Parents with sixth grade students attending Lawrence middle schools this year will receive a lot more feedback based on the traditional A-through-F grading scale.
But Lawrence school district officials say they have not completely abandoned the “standards-based progress reporting” system that grades students on an E, S, M and T scale.
Instead, according to district spokeswoman Julie Boyle, middle schools will now use a hybrid system in which students will see only the traditional A-through-F grades on their report card for their courses, but will continue to receive standards-based grades to rate certain learning behaviors such as coming to class prepared, listening, following instructions and using time wisely.
Will Fernandez, principal at South Middle School, said it should be a welcome change for parents.
“There has been a bit of problem with parents understanding the E, S, M and T on the old report card,” Fernandez said. “Because of issues they've had with it, they've looked at it — who the audience is supposed to be, what's in the document — and tried to make it user-friendly,”
Lawrence introduced standards-based grades at the elementary level in 2003. The system is intended to rate students' performance based on how well they meet state academic standards, as well as a wide range of behavioral factors, using the non-traditional E, S, M, T letter scale. But many people have said they find that confusing.
Those letters stand for “excels,” “successfully meets standards,” “making progress,” and “targeted for improvement.”
The new system sparked controversy in 2011 when the Lawrence district reconfigured schools by eliminating junior highs and moving sixth grade students into the newly formed middle schools.
Because the standards-based system requires a great deal more more work on the part of teachers, it caused a big increase in the workload of middle school teachers, who often are responsible for upwards of 100 students a semester, compared to the 25 or so students in a typical elementary classroom.
Many parents also were upset with the use of the grading system for sixth graders. And the district itself ran into difficulties, because the Skyward computer system used to manage student information didn't fully support standards-based reporting.
Dozens of parents, teachers and administrators turned out for a series of public meetings the Lawrence school board held in November 2011 to discuss those concerns.
As a result, Boyle said, district officials have modified the system last year by reducing the number of indicators on which students were graded on the E, S, M, T scale, and adjusted schedules to give middle school teachers more time for recording and reporting grades.
This year, she indicated, the district has dropped standards-based grades entirely for reporting on academic progress in classes and is only using it to monitor learning behaviors.
“The district continues to dialog with middle school teachers about the research-based practices when educating young adolescent students, including grading practices,” Boyle said.