Parents concerned about standards-based grades being used for sixth-graders in the Lawrence school district will get a chance to raise their objections, make their suggestions and listen for answers during an upcoming informational session.
District administrators plan to conduct a forum, likely next month, to address concerns raised in recent weeks regarding the use of standards-based grades in middle schools.
The grades — E, S, M and T — will accompany the familiar letter grades of A, B, C. D and F this year for sixth-graders, just as they did for sixth-graders last year and for several years before that. The system covers how a student is meeting requirements tied to state assessments, ranging from “excels” to “targeted for growth.”
Some parents made a return trip to district headquarters Monday night, opening the Lawrence school board’s meeting by reiterating many of the same complaints they and others had made Sept. 26:
• Middle school teachers haven’t been properly trained in how to administer such grades.
• Students won’t be spurred to strive for excellence, and instead will work only to “satisfy” state standards.
• Having two different grading systems used in the same schools — sixth-graders get standards-based grades, while seventh- and eighth-graders don’t — will cause confusion, especially among teachers who have students at different grade levels.
• Teachers will have too many grades to issue and therefore be more likely to follow “mass grading” by lumping many students into the “S” category even though many likely will be slightly below the standard and others likely will be somewhere above — with no ability to account for such differences.
Letter grades — based on percentages and homework and test scores, and other assignments and considerations — represent the best system to encourage excellence, populate honor rolls and otherwise prepare students for high school and beyond, parents at Monday’s meeting said.
“I am not looking to become a ‘Proud Parent of a Satisfactory Student in USD 497,’” said Jill Patton, parent of a sixth-grader at Southwest Middle School, who has been critical of the system. “That is not a bumper sticker I’m willing to post.”
After the Sept. 26 meeting, district administrators started making plans to schedule an educational forum to hear from parents, share information and talk about how the system is designed to help provide parents and students with more information than can easily be conveyed by a simple letter grade.
Administrators also have reduced the number of report “indicators,” or statements that require grades, from as many as 30 for each student in each subject to six for reading and six for math. Administrators also are considering suggestions for modifying Skyward, the computer system teachers use to enter information about students’ academic work and parents use to track their kids’ progress.
Even so — and with emails, phone calls and other complaints flowing into district headquarters — administrators know they need to improve their communication on the grading issue. That’s why, while working on the board’s draft of annual goals, they included an item calling for a forum to discuss the issue.
“We’re fairly perceptive,” Superintendent Rick Doll said. “And we obviously have picked up on the fact that there are questions and comments about reporting and grading, and so we have created a goal that deals with gaining parental and core community feedback on that topic.”
Board members approved the plan as part of their list of overall goals, a document that strives for Excellence, Equity and Engagement.
Board member Randy Masten, for one, is counting on the forum to offer a “valid critique” of the system, with teachers and parents on both sides of the issue making their feelings known, both positive and negative.
“It’s a good system,” said Masten, who’s heard from both opponents and supporters of the grading system. “There are some growing pains with moving it into the middle schools, but … we’re moving in the right direction on this.”