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So long A students: Re-1 institutes new grading system

Carrie Click

Little Johnny isn’t going to get an A at school this year. He’s not going to get a B, C, D or F either.Starting the first day of school, Sept. 3, all elementary schools in the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 will replace letter grades with a new standards-based system. Educators say it should provide students, teachers and parents a better way to track what Johnny is truly learning and comprehending at school. Re-1 assistant superintendent Judy Haptonstall presented the new grading system to the school board Wednesday. “This is a huge change,” explained Haptonstall. “Our new standards-based grading gives us so much more information.”The new grades will be implemented as a pilot program for the 2002-03 school year. A 25-member committee of administrators, parents and teachers worked over the summer to finalize the new system. “We wanted to start with the elementary schools,” she said. Eventually the standards-based grading will be used at district’s middle schools and then the high schools.The district adopted the new system because traditional letter grading failed to accurately measure academic proficiency – or motivate students.”When a child receives an A, what does that really tell us?” asked Haptonstall. “What has the child learned? Conversely, letter grades can often have nothing to do with learning. They could just reflect that a student has a good work ethic, but he may not be proficient. “Plus, the traditional model doesn’t motivate. There’s a concept out there that grades are motivators, but they’re not. The only students they motivate are the straight-A students,” she said.Haptonstall said that the new system better reflects the adult world.”In adult life, we have deadlines, but we also have things like extensions,” she said. “Anyone who’s filed an extension on their taxes knows that one.”In that way, the new standards-based system doesn’t penalize students for staying with a subject until they are fully proficient. “We need to work with kids who might not be able to meet a deadline for becoming proficient in a certain subject,” she said. “With this new system, we will teach until the student learns it, no matter what it takes.”Haptonstall said the district has been providing parents with fliers and information, preparing for the change. Each elementary school student’s family is receiving a copy of the “Learner Proficiencies Handbook,” a thick guide that outlines what students “know and can do,” according to the handbook’s cover.Gradingcontinued from page A1Parents can look up each grade from kindergarten to fifth grade – or what the new system refers to as “level 5” – and track exactly what their children should be learning.For example, in the section on first grade, or “level 1,” the handbook outlines subject areas called “proficiencies” such as reading, writing, math, science, health, social studies, physical education, music and art. Under each proficiency are specific, detailed standards that each student needs to learn and become proficient before moving to the next topic.In the case of level 1’s science proficiencies, students are first expected to master standard 1, the scientific process, which is defined as understanding and communicating that “science involves a particular way of knowing.” Once that standard is achieved, the student can move on to standard 2, physical science, which concerns classifying and identifying “different forms of energy such as heat, light, sound and motion.”Haptonstall reported getting extremely positive feedback from elementary school teachers. She said most teachers find grading much easier and more complete with the new system.Parents can expect better interaction with teachers using the standards. As an alternative to report cards, teachers will submit an interim report to parents for each student at six weeks, followed by a more comprehensive report at 12 weeks. The reporting process will repeat three times throughout the school year. “I can see how this helps parents see precisely where their children are, and where they need to be,” said board member Peter Delaney.The new system is not yet computerized, but plans call for putting the program online in January 2003.Haptonstall said committee members and elementary school principals wanted to first work with the system on paper, to work out any logistical issues and give teachers the opportunity to build the program together.By fall 2003, every elementary school teacher and principal will be trained to operate the system online. “This is great work,” commented school board president Robin Garvik. Standards-based grading “allows the teacher to evaluate the whole learner.” In addition to Haptonstall’s report on standards-based grading, the school board also discussed:-A Nov. 5 ballot initiative on eliminating school-board term limits.-The request for proposal process for creating the district’s facility and grounds master plan.-A K-12 assessment program that better educates and addresses the needs of English as a second language students. -The added safety of the five new “little buses” that are replacing the district’s 15-passenger vans, which have been retired and deemed to be unsafe.-A celebration tentatively being planned for 5 p.m. Sept. 12, at the former North Face property, in Carbondale which the district has just purchased, to honor Ernie Gianinetti who contributed his real estate commission to the purchase of the property.


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