School Board Set For Final Review Of Standards-Based Report Cards
By: Diana T. Barth
When a student takes a test at school, that test might cover a number of different concepts. If the child gets a “B” or “C” on that test, that grade tells a parent that the child’s performance is average, but it does not tell that parent exactly what ideas that child does, or does not, understand.
Nor does it distinguish between understanding a concept, applying it, and taking it to the next level and using it to create something new or different.At the end of the year, when all grades are averaged, and a report card comes out, the letter grade that results is even less likely to convey specific information about what that child has, or has not, learned, educators have said.
Standards-based report cards are an attempt to change the type of information teachers gather, and parents receive, about their child’s educational progress, Bourne educators have said.Instead of a letter grade, parents would see an evaluation of their child’s mastery of a concept.
One example of how such a report might look was given to parents in the Bourne Middle School newsletter published in February of this year.In that example, one of the standards to be evaluated when looking at a child’s composition might be “writes with a clear focus, coherent organization, and sufficient detail.” A teacher might then be able to tell the parent if a child’s writing was below that standard, had made progress working on it, had met it, or had exceeded it.
In March, the Bourne School Committee approved, in concept, the idea of replacing letter grades with a standard-based report card at the Bourne Middle School level.
This past Monday, that committee had been set to make a final determination as to the proposal, approving everything from the concept to the dotted i’s and crossed t’s of the implementation of the new grading system.Instead, the final vote was rescheduled to June 2, something School Superintendent Edmond W. LaFleur said would allow for a full test of the new software that will be used to compile the new report cards. The delay in that vote was not the first, and it caused frustration for several of the parents who attended this week’s meeting to bring either objections or unanswered questions about the proposed change before the committee.
That change has been about four years in the making, said Assistant Superintendent Joyce G. Harrington—two years under former Bourne Middle School Headmaster Ernest Frias and two under Mary C. Childress, who replaced him when he retired.
Dr. Harrington said that standards-based evaluations are “good pedagogy.”
Speaking after Monday’s meeting was over, she said one of the reasons she began exploring a new way to evaluate student performance was when she saw that the current grading system appeared to favor girls over boys. She said she had noticed that, when honors were being handed out, girls were far more frequently found at the top of the list than boys. That made Dr. Harrington do some further research, she said. Therefore, instead of looking at letter grades, which can sometimes measure how well a student does everything a teacher requires of them, she looked at MCAS scores, which are considered to be a good measure of what a student has learned. A list of the top scores on the standardized testing, she said, showed a more nearly equal number of boys and girls. That result made her begin to think about what she wanted report cards to measure.
Dr. Harrington said she then began looking at standards-based reporting, a system that educators say evaluates, and encourages, higher levels of thinking. She then began to work in earnest with staff to develop a report card for Bourne that more accurately reflects what the students understand, lets parents know what skills their students need to work on, and one that, she said, rewards understanding and innovative thinking.
The standards-based reporting system that will again be coming before the School Committee fits that bill, she said.However, Dr. Harrington said, change is hard. It took a good deal of negotiation between school officials and the Bourne Education Association to come up with an agreement as to a number of concerns raised by staff, she said.
One such agreement was a change from quarterly grades to the trimester system, giving teachers more time to evaluate student performance. Another, she said, was assurance that the report card software, which needed to be customized to the concepts being taught, was working flawlessly. Dr. Harrington said that, were three teachers working together to teach, say, English, they needed to work together to set out the standards by which their students would be evaluated. Teachers and administrators alike also wanted to ensure everyone had the training they needed to implement the new system.
Those negotiations, the training, and the actual work on the system, took a good deal of time, she said, acknowledging the resistance to change that educators encountered.
While she acknowledged that no big changes were made with absolutely everyone fully on board, she also said that those teachers who have embraced the new system have said they would never want to go back to the old system.
Dr. Harrington said it was her understanding the bugs had been worked out of the software and that all that was left was a final test of the system.
Bourne PTA member Susan M. Baracchini, one of the parents who came to Monday’s meeting prepared to ask questions and raise objections, said this week that she is not completely opposed to the new system.
She said she thought the reporting worked well in the elementary grades, but said she had concerns over the idea of applying it beyond 6th grade. She said several parents who had researched the issues over the long period of time it took for the system to be ready to be implemented in Bourne found that some districts that used the standards-based system reported that it was ineffective in motivating older students. Ms. Baracchini said those parents worried that the reporting system would have “a negative impact” on those students’ drive to excel, rather than promoting a higher level of thinking.
Questions were also raised over the impact, if any, the different reporting system would have on 8th grade students transferring to high schools in other districts, something Dr. Harrington thought would not be a problem. Parents have also asked, Ms. Baracchini said, what will replace the honor roll and customary student performance recognition programs.
There was also, Ms. Baracchini said, another factor at play: the feeling of some parents who reported to her that their questions had been dismissed by staff members as lacking in understanding, with eye rolls and even, she said, what they considered outright rudeness, during some of the many parent meetings held to discuss the proposed changes.
Bourne Middle School Climate Committee member Angela L. Sweeten, who had written to the school committee and who spoke at Monday’s meeting, said that, like the school committee, she agreed with standards-based report cards in concept.
However, she said she had attended every meeting concerning the new reporting system, and she wanted assurances that all of the teachers were comfortable with the change. If they were not, she said, the process needed to be slowed down.
The mother of a high school, middle school, and elementary school teacher, and as someone with a background in education, herself, she also had concern over the proposed change to a trimester system, something she said meant that three reporting periods might be replacing eight—four interim and four regular—report cards. She wanted to be sure parents would hear about a problem in time to correct it.
Ms. Sweeten said she had been told that another parents meeting is expected to be scheduled between now and June 2, when the school committee will be asked to make its final determination on implementating the system.
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