Letters to the Editor

Lower expectations

September 17, 2011


To the editor:

I hope every  parent in the Lawrence school district reads the Journal-World article “Schools phasing out letter grades” (Sept. 11, page 3A). It really doesn’t matter if the performance ratings are A, B, C, D, F or S, M, T, E. What does matter is at what level the student achieves. 

The new marks are:

S — successfully meets standards

M — making progress

T — targeted for growth

E — excels consistently.

The J-W article continues, “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.’” Ms. Kobler, director of curriculum and instruction, states that “S” is the goal.

That statement is absolutely phenomenal! Why wouldn’t you expect the student to excel? Granted, in the “politically correct world,” all students should make an “S,” but, in the real world, there are the “E’s” and the “T’s.” A baseball coach doesn’t say “swing the bat; don’t worry about hitting the ball.” Nor does a basketball coach say “hit the backboard; don’t worry about making a basket.” Coaches expect their players to strive for an “E,” not an “S.” A school district shouldn’t say “make an ‘S’; don’t worry about making an ‘E.’”

It is no wonder that many parents are choosing private schools!


Roland Gunslinger 2 years, 6 months ago

"A baseball coach doesn’t say “swing the bat; don’t worry about hitting the ball.” Nor does a basketball coach say “hit the backboard; don’t worry about making a basket.” Coaches expect their players to strive for an “E,” not an “S.” A school district shouldn’t say “make an ‘S’; don’t worry about making an ‘E.’” "

Wow... really bad analogy.

A coach would say hit the ball, but realistically I don't expect you to bat 1.00. And a basketball coach would say work on your free throws, but realistically I don't expect you to make 100% them.

The goal is to get everyone at a minimum level of an S. It's unrealistic to expect everyone to be at an E. Just as it's unrealistic for a basketball coach to expect every one of his players to shoot 100% at the line. If a coach had all 5 guys on his team shooting a minimum of 80% (S) from the line he'd be happier than if he had 1 guy shooting 93% (E), 2 guys at 81% (S), and 2 guys at 50%(T).


sickofdummies 2 years, 6 months ago

I agree that changing a test based grading system does not encourage the students to strive for excellence. If not for percentage based letter grades, how does a student measure his or her growth. For kgrimes, who claims to be the only self motivated, goal setting teenager I've ever heard of, how would you measure your improvement if there is not a definitive measure of academic learning?
I also must disagree with dowser. The SMTE grading system is much more subjective than standard letter grades. It has more to do with behavior than anything else. At least with traditional grading, grades are based on test scores, percentage correct on homework, etc, and the student is clear on what was done wrong, and how to improve. With performance based grades, it is all opinion.
I remember wondering in kindergarten why my child only received an S on her report card for knows numbers 1-100. The teacher explained that she either knows or doesn't. I wondered, my child had been reciting her numbers since she was 3. By kindergarten she could count 1-100 and then do it in reverse. There were some children who were just learning their numbers. So, what did she have to do to be considered excellent at this skill? I'd been telling her for 2 1/2 years that she was doing an outstanding job, but now her report card says that she's just average? My daughter went to middle school this year, and I thought, "Finally. Some accountability." After years of being babied in elementary, finally everything would count toward her grade. I was thrilled with the prospect of her learning the value of striving for excellence and taking pride in every assignment. Alas, I guess that was just a dream.
I also wonder what will happen when we throw the 8th graders, who will not be used to the traditional grading system into High School. In Middle School, there is still a learning curve. There is room to make mistakes and learn the lessons that are important. What will happen when they have to wait until High School to learn those lessons? By High School, mistakes cause much more damage. Grades are on the transcript that will be received by prospective colleges. There is no room for a learning curve there. I say, lets make sure that kids not only strive for excellence, and learn work ethic, as well as academics, but lets teach them these valuable lessons while they still have the wiggle room to learn them.


ljwhirled 2 years, 6 months ago

Who cares? It is all about what you can do in the real world. Grades are BS. Test scores are BS. Degrees are BS.

Your career will likely be determined by:

  1. Who do you know.
  2. Luck.
  3. Who likes you ( interpersonal skills ).
  4. What you can do.

In that order.


consumer1 2 years, 6 months ago

Aren't the new letters still letter, grades?


gccs14r 2 years, 7 months ago

The letter grade is supposed to be shorthand for a performance score. The real grade should be a number like 87.4, or 74.2, indicating what percentage of the material has been learned, with a letter grade assigned to make the grades more easily read and to indicate whether the percentage of the material learned is adequate to advance to the next level. Those letter grades are supposed to be further subdivided with plusses and minuses, too, because there is a big difference between a 79.6 and an 89.4, the lesser of which is often rounded up to a B, but one is a B+ and the other is a C+.


teacherspet2 2 years, 7 months ago

Chuck, I appreciate your letter and I would like to encourage any person concerned about this new grading system to contact Angelique Kobler at the district office, 832-5000. This system was sprung on the 6th grade teachers during the first full week of school. Those teachers coming up from the elementary school were told at the end of the last school year that standards based grading would not follow the sixth graders to the middle level. Those teachers agreeing to teach 6th grade that were currently in the junior high setting were not even aware that the standards based grading system was going to be used. The fact that the district did not discuss this decision with the teachers who would be using it should be concerning to the public. The sixth grade teachers were given a one hour training session to answer their questions. This unilateral decision is not acceptable and the training was a joke. I would urge the public to stand on the side of the public teacher, who already has plenty of work on their plate already.


mr_right_wing 2 years, 7 months ago

Sounds like it could be a 'cost saving measure'. If there are no 'F" there is no 'failure' then no need to repeat that grade or subject. As long as you're in school for 12 years you get your diploma!


kgrimes 2 years, 7 months ago

My motivation to succeed in school came not from what grades I received, but from my own personal goals and the persuasion of my parents. It seems like those of you who are complaining about this change forget that it's mostly YOUR job to motivate your child, not your school's. Grow up and be the adult.


Liberty_One 2 years, 7 months ago

Government at its best. How's utopia working out for you?


Norma Jeane Baker 2 years, 7 months ago

The dumbing down of America continues. And we call it 'education'.


chopchop1969 2 years, 7 months ago

As quoted in the article from Journal-World article “Schools phasing out letter grades” (Sept. 11, page 3A)

“ ‘S’ is the goal,” Kobler said.

I hope to never see that quote in a classroom in the district where my kids go to school. Imagine that one hanging on a wall....

And what's the deal with standards-based education that says that kids don't have to do their work? I've heard that zeroes in the grade book aren't supposed to count against a kid under this system too. Even if a kid only does like three out of ten assignments, they are only supposed to be marked on the three that they did. How does that prepare a kid for life?

Always tell a kid to shoot for the stars and that work ethic does determine where you end up. Kobler's message and this whole system is shameful.


Ray Parker 2 years, 7 months ago

Up until the early 1960s, old-fashioned teaching methods in public schools, backed up by a cranky teacher ready to apply an 18" ruler to students who did not apply themselves, worked well in 95% of cases. Then came modernized teaching methods, leftist judges, teachers' unions, and school boards who bilked taxpayers out of tons of money when new methods were a dismal failure. We have lost one year of academic achievement in K-12 public schools every decade since. The 8th-grader of the 60s was much better educated than the high school graduates of today. It's a wonder our universities accept many high school graduates at all, without remedial classes. How many of our industrial blunders, accidents, and disasters might be attributed to modern education methods?


Jimo 2 years, 7 months ago

Who knew that assigning a different letter to a grade would completely transform "what level the student achieves"! As if labels altered substance.

Mr. Thomsen, perhaps you didn't achieve all that much on the taxpayer dime yourself but "what level the student achieves" wouldn't change even if you got rid of grading altogether. Most people realized long ago that "gold star" kids aren't really motivated by gold stars. But those gold stars do serve as a powerful discouragement to the kids who can't achieve at that elite level but otherwise do manage to learn, through trial and effort, exactly what we ask them to learn. Stigmatizing them with some "insufficient" grade when they've learned everything they're supposed to because they aren't themselves a genius with eidetic memory doesn't help anyone.

Besides, a healthy and effective education system isn't one obsessed about quantifying and categorizing those performing at the top of the scale but rather those who are lagging behind, even failing. Perhaps your genius observations might be better focused on those students?


voevoda 2 years, 7 months ago

Mr. Thomsen is incensed by the new grading system because he doesn't understand it. He thinks that "S" is the equivalent of a "C" or even worse. But to use his own analogy, "S" is the equivalent of hitting the ball and scoring a single or a double. "E" is the equivalent of hitting the ball out of the ballpark and scoring a home run. Because students' talents vary, it's reasonable to set "S" as the standard all students should strive for, while reserving "E" to mark those who are truly talented in a particular subject. Any grading system, whether A-F or the new SMTE or a numerical score on a 100 scale, is simply a shorthand to assess the quality of students' learning. All such shorthands are imperfect. The real questions are different: Are teachers giving students detailed feedback about what they're doing right and wrong, and helping them to learn from their mistakes? Are students focused on learning the material?


GardenMomma 2 years, 7 months ago

This is why a hybrid of the A-F and the S, M, T, E system should be adopted. Quantify those grades that can be measured and qualify the more subjective criteria such as class participation.


Peter Macfarlane 2 years, 7 months ago

I remember in graduate school in the late 1970s and again in the late 1980s that most of us considered a B to be the equivalent of a C and that getting an A meant that you excelled in the course, although these days an A is almost considered to be the normal. This is called grade inflation.

My point is that the traditional A-F system of grading is proving to be meaningless at the graduate school level where you would think it should have meaning, So what does this say about the rest of the educational system using this system for grading?

As a middle school teacher I can tell you that grades are not an entirely objective measure of a student's performance and may in fact be very subjective. Teachers often take into account the vague category of class participation, which more often than not has nothing to do with the subject being taught and is more a reward or punishment for behavior. Furthermore, teachers strapped for time or resources typically base their grades on the poorest of assessments, the multiple-choice or true-false test. These tests have very little bearing on proficiency in the subject. Would you be willing to trust a surgeon to operate on you if the basis for his/her license was a multiple-choice or true false test?

So, what do the grades that an instructor or teacher give a student mean? Sorry to say, not very much!


weeslicket 2 years, 7 months ago

from the lte: A baseball coach doesn’t say “swing the bat; don’t worry about hitting the ball.” Nor does a basketball coach say “hit the backboard; don’t worry about making a basket.” Coaches expect their players to strive for an “E,” not an “S.”

so following this analogy of "striving" for an E, not an S: what batting average would "earn" a player an "E"? 1.000? .400? what shooting percentage would "earn" a player an "E"? 60% 50%


labmonkey 2 years, 7 months ago

When 50 million Aidens hit the workforce in 15 years, they will be alright because they have high self-esteem with their S's for grades and mommy will still pack a juice box for their interview.


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