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New Grading policy has a rocky start in Montgomery County



Another example of the tail (standardized testing) wagging the dog (education) in Maryland.

"Ultimately, officials say, if the standardized grading policy is introduced smoothly, students' grades in the classroom will correlate to their standardized test scores, reducing surprises at exam time."

"Teachers said they were not sure what kinds of homework assignments could be counted toward a student's grade. They were not sure how they were supposed to evaluate special education or immigrant students who made great academic leaps but were still working below grade level. They were not sure whether they were supposed to fail a child who tried very hard in gym class but was too clumsy to meet the objective of hitting a ball with a tennis racket."


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A57380-2003Sep10.html
washingtonpost.com
Grading Changes On Hold
Montgomery Wants To Clarify Plan

By Linda Perlstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 11, 2003; Page B01


An ambitious new grading policy took effect this year when classes began in Montgomery County: Students were to be measured only by how well they mastered the curriculum -- no A's for effort -- and grades would mean the same thing in every school across the system.

But for many teachers, the policy was explained in two pages of guidelines or a PowerPoint presentation the week before school started, leaving many to sort through rumors and confusion.

Teachers said they were not sure what kinds of homework assignments could be counted toward a student's grade. They were not sure how they were supposed to evaluate special education or immigrant students who made great academic leaps but were still working below grade level. They were not sure whether they were supposed to fail a child who tried very hard in gym class but was too clumsy to meet the objective of hitting a ball with a tennis racket.

Should they take points off if an assignment was handed in correct but late?

"They just gave us a piece of paper and said, 'This is the new grading policy,' and that was that," said John Hendrix, a science teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring. Although there was little consensus on how exactly the policy should be translated in the classroom, he said, "everybody agrees on the fact that the implementation is a mess."

So on Tuesday, two weeks after the policy debuted, the county Board of Education put it on hold. School system administrators have been asked to prepare a multiyear plan to better explain and implement the changes, starting next school year. The old grading policy will apply until then.

Many people wonder why that kind of education campaign did not happen the first time around.

"The transition, I suppose, between [deputy superintendents] might be an issue, and just time, and the vastness of it," School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said yesterday, reflecting on the bumpy policy change. "We had the highest number of people in the district in training this summer . . . in the implementation of the

Ultimately, officials say, if the standardized grading policy is introduced smoothly, students' grades in the classroom will correlate to their standardized test scores, reducing surprises at exam time.

curriculum. We had the highest number of teachers in summer school, and that takes teachers to teach."

For now, some schools plan to keep to the spirit of the new policy; at others, teachers can grade the way they did last year.

Several teachers at Forest Oak Middle School in Gaithersburg said yesterday that they agree with that goal, though they remain unclear on how to attain it.

Letter grades, the new policy said, "will report student achievement on course expectations as outlined in the curriculum." Debi Root, who teaches eighth-grade world studies at Forest Oak, was not sure whether the policy would allow her to continue giving individualized assessments based on reading level or whether she would have to pull every student's test from the eighth-grade textbook.

Michele McMahon, who teaches physical education, said: "I understand the premise . . . that grading on effort was not allowed. In our discipline, that's difficult."

Jay Foster, an eighth-grade science teacher, said the policy is "a move in the right direction. . . . But with something as serious as students' grades, we need to have the answer. Not just some answers."

Betsy Hasegawa, the mother of a Forest Oak student, said parents "got the basic message that there is going to be a big change in philosophy -- 'Get ready for it.' We really didn't know much about it." At a PTA board meeting before school started, she said, "there were so many unanswered questions."

Meanwhile, eighth-graders at Forest Oak said they had been disappointed at the start of school when they were told that they would no longer be able to rack up points for raising their hand in class, organizing their notebooks or completing the homework.

For the record, the previous grading policy did not encourage such bonus points. But guidelines that accompanied the new policy explicitly prohibited them: "Effective effort toward an academic goal continues to be valued in the classroom; it is just not included in the report card grade for a course." Homework may be graded if it "allows students to demonstrate proficiency on grade-level indicators" and not just for being completed, the guidelines said.

Before, "if teachers saw a student tried the homework, you'd get points," said Veronica Leach, 13.

"Now you have to get it right," said Rachel Nakayama, 13.

That's exactly the point behind the attempted change, school system officials say. Laythia Thornton, 13, said she thinks that teachers should be able to nudge a 79.4 to an 80 for a student who tries very hard. When told that the policy was being delayed, she said, "I'm really relieved. I thank God," and high-fived her pals at the lunch table.

But board members vowed when they delayed the policy that the heart of it -- including a proscription on such grade-nudging -- will remain unaltered when it kicks back in next year.



© 2003 The Washington Post Company