outline of student expectations, and especially, it seemed, her tying of traditional letter grades to standards-based grades.

In Edgecomb’s book, the only students who can earn an “S” for a particular standard are those receiving an A or a B for that standard, she said. An “M” for making progress? That’s reserved for kids earning a C in that standard.

An “S” is considered her highest grade for students doing grade-level work. A student could get all questions correct on a test or an assignment or anything else, and such achievement would be assigned an “S.”

To earn what many parents consider to be the best grade — an “E,” for excelling consistently — a student would need to be doing work beyond his or her grade level. Consider a standard related to research, she said: Writing down information from a source would represent satisfactory grade-level research, meeting the established state standard.

Consistently interpreting information from a source, and applying it to reach conclusions would be going to the next level.

“That’s awesome,” Edgecomb told the crowd. “That’s ‘E’ work.”

Several attendees lauded Edgecomb’s clear expectations, passion for teaching and detailed standards for achievement.

One parent expressed a wish that such consistency could be present in every class at every grade level.

“Then we probably wouldn’t be here,” he said.


KS 6 years, 4 months ago

"Kim Bodensteiner, the district’s chief academic officer" - Sounds like a postition that the district could do without. Taxpayer money!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 4 months ago

I take it that you know precisely what their duties are if you can call for the elimination of the position.

Could you recite those duties for us?

weeslicket 6 years, 4 months ago

fyi: kim bodensteiner is the only administrator at usd497 who can, and does, give you an honest answer to any question.

buffalo63 6 years, 4 months ago

"Chief academic officer" - " Director of curriculum and instruction" - what is the difference? Shouldn't that be the same person? I guess the latter is in charge of buying books - or not buying books and using technology. Where does that leave the "IT Director"? Too much overlap in administration. Kim Beeler finally pegged Bradford correctly!

Paul R Getto 6 years, 4 months ago

One way to settle this: Only give an "A" to those who demonstrate detailed mastery of all the published standards. That might be fair, but few high grades would likely be awarded and that's part of what drives this whole debate. Grades haven't meant much for generations. If they did, at least 1/2 of most classes would get a C. Clearly that won't work in this century. Keep up the discussions board and staff; the issue is demonstrated learning, not what we call the marks awarded to students.

New2KU 6 years, 4 months ago

The most frustrating part about all of this is that the board is showing their hand. Mr. Bradford made it clear, if the teachers don't like it they can leave and if parents don't like it they can move. What kind of attitude is that to take as an elected official. Clearly there is a chance for the school district and parents to work together for the betterment of the kids and Mr. Bradford could care less.

Bassetlover 6 years, 4 months ago

Bradford doesn't have a "bullying" bone in his body. Far from it. He simply chooses not to sugarcoat the reality of this situation. He's a straight shooter and isn't afraid to call a spade a spade. Similar to Gov. Chris Christie (but in much better shape!), his verbage is direct, honest, and realistic. Those who don't agree with his viewpoint can agree to disagree, but to call him a bully is simply juvenile.

Jayhawks64 6 years, 4 months ago


Were you at the forum last night? Did you hear what he said? He made a direct threat: if you don't like it, don't teach here or don't live here. He is a bully. I've dealt with him before and he was as arrogant and condescending then as he was last night. When confronted after the meeting about what he said, he had the nerve to deny even saying it. No wonder teachers are intimidated by the district and the board president.

Gary Denning 6 years, 4 months ago

Teachers are employees--highly educated and mostly highly dedicated to their profession, but employees nonetheless. Why is it bullying to expect an employee to do the job as defined by the administration?

The School Board and administration might be correct and they might be wrong in their decisions, but they are the boss and can certainly determine how their employees will do their job.

Windemere 6 years, 4 months ago

I think most people would agree that choice of words and tone have an affect on how people interpret a communication. Would people want our elected officials to have the demeanor of the drill sargeant from "An Officer and a Gentleman"? I was there. Mr. Bradford's choice of words and the tone conveyed disdain and disregard for parents and teachers concerned about these important issues and came across as quite arrogant. So, sure, he's going to rub quite a few people the wrong way. He certainly seemed to me like a person who should not be president of the school board.

Jayhawks64 6 years, 4 months ago


You were obviously not at last night's meeting. The district certainly has the authority to set the rules, but they don't have the right to intimidate which is what Bradford did last night. And telling parents if they don't like it then move is not a very diplomatic way of handling the situation. If Bradford wants to run a private school, then he can crack people over the knuckels with a ruler, but not in a public school setting.

Since the district and board does seek input from teachers on curriculum issues, then they need to hear feedback from ALL teachers, not just those who fall in line out of fear.

Megan King 6 years, 4 months ago

A bully is a person who uses scare tactics to get their way. That is what the administration and Mark Bradford have done. The teachers, while employees trying to do their job in the best way possible, are unable to voice their oppinion of how to fix a very realy problem; a problem they hear about on a daily basis from the parents of their students. They have been told not to speak out and they have seen what happens to the teachers who do! So yes Mark Bradford is most definitly a bully -NOT a good leader!

sunflowerhue 6 years, 4 months ago

Dr. Doll was asked about this specificially (by some teachers) and he responded, "I could easily see this going up through high school." Either he has changed his mind or they just want people off of their backs and they'll try again in a couple of years to slip it through. A part of standards based grading that hasn't been mentioned is: Teachers will not be allowed to dock someone's grade if they cheat. If students cheat, they can re-do a test or a paper. If they cheat again, the teacher can come up with yet another assignment and the kid can try again. The ultimate goal of the district is strictly for a kid to gain knowledge. I think their goal ought to include preparing them for college and life in general. How would the above do that?

Windemere 6 years, 4 months ago

See this thread (reader comments from today's front page article) for more on how "Learner Behaviors" cannot be factored into academic reporting, and why that does not prepare students for high school or the real world.

dpd 6 years, 4 months ago

Why would a teacher who disagrees with the system speak out? Especially if Bradford says they can teach elsewhere?

Richard Heckler 6 years, 4 months ago

Mr Bradford is a Chamber thinker and believes the school district should be involved in promoting growth for Lawrence,Kansas in which I disagree. Education is the primary objective of the BOE not growth. This he stated publicly during his campaign..... this lost my vote.

Mr Bradford's attitude is getting close to that of Brownback. Will Mr Bradford be issuing an executive order in the near future?

Did any of the other board members support his position? He is not the leader of the BOE necessarily .... it's just his turn to be president which does not come with any special authority.

gl0ck0wn3r 6 years, 4 months ago

blah blah blah RHINO blah blah blah Brownback blah blah blah Bush blah blah blah Chamber blah blah blah sprawl. Is there any topic in which you vary from your dogma?

Selective_Tourettes 6 years, 4 months ago

Dr. Doll did manage to say, as Bradford was interrupting and speaking over him, that there was no district policy preventing teachers from speaking out against this issue.

gl0ck0wn3r 6 years, 4 months ago

I'd love to see grade distribution statistics for the district over the last twenty years from K-12. Has anyone asked for this data before re-evaluating grading systems?

Paul R Getto 6 years, 4 months ago

GO3: I suspect they follow the national trends. The "C" grade was once average; the "B" is now the new average. Nothing wrong with that, I guess because everyone feels better. How about a "Super A" to give the top 10%, say those who demonstrate master of all the objectives intended to be taught in a class? Here, for example, is just one from the high school set:
Civics-Government Standard: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of governmental systems of Kansas and the United States and other nations with an emphasis on the United States Constitution, the necessity for the rule of law, the civic values of the American people, and the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of becoming active participants in our representative democracy. Benchmark 1: The student understands the rule of law as it applies to individuals; family; school; local, state and national governments.

The student: 1. (A) evaluates the purposes and function of law. 2.▲(A) analyzes how the rule of law can be used to protect the rights of individuals and to promote the common good (e.g., eminent domain, martial law during disasters, health and safety issues). 1. (K) defines civic life, politics, and governments. 2. (K) recognizes contracts may be verbal or legal agreements and are binding. 3. (A) defines and illustrates examples of torts (e.g., wrongful death, medical malpractice, defamation, personal injury, dignitary harms against a person, such as bodily injury or civil rights violations). 4. (A) defines and illustrates examples of misdemeanors and felonies (e.g. misdemeanors: traffic violation, small theft, trespassing; felonies: murder, sexual assault, large theft). 5. (K) explains Kansas court structure (e.g., Municipal Courts, District Courts, Court of Appeals, Supreme Court).

Incidentally, the delta means they will test this one; any of the others could also appear on the state tests. This standard alone might make a good homework assignment for either LJW bloggers or those who choose to run for office. Discussion? Anyone? Anyone?

gl0ck0wn3r 6 years, 4 months ago

No doubt you are correct. I ask because it seems to me that if the district already has significant grade inflation problems one could reasonably assume switching to a fuzzier, ill-defined system would push the bell curve further. I'm certain someone in the district has the data but I honestly don't care enough to run it because it's been my experience that no one really cares about those sorts of arguments.

Nikki May 6 years, 4 months ago

I'm not against standards based grading, in fact I do see benefits of them. However, they DID change the way grading was done in K-6, specifically 4-6. In previous years, our students had benchmarks, but also the traditional letter grade. Let's say my child consistently refused to turn in her spelling homework on time. (This may or may not be a true story). When she did the work, it was good work. She would probably get a M or T on "completes tasks on time". However, test time rolls around and she aces the tests (for the record, that might be why she thought the homework was pointless). So her spelling grade is an A or B. The tests are weighted higher the the homework and the in class work was in there too. So, we know from the standards, she's strong willed and we know from the letter grade, she knows how to show what she knows.

Now, there isn't a grade for language arts really. There's reading (fluency, vocab, and comprehension) and writing they are assessed in 4th - writes legibly in cursive, in 5th and 6th it's just "rights legibly". A standard on the 6th grade sheet is "strives to produce quality work". That doesn't sound very concrete to me. I STRIVE to be a millionaire with a sweet car. NOT reaching it, but I strive for it. I don't like judgement calls. It's too easy to be swayed by the kind of day you are having. Now, I'm not saying anything specific and I know my son's teacher checks each thing often. But it could happen.

Anyway, I'm wanting letter grades and bench marks can be there too. And the Bradford thing sounds like textbook bullying. The teachers aren't refusing to do the job. They just want people to know what they think.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 4 months ago

The teachers aren't refusing to do the job. They just want people to know what they think. === Good point and nothing wrong with that. Sounds like a 'civics' lesson to me.

Cogito_Ergo_Es 6 years, 4 months ago

Absolutely! Lots of us do things in our jobs we don't particularly care for or agree with (I'm not suggesting any major morality thing here), but we do them anyway because it's part of the job. Bradford's assumption that just because the teacher's don't agree with the policy means they won't do the grading that way, is just disrespectful and shows how little regard he really has for them (or for us for that matter.) And if he doesn't like all this open discussion and controversy, he can 'choose' to live somewhere else.

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