The leadership of the Wake County school board may have changed, but staff is still advocating changes that would eliminate classroom behavior from academic grades.
As noted in today's article, staff came back with the same recommended changes that stalled before the prior board in August. Staff is seeking the new school board's approval to go ahead with this revised grading policy and new R&P.
During Thursday's student achievement committee meeting, board member John Tedesco was the main proponent of the changes. Board member Jim Martin was the main critic.
The discussion opened with Ruth Steidinger, senior director of middle school programs, giving the committee an overview of the grading review.
She said Wake's principals, while not wanting to adopt the 1-4 report card system in secondary schools, did want to emulate elementary schools in having standards-based grading.
Steidinger mentioned how a few years ago they had every middle school and high school assistant principal read Ken O'Connor's book "A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades." The book was then discussed with the teachers.
Among O'Connor's controversial ideas is that academic dishonesty should not be punished with reduced grades. He suggests using alternative consequences.
Some of the ideas in this O'Connor handout have led to changes at individual schools. Some ideas are incorporated in the new R&P. Steidinger called O'Connor's book "a great tool."
One of the changes some schools have made is to stop issuing zeros because it's considered too hard for a student to recover from that score. Steidinger said that practice is not sanctioned or directed by the district.
Steidinger promoted the benefits of having standardized grading practices and not counting behavior in the academic grade. She said research has shown that in borderline passing cases, teachers give extra points to a "good kid" but not to a "bad kid."
Steidinger said the grading task force agreed that the purpose of academic grades is to reflect mastery of curriculum objectives.
One change in the R&P would limit homework to only being up to 10 percent of a student's academic grade per marking period. Teachers can currently count homework for up to 15 percent of the grade.
Steidinger said the R&P bans the use of extra credit because "too often we see extra credit being used to make amends for a child not learning the content.” She cited the example of how a student might get extra credit for bringing tissues to class
Steidinger discussed the change that would allow students to have up to five days to hand in missing work. Teachers can't penalize the missing work by more than 10 percent.
The committee spent a lot of time on allowing students to retake assignments or exams to get a better grade. Steidinger said this gives teacher another opportunity to reteach the material to demonstrate if the student has learned the content.
“You want to teach until they learn," Steidinger said.
In the case of a missed assignment, she said the student would also have to complete the original one.
The R&P says that the second grade will replace the original grade, even if it's a lower one. Steidinger said that's worded that way because some teachers feel that if they're going to draw up a new test or give a new assignment that the grade for it should count.
Steidinger said she prefers that they take the higher score of the two.
Martin said it's appropriate having a consistent level of expectations. But he said every class is different and he felt the R&P was "over prescribing" what teacher should do.
Pointing to his own experiences as an N.C. State professor, he said writing a new exam takes a lot of time to do really well.
"Teachers can’t afford to spend all their time rewriting assessments," Martin said.
Martin said there are places where reassessment works fine and others that don’t.
"Putting everyone in one mode turns teachers into automatons," Martin said.
School board chairman Christine Kushner, chair of the committee, asked how much uniformity is needed.
Steidinger said part of the reason for the guidelines is the inconsistency where students with the same set of grades will change because of certain teacher nuances. She said that's pitting teacher vs. teacher. She said the guidelines "need to be very granular,"
Martin asked whether you can point to any area in life where there's uniformity.
"When you’re dealing with human organisms, you’re not dealing with an assembly line," Martin said.
Martin said you expect to see some differentiation in life, including among teachers.
"I want to know if that A means they mastered the content, not that it means they’re a compliant child," Steidinger replied.
Martin said he agrees with some of the guidelines like not giving extra credit to a student for bringing an apple to a teacher.
Tedesco, vice chairman of the committee, spoke up for the retests.
"I personally feel that part of the learning process for our students is making mistakes without harming them for the long term," Tedesco said,
Tedesco added that "if they showed mastery of content, we want to reflect that in a way that helps them move on to success."
Martin asked where's the cutoff for determining who can ask for the retest. He asked whether it's fair to a student who gets a 92 the first time around when "a kid with a C or D on a retake gets a higher grade."
Martin also pointed to the workload issue on teachers.
"It creates a nightmare for teachers," Martin said. "It will quadruple their work.”
But Steidinger said that teachers should be working together in professional learning teams to share assessments and avoid duplication of efforts. For instance, said she one teacher can write the original assessment and another teacher can do the reassessment for the team.
Martin asked Steidinger whether the second time you do something you're going to do it better than the first time. Steidinger responded that it depends on how well you prepare.
Martin said this change is focusing primarily on remedial learners who need a retest. Steidinger said she disagrees on that.
"The effort in the R&P is to increase consistency and reduce variability but not tie the hands of folks," said Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore. "I don’t believe it’s overly prescriptive."
Steidinger added that teachers served on the task force recommending the changes.
After a lengthy discussion on letter grades for elementary schools, they moved to the section on reporting classroom behaviors in grades 6-12 separately from the academic grade. This new letter grade would cover work habits and classroom conduct. Based on samples from other districts, honesty could be included in a behavior grade.
Steidinger said they'd have to hire a temp to create a behavior course code for all the middle school and high school courses.
Martin asked what was meant by "classroom behaviors."
"Cutting up in class or sassing another student means one thing," Martin said. "Not doing your assignment means something else."
"If you’re constantly retaking an examination, that says something about your life," Martin added.
Tedesco brought up the example of a student who might not do his daily homework but gets "As" on all his exams. He asked whether that child should get a C.
Martin said behaviors are important too by citing the example of what would happen if you were part of a team with a company and you didn't work with that team but only showed up at the presentation to make the pitch.
Tedesco responded by asking whether that person closed the deal for that team.
Kushner said that she would consider cheating to be an academic behavior and not a classroom behavior.
School board member Susan Evans brought up how as a parent of a child with ADHD the child was punished for outbreaks in class. She said that shouldn't be treated the same as not showing up for class.
Tedesco said that if a student is perceived as not listening because he has ADHD, he shouldn't be docked if he demonstrates mastery of the material.
"We need to know that the grade of C or D means he needs extra help," Tedesco said.
"We need to know that the A means the student has demonstrated mastery, not that he brought in packets of tissues to class," Tedesco added.
Steidinger told the committee that she feels she has enough direction to come back with some potential revisions.