Parents, staff and students will be looking at grading in kindergarten through sixth grade in an entirely new way, as the district shifts from letter grades to a standards-aligned report card.
The progressive switch is one that other state districts are looking to make, and that Shelton is the front-runner on, according to Tina Henckel, part of the District Data Team. While the standards-based grading is in line with the state’s shift to common core standards in 2015, the new system is going to take some getting used to and a change in thinking, according to Superintendent Freeman Burr.
“This does eliminate the notion of grading as being arbitrary and capricious,” Burr said of the standards-aligned system.
The Board of Education held a special meeting last week to see a presentation on the new report cards by Henckel and Kristen DiPalma, the district’s supervisor of literacy, assessment and professional learning. The district has also been giving presentations on the new report cards at Back to School nights.
A standard defines what all public school students in Connecticut should understand and be able to do in core curriculum areas, according to district information. The format of the new report card defines clusters of standards for each grade, and tracks how well students are progressing to meet curriculum standards over the course of the school year. The purpose of the standards-aligned report card is to provide feedback to parents and guardians regarding the progress a student is making toward specific learning standards at grade level. The report card provides parents and students with an understanding of end-of-year expectations, according to the district.
For example, a third grade report card includes a subject called “Reading for Literature” and within that there are three clusters of standards students are graded on and one is “Reads literature using key ideas and details.” Within that one cluster are standards teachers grade a student on, like comprehension and making inferences. The parent only sees one grade for each clusters. The student may either be exceeding
standard clusters (EX), meeting cluster of standards (ME), partially meeting cluster of standards (PM), not meeting standards (NM) or, if the standard hasn’t been introduced by a teacher yet, parents will see an XX. The report cards also includes marks for effort.
Teachers have clearly defined rubrics and it’s the same standards across grade level and schools.
“It leads to more consistency between teachers,” DiPalma said.
The system allows a student multiple opportunities to show growth and allows parents to see exactly how a child was graded.
“Letter grades started in the 19th Century,” Henckel said. “The traditional way is very subjective, you don’t see specific information on what the letter grades means.”
In kindergarten through fourth grade, the year is broken down into trimesters, while fifth and sixth grade have four marking periods. In kindergarten through sixth grade, there will be no traditional numerical grades, while in fifth and sixth grades, parents will still see a numerical grade and a standards-aligned grade.
Board of Education members agreed that the first year roll-out of the grading system will take some getting used to.
“My big concern is parent understanding,” board member Kathy Yolish said.
At a recent back to school night, DiPalma and Henckel said that one parent asked if an “EX” for exceeding expectations was like an A grade.
“We said no, an A would be closer to an ME,” Henckel said. “We’re changing a mind-set.”
Burr discouraged trying to compare the letter grades and standards.
“You can’t look at a standards-based grading and try to equate it with letter grades,” Burr said.
Since the standards are based on year-end goals, some standards probably won’t be fully met until the end of the year. In the first grading period, many parents will likely see a “PM” grade on their child’s report card.
Board member Thomas Minotti agreed that it needs to be clear to parents how the grading works. Board members stressed the importance of parent-teacher conferences this year as a way to explain the grading to parents.
“As I parent I look at a PM and think, gee, my child is only meeting some of the standards,” Minotti said.
Parents may monitor their student’s progress throughout the school year by logging on to the Parent Portal. The portal is an online tool that gives legal guardians and parents access to their child’s information, including grades, assignments and more. Parents may sign up by contacting their child’s school for an access code to the system.
“We’re developing a learning community outside of the classroom,” Assistant Superintendent Lorraine Rossner said. “The Parent Portal gives a bird’s-eye view of what’s happening. The portal is reflection of what’s happening in the classroom.”
Board member Win Oppel said it could help parents get comfortable with the standards system.
“If this works parents will know where their kids stand way before the report card,” Oppel said.
Board member Arlene Liscinsky was concerned about reaching parents who don’t have access to a computer. DiPalma noted that all assignments will still be going home in a student’s work folder, and teachers commonly make phone calls if they need to talk to a parent.
Burr said that there is internal and external support for staff in making sure the new grading system is clear, and a lot of work and research has been done by the Office of Instruction.
“There is a learning curve for all of us,” Burr said.
Other districts are looking for Shelton’s advice on the standards-aligned report card, according to Burr.
“There will be much more transparency in grading,” he said.
For more information on the report cards, visit SheltonPublicSchools.org. Sample report cards, information and teacher rubrics are available there.