New grading system piloted in schools
Some kindergarten through fifth grade students won’t be getting any As or Fs on their report cards this year, but not because they’ll do better or worse than they normally do in school – the marks themselves are changing.
Following a unanimous decision by the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District board at its Sept. 5 meeting, at least one K-5 class at every school in the district will pilot a program that uses a number system on report cards instead of letter grades.
“The whole idea is to give parents and teachers more specific information,” said TTUSD director of curriculum Ruta Krusa. “When you get a B in reading it means you’re doing well in reading – but how well, in what part of reading?”
The new report cards are part of a system designed by a committee of TTUSD teachers and administrators to make grading more aligned with state standards, Krusa said. The report cards will break down the major subjects and show grades on the various concepts within them covered in the curriculum. For example, the third, fourth and fifth grade report card breaks up reading into three main categories – comprehension, vocabulary/word analysis and fluency.
All the subjects will also have a separate score for effort. “Grades used to include effort and attitude with what a kid knows about a subject,” Krusa said, explaining that a student who works in the traditional grading system might get a high mark but not comprehend the standards tested by the state.
“It’s not infrequent when a parent says, ‘my child has always gotten As in math, how come he only got a 45 on the SAT9s?'”
The need for a standards-based grading system became apparent when standardized testing became the “big thing” and because TTUSD teachers were “doing their own thing,” Krusa said.
It was timed to be piloted this year because the elementary schools just moved from the quarter system to the trimester system, which the middle and high schools have already implemented.
“It’s an indication how we were all doing different things. We need to have cohesion,” Krusa said.
In the current system, most fourth and fifth graders receive letter grades on their report cards and some lower grade teachers use letters as well, although most use marks like “outstanding, satisfactory or needs improvement.”
The proposed system will give number grades for each subject category. A “4” will indicate advanced work, when a student consistently exceeds the standards. A “3” indicates a student regularly meets standards and is proficient in the subject. A “2” shows a student is beginning to and sometimes does meet standards. And a “1” shows a student is not meeting the standards. Marks for effort, social skills and learning skills will be indicated by “excellent, satisfactory or needs improvement.”
Krusa said the proposed grading system has received a lot of support among teachers, which is good because volunteer teachers will implement the pilot program.
But not everybody is so certain about the new system.
“I still have a problem with transitioning from letters to a numerical system,” said TTUSD board member Dan Collin at the Sept. 5 meeting. Collin also expressed concern about effort grades, as did board member Pat Gibbons-Johnson.
Board member Mel Cone said he was worried that a “1” grade doesn’t send as clear a message to students as an F, or failing, mark.
Krusa, however, thinks the new program will help struggling students before they fail, because it specifically targets what subject areas they need intervention in.
“Telling a kid that he’s failed is kind of like giving up on him,” she said. “This (system) isn’t telling him he’s failed, it’s letting him know where improvement is needed.”
Krusa said the board reflected the foreseeable questions of some parents about the program.
“There is some concern that parents won’t like (number grades),” she said. “Our board is very responsive to parents.”
Parents of students in the pilot programs will get a chance to learn more about it during teacher conferences scheduled in October. After the first report cards are given out, parents will also be have the opportunity to give feedback so the report card committee can “work out the bugs” to make them more “user-friendly,” Krusa said.
After the school year is out, the school board will debate whether to implement the number grading system district-wide for all K-5 classes, most likely in July.