The North Platte schools are rolling out a new grading system this year – a much different system.
The change is most dramatic for elementary students.
The grades that now go home on report cards are more general than before. Gone are the days of the grades of A, B, C, D and F.
In elementary schools, the grades are now “proficient,” “developing” and “beginning.”
Behind those generalities is more precise information about how students are doing, school officials say.
Associate School Superintendent Tami Eshleman said the aim is to make grades consistent, accurate and supportive.
She said there will be no loss of accountability.
Many of the parents of students at Washington Elementary got a look at the situation on Oct. 5.
Principal Greg Fruhwirth wanted parents to know about the changes before the student-teacher conferences arrived Oct. 19-20, so he arranged for teachers to meet parents in the classrooms after school hours, and explain the new system.
Parents received print-outs about the changes, part of which said the standard A-B-C-D-F grades are unfair.
“A-B-C-D-F unfairly labels students and can stigmatize learning at this age level, because children are still learning to learn,” the handout said.
Despite appearances of vague grades, the student’s precise academic knowledge will be tested, according to the top administrators.
“The meaning of grades, whether letters, numbers, or proficiency levels, will be derived from clear descriptions of performance standards,” central office administrators say.
For example, in fifth grade math, students will have to work with fractions, decimals, and percentages, and understand the basics of geometry and algebra, according to state and federal “common core” standards.
And, in second grade reading, students have to be able to read common high-frequency words by sight, such as “the, of, to, you, she, my, is, are, do, does.”
They also must understand phonetics – how words are made and how words sound – and be able to read text aloud with accuracy, expression, and at the appropriate rate, according to state common core standards.
Also, the math curriculum from Kindergarten to 12th grade has been overhauled, and will be delivered by computer instead of books.
Students will continue to take small tests – quizzes and homework assignments – to measure their learning, Eshleman said.
In grades K-6, a student is still learning the content of the class, so it is reasonable to expect they will make mistakes, Eshleman has said.
Teachers are expected to give students feedback that will be supportive and timely, so “students can actually use that feedback immediately to improve their performance on tests, projects, and assignments,” according to school district officials.
After the smaller tests, students will receive instruction in areas where they are deficient. They may re-take those tests or redo their homework assignments.
The smaller tests, called “formative assessments,” will comprise 30% of the student’s quarterly grade.
In addition to the reports of “proficient, developing (and) beginning,” more detailed information about a child’s learning will be available and provided at parent/teacher conferences, Eshleman said.
She said the new grading and reporting system is geared to accurately report what students know and are able to do. She said their knowledge is aligned to the “Nebraska State Standards and Indicators,” so the same school work, completed in two different classrooms, should receive the same grade.
Likewise, students in one school should learn the same things as students in the same grades in other schools, she said.
Students will have opportunities to practice, analyze their performances, self-reflect, and learn from mistakes in a safe context before a “summative test” (major exam) is given.
In addition to quizzes and homework, students will take the summative exams twice each quarter of the school year.
Eshleman said the “summative tests” are measurements of learning. Similar to major exams in former days, scores on those tests comprise 70% of the student’s quarterly grade.
One thing – failure will not be an option, top school officials say.
“Students will never reach a place where (they think) there is no point in doing any work because failure is inevitable,” Eshleman said.
An accurate grade needs to be based primarily on work that was actually scored at a time when the student has sufficient instruction, and practice, to be held responsible for the results, she said.
Then, they will be rated “proficient, developing (or) beginning.”
In middle school and high school, the grades of A-B-C-D and F are still used, but higher grades are more easily attained under the new system.
Each letter grade now comprises 10 percentage points, instead of the traditional system, wherein a grade covered a 6-7 point range.
A and B grades, which equate to “proficient” are percentage grades between 80-100%.
The category of “developing” equates to the grade of C, which is somewhere in the percentage of 70-79.
A “beginning” grade equating to the grades of D and F — which is now in the percentage range of 50-70%, according to the school district handbook on grading.
The new grading practices will be audited during this school year, the district has said, and if things go okay, will be permanently implemented in the 2018-19 year.
Also, students will continue to receive a satisfactory or unsatisfactory on their report cards, regarding their conduct, work habits and their interactions with adults and peers.
The North Platte Catholic school board recently approved its grading system for the school year, which keeps the traditional system:
A – 93-100%
B – 86-92
C – 78-85
D – 70-77
This report was first published in the Bulletin’s Oct. 11 print edition.
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