Change to how grad­ing is done

Home­work, ef­fort, other fac­tors no longer count in Balto. County

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Liz Bowie

Linda Hurka, a mother of five, al­ways has taken an in­ter­est in her chil­dren’s school work, but she was never one of those mothers that had time to lead the PTA or ad­vo­cate for an ed­u­ca­tional cause.

Bal­ti­more County’s new grad­ing pol­icy changed every­thing.

Furious that home­work, ef­fort, at­ten­dance and be­hav­ior will no longer be fac­tored into stu­dents’ grades, Hurka was stirred to ac­tion. She spoke pas­sion­ately at the school board meet­ing last week and passed out 75 leaflets to par­ents at Du­laney High School on back-to-school night. She has con­tacted the County Coun­cil. She wants the pol­icy re­vised.

“This grad­ing sys­tem ac­tu­ally dis­cour­ages ef­fort since it ba­si­cally has no value re­flected in the grade,” Hurka told the school board.

Many par­ents and teach­ers are per­plexed by the new grad­ing pol­icy, which took ef­fect at the be­gin­ning of this school year on a trial ba­sis. It re­flects a philo­sophic shift to fo­cus on what a stu­dent knows as the ba­sis for the grade.

Un­der the pol­icy, ex­plained in a 60-page doc­u­ment avail­able on the county schools’ web­site, home­work is not graded, teach­ers can­not give a stu­dent a fail­ing grade lower than 50, and stu­dents who don’t per­form well on a test or as­sign­ment can redo it to get a higher grade.

Bal­ti­more County’s chief aca­demic of­fi­cer, Ver­letta White, said the new pol­icy is sup­ported by re­search.

“We will have high stan­dards for our stu­dents,” White said, in­clud­ing grades that “aren’t mud­died by other fac­tors” than

achieve­ment.

The new ap­proach is called stan­dard­s­based grad­ing and is be­com­ing more com­mon across the coun­try. Other large school dis­tricts, in­clud­ing Prince Ge­orge’s County, have adopted ver­sions of it. Bal­ti­more City es­tab­lished 50 as the floor for num­ber grades sev­eral years ago.

Teach­ers will re­port be­hav­ior, ef­fort, class par­tic­i­pa­tion and whether the stu­dent has done home­work on the re­port card, but it will not be counted as part of the grade. Home­work will be as­signed but not graded. There are ex­cep­tions for longer as­sign­ments such as an English es­say or a bi­ol­ogy lab re­port, which will con­tinue to be graded, White said.

What irks some teach­ers, said Abby Bey­ton, pres­i­dent of the Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of Bal­ti­more County, is that be­hav­ior isn’t part of the grade.

“My folks are con­cerned that the be­hav­ior and at­ten­dance is go­ing to get lost in the shuf­fle,” Bey­ton said.

Teach­ers want stu­dents held ac­count­able for their be­hav­ior and at­ten­dance in some way, and she is look­ing for tweaks that can be made to the pol­icy that will ac­com­plish that.

Bey­ton ac­knowl­edged teach­ers in the county are split on the new pol­icy.

“There are lots that are up­set and lots that aren’t,” she said.

Mar­tin Stranathan, a bi­ol­ogy and chem­istry teacher at Du­laney High School, doesn’t find the pol­icy trou­bling.

He has been us­ing a ver­sion of it on his own for years to fo­cus stu­dents on the ex­cite­ment of learn­ing rather than the grade.

“Hon­estly, I stopped grad­ing home­work 15 years ago,” he said.

That hasn’t stopped him from giv­ing stu­dents feed­back on their work.

He said most of his stu­dents do the home­work he as­signs, par­tic­u­larly be­cause he points out that they will be quizzed on the ma­te­rial.

Rick Wormeli, an ed­u­ca­tion con­sul­tant who lec­tures on grad­ing and home­work, said Bal­ti­more County’s new pol­icy is a model for oth­ers.

Wormeli said the no-grad­ing pol­icy re­flects “a ma­jor cul­tural shift” that is usu­ally con­tro­ver­sial when first in­tro­duced. He ar­gues that put­ting home­work and be­hav­ior in a sep­a­rate cat­e­gory on re­port cards ac­tu­ally el­e­vates the at­ten­tion stu­dents will pay to them.

An­other as­pect of the pol­icy be­ing crit­i­cized is the let­ter grades. The county is chang­ing the grad­ing scale so that a fail­ing grade goes from 50 to 59 rather than from 0 to 59. The rest of the scale re­mains the same, with 60 equiv­a­lent to a D, 70 is a C, 80 is a B, and 90 is an A.

White ex­plained that stu­dents who get a zero on an as­sign­ment or test will have a dif­fi­cult time im­prov­ing their grades even if they be­gin to do bet­ter as the year goes on.

“We want to make sure stu­dents can re­cover from a low grade,” she said.

When strug­gling stu­dents feel they can never catch up be­cause of a zero grade, they are de­mor­al­ized, Wormeli said. “It forces the kids to give up,” he said. Along with the no-zero pol­icy, teach­ers will be able to of­fer stu­dents mul­ti­ple chances to prove they have learned a les­son. So if a child fails a test or turns in an es­say and gets a low grade, the stu­dent may re­take the test or re­write the es­say. White said teach­ers can put a cap on the num­ber of do-overs they al­low.

Ni­cole Yoder, a for­mer teacher and a par­ent of an ele­men­tary school stu­dent, finds that as­pect of the pol­icy “lu­di­crous” be­cause stu­dents will feel they can do the work when­ever they feel like it.

“It kind of takes away the pur­pose of do­ing the as­sign­ment,” she said. “It takes com­plete stu­dent ac­count­abil­ity and stu­dent re­spon­si­bil­ity out of the equa­tion.”

Yoder wor­ries that stu­dents who work very hard and do all their work will be get­ting the same grades as those who don’t do the work but can pass the tests.

The grad­ing pol­icy was de­vel­oped af­ter two years of re­view by a large group that in­cluded teach­ers, prin­ci­pals and ad­min­is­tra­tors in the school sys­tem. The new pol­icy is be­ing tested this year across the school sys­tem. White said it can be re­vised next sum­mer af­ter feed­back.

Yoder has dis­cussed the pol­icy with teach­ers and be­lieves many are con­fused by how to carry it out.

Yoder be­lieves suc­cess­ful peo­ple usu­ally put in a great deal of ef­fort to master their work but that is not the mes­sage chil­dren in county schools will get from the new pol­icy.

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