Traditional letter grades now are a thing of the past in elementary schools in the Lawrence school district, and middle schools may be next.
“That’s our goal,” said Angelique Kobler, the district’s division director for curriculum and instruction.
The first phase of the plan takes effect this year, as the district plans to have sixth-graders continue receiving report cards in the form of Standards Based Progress Reports, which are multisectioned report cards that follow the same format as those used for the past six years in grades K-6.
The standards-based forms do not carry traditional letter grades of A, B, C, D or F. In years past, teachers of fourth-graders and fifth-graders have assigned letter grades to supplement the standards-based forms; beginning this year, however, such teachers will use only the standards-based forms.
The goal, Kobler said, is to focus on what students are learning, the skills they’re picking up and the learning behaviors they’re employing along the way instead of averaging scores and using them to assign a letter grade.
Focusing on meeting standards instead of posting scores allows teachers to focus more on students’ achievements and goals, Kobler said. Students are less likely to become frustrated as they fall behind, and instead can build upon their own progress and they move through lessons, units and grade levels.
“It’s really shifting the whole grading paradigm,” Kobler said.
Not everyone is convinced that’s a good idea.
Shawn Holiday, who has a son at Sunset Hill School, isn’t looking forward to her fifth-grader missing out on receiving traditional letter grades. The standards-based forms are fine, she said, but receiving an A, B, C, D or F is the best way to push students to do better.
“It can be a motivation tool: If you’re at 89 percent, you know that if you can push yourself a little bit harder you can push yourself to an A,” Holiday said. “That’s motivating for kids.
“To me, this (standards-based report) sounds more like a Montessori situation. If we wanted our kids to go to a Montessori school, we would send them to a Montessori school.”
Sixth-graders will continue to receive letter grades this year, in addition to the standards-based reports.
The standards on the reports coincide with the state standards for each subject, at each grade level. Reading for example, means that a sixth-grader is expected to be able to “read fluently in all text types.”
On the report, the student would receive one of four marks for each standard:
• S: Successfully meets standards.
• M: Making progress.
• T: Targeted for growth.
• E: Excels consistently.
While “E” is the highest rating, it sits at the bottom of the list because the district doesn’t want to foster the expectation that every student should get an “E.”
“ ‘S’ is the goal,” Kobler said.
Standards-based reports go beyond content. Such reports also include a section concerning “learner behaviors,” such as being prepared for class, turning in homework and other such practices.
A student struggling to meet a standard in a subject, for example, also may be falling short in a learning behavior. Such information could help a teacher, student and parent work together to come up with a plan for turning things around.
Having the two components can help keep a student interested in learning and advancing, said Therese Edgecomb, who teaches sixth-grade language arts and social studies at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School.
“Focusing on their skill gives them hope, she said.