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New grading policy to enforce mission statement

Danna Tabachnik, digital editor-in-chief

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The 2016-2017 school year has been a year of change: a new superintendent, new policies, and a new mission statement. The 2017-2018 school year will bring yet another change.

During the community engagement process, Forward 95, administrators got feedback and decided to improve upon an area of concern: consistency. To improve consistency throughout the high school, a new grading policy will take effect in August.

“The change is that every teacher’s grade book will look the same. There will be two category weights: summative assessments and formative assessments,” Pete Nadler, special education department chair, said. “Formative is anything that represents student practice, something that we take and look at. It’s more for the teacher to look at and to see where you are and how they need to change their instruction. Anything that’s summative is anything in spirit meant to prove that you have learned.”

Summative assessments will have a greater weight, making up 80 percent of the grade, while formative assessments will make up the other 20 percent. Although summative assessments will have a greater impact on students’ grades, the number of assessments will not necessarily increase.  

“There won’t necessarily be a greater number of assessments. The summative assessments are weighted more on your grade but there certainly will be the balance of the formative assessments, the ones that are going to tell us how you’re learning along the way. There’s no limit to how many of those we can do,” Lauren Katzman, English department chair, said.

The change was implemented due to the new mission statement, “Empowering all students to achieve personal excellence,” according to Jodi Wirt, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. Grades will be used less for ranking and order and more for understanding and mastering of set standards. This policy will make grades more meaningful, she said.

We’ve got to move past just asking for the regurgitation of the information. We want you to know how to apply it. We have to make [our assessments] more performance-based,” Wirt said. “When we give back assessments, most students go to the points, not the comments. That’s a flaw in the system. That feedback should help you, as learners, identify what the next areas you want to work on so that you can constantly be improving.”

Assessments are not necessarily tests, in fact, Wirt wants to encourage more projects so students can put their skills to the test. Along with more projects, this new grading system will allow for revisions and rewrites on summative assessments, as long as all teachers using that assessment agree about accepting revisions. Not all summative assessments would be eligible for revisions.

“The only difference would be that we’re asking the team of teachers who teach the same course to come to consensus on what that policy would look like,” Katzman said. “We should talk about the purpose of those rewrites and what we want students to master and learn through that process so that all students are afforded the same opportunities. We still want the procedures to be what’s best for students and student learning.”

But what about classes that do not have traditional assessments, like PE and fine arts? According to Angela Fortune, fine arts department chair, “we have a lot of performance summative assessments. Every time you complete that piece of artwork, you have been receiving feedback all the way up to the final product.”

For a class like PE, that rely on participation, grades will have to shift.

“It could be more than just participating, it could be how you participate. Not how well, like ‘Sally’ went 3 for 4, she had 2 doubles and a base hit, but she had an error at first base, so you stink. It’s going to be more of, ‘do you know where you’re supposed to be on the field’, are you making those movements,” Todd Gregory, physical education department chair, said. “Summative would be more end-of-unit assessment, on ‘here’s where you were at the beginning of the unit and with your practice, here’s where you are at the end.’ Were you able to grow, were you able to improve, do you know skills and know concepts at the end that you did at the beginning.”

This new change is scary, according to Wirt, for both student and teachers. Although all the department chairs acknowledge that teachers are questioning the change, Nadler wants to “reiterate that this is a baseline.”

“The real long-term, the real long-change, is going to come from the teachers and not from us. We are putting them in charge of what the grading policy is going to be for LZHS in the future.

They’re going to drive the change and it’s going to come from whatever concepts and research they all do together and what we do with them,” Nadler said. “Currently, it’s top-down, and they’re in the questioning phase. Hopefully, they start doing the research and saying, ‘this could be an even better thing for our students. This could be an even better thing for our school,’ and bring those things to the table. That’s what we really want.”

Although this is a big shift, according to research that Wirt quoted, this change will “develop that creativity, that critical thinking, the ability to communicate.” The important thing, according to Wirt, is to make sure that students are prepared for the real world.

“It’s the idea that we have to help people learn how to learn. Getting As on tests that are asking you to repeat things isn’t what you’re going to need to be able to do when you go out into the world,” Wirt said. “You’ve got to know how to learn, how to set goals for yourself, how to acquire information, how to monitor your own learning, and I think we can create a better learning experience for you if we set up grading practices that promote that idea, rather than just try to get to a certain point value. We know that it’s going to feel a little different at times but that it’s not intended to do harm to anyone, it’s intended to help us achieve our mission statement.”

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New grading policy to enforce mission statement