With questions still lingering among school board and community members, the Westside Community Schools are discontinuing a year-old grading system at Westside Middle School for the coming school year and returning to the traditional report card used in the past.
Kathy Bradley, the school board's president, noted the move is an interim step and not necessarily a final decision.
“When there are big questions remaining,” she said, “it's probably best to spend more time studying.”
School board members, she said, have not discussed the move or their individual questions or concerns as a group.
But she said her own concerns relate to students' transition to high school, where traditional grading is used. The grading scale needs to be easily understood and memorable, she said, and standards and performance need to be described “in language that resonates with parents and students.” The reporting system also should motivate students to excel.
Peggy Rupprecht, a district spokeswomen, said administrators and teachers will continue to look during the coming year at how best to communicate student achievement to parents and students.
The new grading system will remain in place at the elementary level next year, although the district will add an additional, yet-to-be defined “4” mark to the current three-mark system.
Westside switched to the new system last fall at the middle school and in 2010-11 at the elementary level, dropping the district's traditional A, B and C grades for a new lineup of 3, 2 and 1 marks.
The change was part of a shift to what's known as standards-based reporting, an approach that states grades ought to accurately reflect a student's knowledge and skills based on standards set by local or state panels.
A number of other school districts in Nebraska and western Iowa have adopted the approach to varying degrees. Some have encountered criticism. And some, including the Omaha Public Schools, have continued to make adjustments.
A group of Westside parents spoke against the system last fall, saying it compromised the district's mission of excellence in education because students strive for proficiency — a 3 — instead of for excellence.
The district conducted a survey of parents, students and teachers in January with the help of an outside firm. About a third of elementary and middle school parents responded. The results, announced in March, indicated that 53 percent of elementary parents and 71 percent of middle school parents felt that the three marks did not provide enough information.
The district announced then that it would add one or more marks to the grading system in time for the 2012-13 school year, including one that better reflected the performance of high-achieving students.
District officials noted then that the new system does a better job of providing specific information about what standards students have met and where they need to improve. At the same time, the officials acknowledged that standards-based reporting represents a break from the past.
Bradley, the school board president, said she believes the system can work, with time and the kind of feedback the district has received. “As families grow up with standards-based grading, there will be greater comfort with (the system),” she said. “But this is relatively new, and we're just not there yet.”
Kirsten Hosman, a middle school parent who spoke for the parent group last fall, said she was happy with the return to traditional grading at the middle school. The parent group wants the move to be permanent.
“We really just feel the middle school is your transitional training ground for high school, and the grading needs to be equivalent,” she said.
However, she said, the group appreciates the time and attention the school board and district administration has given their concerns.
Rupprecht said teachers and administrators will work this summer to determine what the new 4 mark will mean at the elementary level. They plan to develop a system of grade marks that will be consistent across the district, train teachers to use it and revise parent and teacher grading guides, which will be available at the start of the next school year.
Under the current system, a 3 indicates a student demonstrates proficiency in course-level skills and concepts. A 2 means a student is developing an understanding but has yet to achieve mastery. A 1 indicates that a student shows little understanding of skills or concepts.
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