by Terry Rogers
At a recent meeting, Dr. Bridget Amory, Director of Student Learning, provided the Milford School District Board of Education with details on a new report card method the district was considering for elementary students. The new report cards would use a Standards Based Grading (SBG) method to provide parents with an understanding of their child’s progress. The district plans to implement the new method starting with the 2022-23 school year.
“Our Kindergarten center at Morris Early Childhood Center, has been working on using this model this academic year and has been a bit of a trailblazer for us,” Dr. Amory said. “One of the great things about the standards based report card is that it actually is now going to allow for us to be in alignment with the kind of teaching that we have been doing. So, this is the first time that we will be aligned not only instructionally with the Common Core instructional materials, but now we’ll be able to report out student progress that is in alignment with that.”
Dr. Amory provided details on how the report card would now be aligned with how well students were making progress toward meeting standards. The biggest change would be that parents would now be given feedback similar to what students are provided in the classroom. She used an example of a student who has a 75 percent on a report card, stating that parents may not understand what that 75 percent means. The new method provides the standards and allows parents to see how the child is progressing toward meeting those standards.
“So, for example, let’s say Mrs. Wiley happens to be in a place where she’s in third grade. She will be reported out in terms of what those end-of-third grade expectations will be as she continues to move through the third grade and how she is making progress toward meeting those standards,” Dr. Amory said. “Students will be earning the scores of a one, a two or a three and that will be broken down into the language that means a one is simply that a student is attempting but they’re having minimal success. So, they’re having limited progress towards meeting that standard. A two would be a student that is actually approaching the standard. They can do this standard, or they can meet the skill, but they can’t necessarily do it consistently. And then three would be meeting this standard they can do it consistently.”
Dr. Amory used the analogy of learning to ride a bike as an example of how this new grading system worked. She explained that when a child learns to ride a bike, they start with a tricycle with three wheels. If the standard was that the child should be able to ride a two-wheel bicycle by the end of the year, a child who could ride a tricycle a few months into the school year would receive a “one” on the report card. If that child had progressed to training wheels, they would receive a “two” and a child who could ride the bike without any assistance would receive a “three.” Children who have an IEP or 504 plan would continue to receive those special services and be graded based on their specific needs.
“We will begin the communication process with families at the start of next academic year to make sure that they fully understand what this will look and feel like. We have the benefit of our Kindergarten families having had this experience this year is that it will be a natural flow as they move into first grade,” Dr. Amory said. “And so they won’t have to regress in the way that their understanding their student progress. We’ll be able to continue to move forward with that. And then this is just a way to help families understand how to help explain the standards based report card to a child really focusing in on the progress that a child is making. Instead of focusing in on a percentage or something that a student might be lacking.”
Board member Jean Wylie asked Dr. Amory if parents had provided feedback on the new report card. A former teacher and principal herself, Wylie recalled using this method of grading in the past and parents were not supportive as they were used to seeing an actual grade. Dr. Amory stated that the experience with Morris students had been very positive and that families were more engaged in the child’s progress than with a straight letter grade. Since this was only going to be used in elementary schools, Wylie wanted to know how this would transition at the middle and high school level.
“We will continue to provide support in helping families understand how we are reporting out on student progress. I don’t anticipate that we are going to move forward with a standards-based report card at the secondary level. It is a much more complicated process,” Dr. Amory said “It is not that we aren’t necessarily teaching to the standards but it’s a very different process when you’re looking at credit recovery and then using those transcripts for secondary or higher education. It’s a much, much more complicated process. So right now our plan is to start with the K to five we may revisit that notion for grades six through eight in time but I don’t anticipate us doing not necessarily at the high school.”
Board member Dr. Adam Brownstein expressed significant concerns about the new grading method.
“I have several comments. So, I’m going to be the bad guy here and say that I’m completely not in favor of this transition. And I have several concerns,” Dr. Brownstein said. “My first concern is that, and I come at this as having been a special needs student in the demographic that you’re talking about, and then transitioning my way from a special needs student to an academically challenged. So, once you meet the standard, there basically is no reason for that student to then work hard, right? So, once they have a three they’ve got a three on their multiplication tables. There’s really nothing pushing them to excellence because they’ve met the standard so why should they work hard?”
Dr. Brownstein was also worried about stagnation, especially among students who may be overachievers.
“I am worried that there’s no way to distinguish acceptable versus good versus excellent. We should be pushing all of our students towards academic excellence, not meeting standards. That’s not an acceptable outcome long term,” Dr. Brownstein said. “I also disagree with the assessment that this will not creep into higher grades. I think that is inevitable. I think that’s the way we are moving in education in general, is we’re putting less and less emphasis on standardized test scores. And I promise you that if I had an employee who met expectations, that employee would not be an employee. I would be much more demanding than that. And I think that having them if you said this was for kindergarten, I’d be okay with it. But to let a kid get all the way to fifth grade, and then snap and now they’re on a numerical system. I think it’s going to be very jarring for them because they’ve gone through a very clinical, very important part of their academic development with one system and now all of a sudden, you’re doing a different system. And the first system had a mediocre expectation and now this other system is going to have a much more rigorous it’ll be much more rigorous. So, I have that concern.”
Pointing to one of the slides used by Dr. Amory in her presentation, Dr. Brownstein stated that the district believed achievement was intrinsically motivating for students.
“That just seems like a lot of word salad to me. I was very motivated by a more traditional numerical score. In fact, I was more motivated for that because there were more gradients if you gave me a one, a two or three that’s not motivating to me, to me a two would be a failure and a three would be good. But if you give me an 80 or 90 or 100, I have something to work with,” Dr. Brownstein said. “So, for a whole host of reasons, I think I understand your position. I understand that other schools are doing this. I see all sorts of pitfalls with this. This seems to me to be part of this wanting to make things more palatable for students and parents as opposed to actually trying to raise our academic standards. And further and this is probably my biggest concern is any regression that young kids have experienced because of COVID will be masked by this because we have a ton of data on kids’ academic performances and standardized tests and if we go through this system right now, this will be a complete smokescreen for any loss from COVID. And so I think this is a terrible time to be making this transition. I need to get that off my chest because I think that needs to be stated publicly. There’s nothing against you. I just think this is perhaps the worst time to be doing this.”
Board Vice-President Rony Baltazar-Lopez asked how this new grading system would help parents understand a child’s progress, especially those in multi-cultural households.
“The intent is that as we are planning to deliver instruction, so I’m going to use the again the example of riding a bike. We don’t necessarily teach kids how to ride a bike. But it’s a good analogy and a lot of us can make connections to that. So, when we’re doing that, that let’s say that’s a standard at the end of third grade that a student is able to independently ride a bike, a two wheel bike without training wheels and without that third wheel which will be the tricycle,” Dr. Amory said. “So, if that is the end outcome we ask how are teachers are planning their instruction? And that intent is that they get all of the students to meet that standard. What happens when we struggle? In our curriculum materials at the elementary level, we are now all standards aligned. And so, we’re teaching standards we’re not just choosing curriculum, and not just choosing activities that are outside of those standards. We’re actually teaching toward those.
In the case of a child who may be learning English for the first time, the bicycle analogy also works well, Dr. Amory stated.
“An English language learner may never have seen a bicycle before. Our job is to help show you what a bicycle is and then help give you the skills and give you the practice to be able to be successful in riding that bicycle,” Dr. Amory said. “And it’s our responsibility to tell you a family and their child how they are making the progress in meeting that goal, which is why very often with our English language learners or what we are now referring to as multilingual learners, is that very often it’s not that they don’t have the skill set. They just don’t have the academic vocabulary to get to that place. And that’s why we often rely on the narrative report card to help explain that to families. So, this is another way that actually will help make it clearer and more transparent for our families to make sure they know exactly what is expected in terms of the standard and then exactly what kind of instruction is aligned to that.”
Board member David Vezmar asked how this type of report card would work for a child with autism who may be mainstreamed into a regular classroom. Dr. Amory explained that the child would have an assessment that is measured based on their individualized education goals. A child with autism, even though mainstreamed, would have an IEP and the report card would reflect the standards set by the IEP.
“My biggest concern as somebody who is not professionally in education, but an outsider looking in, I am confused why the state would want to adopt a policy that encourages kids to simply meet expectations,” Dr. Brownstein said. “That’s my single concern in a nutshell, my one liner. Why are we focusing on meeting expectations and not excellence? Because this really seems to do that.”
Dr. Amory stated she could not speak for the state and their position on that. School Board President Jason Miller suggested that the topic be added to a future workshop agenda for detailed discussion as it seemed the board had several questions.
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