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Updated: Some LISD Parents Upset over Draft Middle School Grading Policy

Lewisville ISD Notes
Posted by WhosPlayin on 2013/9/19 13:00:00 (6860 reads)

Open in new windowBy Steve Southwell

Update 9/19/2013:
It came to our attention today after a conversation with Lori Rapp, who is Lewisville ISD's Executive Director of Learning Design and Support, that the grading guideline draft that was the basis of this story was not the complete document that had been proposed. Rather, it was only two pages of an 11 page document that painted a more complete picture of the proposed changes. Although the changes are on hold for the time being, (See this comment for more elaboration) it can be instructive to read them in full context.

Read the full proposed grading guidelines...

At the time we did the original story, we did try to validate the document with LISD personnel, who agreed that it was authentic. However, what we didn't know, since the there were no page numbers, was that it was only a small part. Also, not having had the current grading guidelines be public, we didn't know what items constituted differences from the current guidelines. I suspect that the parents who were passing the documents around didn't know that either. It is a learning experience, and going forward, we'll try to do a better job at authenticating documents, and ensuring that we're receiving the whole thing. Links in the original story below to the document excerpts have been crossed out and replaced.

The most important thing to note about the document is that it explains in detail the differences between "formative" and "summative" assessments, and states that grades will only be taken on summative assessments. Research has shown that punitive grades on work that students do while learning something (for example a math worksheet that students do to learn a new concept) are counter-productive to learning. Only after learning the concept with a formative tool like this that gives the student and teacher feedback on the learning process, would the student take a summative assessment, which could be something like a quiz, project, homework paper, or test that would be graded.

What this would mean is that grades would be more about what board policy states they should be about, which is the level of mastery of the subject. Since there would be fewer of these grades, students would be allowed to redo these assignments or test to improve a grade whether it was failing or not, because the goal is mastery. However, any redo would have to be done on a deadline within the same grading period. Rapp says that zeroes should be rare for these types of summative assignments even today without the proposed policy, but that under the policy, zeroes are only acceptable in certain cases - such as if a student just refused to do the assignment.

Again, the proposed guidelines are on hold, and Rapp says they will not go forward without following the process that Dr. Waddell outlined in the original article below.

Original Story: 7/12/2013

Some parents see a loss of student accountability for their work, but district officials say the policy will ensure that kids learn and pass.

Lewisville ISD Trustees found themselves taken off-guard at the June school board meeting when parents showed up to protest a draft grading policy that even Superintendent Dr. Stephen Waddell says he had forgotten was being worked on. The policy has some language that some parents interpret to be lowering kids’ accountability for their work effort, but Trustees and LISD personnel we spoke to said the proposal actually aims to prevent kids from giving up on learning.

Flower Mound mother Stacey Costas addressed the board during the June 17th meeting (27:00 on the recording), saying that policies were being implemented without having gone to the Board of Trustees. Kostas referred to the draft grading policy that was apparently leaked by someone on one of the schools’ Building Leadership Teams.

A district-wide committee of middle school principals and teachers began meeting back in August of 2012 to discuss how grading policy could be brought into line with the district’s Strategic Design goals. Some had hoped to pilot the grading program as soon as this coming school year. Perhaps it was the team’s enthusiasm to get started, or the receipt of the draft policy by someone unfamiliar with the context, but it caused some parents to think the new policy was a done deal.

LISD spokeswoman Tristen Wilson said the driving factor behind the proposed changes was strategic design goal number six, relating to assessments:

Goal #6: Develop and implement meaningful, varied assessments that inform and inspire students and educators for continuous improvement and growth in a way that transforms learning and teaching.

Multiple LISD officials confirmed that regardless of what the committees might have thought about the policy they were proposing to take effect for the 2013/14 school year, it is just a draft, and was never implemented. Waddell said that he had gotten an update from the committee in late Spring, but that since this wasn’t something being driven from his administration, it had fallen off his radar. Waddell explained that empowerment is a big part of the process, noting that he prefers that policy not always be driven from the top down. “A lot of what we’re doing [with strategic design] is about empowering people, said Waddell. “I’m not going to discourage people from going out and trying to make things better.”

The draft policy addresses a desire for grades to more truly reflect student work and their mastery of concepts, but prominently in the document is a statement that some parents didn’t like:

“A Zero is not acceptable for a summative grade. There are multiple methods of assessment available for teachers to evaluate a student’s summative knowledge/mastery of learning. Students shall not be allowed to “opt out” of their learning by choosing not to complete summative assessments/assignments.”

Read the policy Grading Guidelines:
- Page 1: Grading policy changes
- Page 2: Recovery of Learning - Re-teaching, Re-testing

- Full proposed Middle School Grading Guidelines (DRAFT)

Under the proposed policy, a student missing an assignment would receive an “M” in the gradebook, and faculty would develop procedures to ensure that students complete them.

The draft policy also reiterates state law that there shall be no minimum grades assigned, and says that grades will not be reduced for disciplinary reasons, or increased for non-academic reasons like attending school functions, bringing supplies, or getting something signed. Penalties to grades would still be enforced for academic dishonesty.

One section of the document covers recovery of learning for students who for whatever reason have not mastered a particular topic. Under the proposal, all students would be allowed to re-test or otherwise demonstrate their mastery for up to full credit.

“This type of change would have to be approved by myself and my administration first, “ said Waddell. “Then it would follow a process of being presented to and approved by the school board,” he added. The typical process for approval by the school board involves having an item presented for information at one regular meeting by the administration, followed by discussion the following month, then a vote from the board the next month after that.

But changing grading practices is one of the hardest things to do, according to Waddell. A change of this scope would need to have been presented to more teachers and parents for input before he would be willing to consider it. At this point, it would not be able to be considered for implementation in the fall, but if the process went like it should, then it would not be impossible for it to start being implemented in the Spring. However, Waddell said that his preference is not to change grading practices in the middle of a year.

For their part, the two trustees we spoke to, Kathy Duke and Carol Kyer did not object in principle to the draft changes, but both expressed a desire for the changes to go through the full and open process - much like some recent changes to first grade grading practices the board approved at the same meeting. “They’re trying to make it so that learning is more in-depth and that kids don’t have a chance to get zeroes; they actually learn the stuff and if they can’t learn the stuff then they try to figure out why they can’t,“ said Kyer. “What it’s doing is giving parents more information about why a student might be having problems,” she added.

Lewisville resident Phyllis Labedis, in an email forwarded to us by a reader, said “The part that really burns me up is the section on reassessing and regrading. If this goes into affect, your child could take a test and receive an 85. Another child could fail the same test, then be allowed to retake it as many times as necessary in order to earn full credit!” Reached by email for followup on the comment, Labedis had this reply:

“Perhaps I was rash when I implied that a student who receives an 85 on a test would not have the opportunity to retake that test and receive full credit. However, when you read the proposed policy on Recovery of Learning carefully it states... ‘A student shall be permitted an opportunity to re-assess, or demonstrate in a different way and in a new context, conceptual mastery of the district curriculum learning goals. If a student is able to demonstrate mastery for full credit, the student will receive full credit for the assignment.’

Everything depends on how the district defines ‘conceptual mastery.’ I could not find this spelled out anywhere in the student handbook, but in my experience as an educator, ‘mastery’ is defined by a grade of 80% or higher, so it follows that a student receiving a grade of 85 has demonstrated mastery and does not need to demonstrate it ‘in a different way and in a new context.’ It is hard for me to imagine that every single student who earns less than 100% on any test or assignment would be allowed the opportunity for re-assessment. When would the teachers have time to teach?

It is my opinion that the proposed grading policy is too vague and subjective. The proposed guidelines could be widely interpreted by different teachers and administrators.

Waddell disagreed with the idea that allowing a child to re-test was somehow unfair. “For those kids who do their work, and do it really well, and they don’t have to be ridden, and they care about that, it doesn’t hurt their education one little bit whether another kid does or does not get a zero,” asserted Waddell. “But for that kid who won’t work hard, or maybe just gives up easily, we’re saying ‘you know, we’re not letting you off the hook that easy’. We’re going to find what engages the kid, so they do the work. We’re not interested in lowering standards, but we’re also not interested in just allowing kids to fail.”

Flower Mound resident Vicki Christensen, a member of the committee that recently dealt with rezoning there, said her biggest problem with the proposed policy is that she thinks it doesn’t hold kids accountable for their work. “You don’t get to retry over and over at work if you have a lazy day,” said Christensen, referring to the re-testing/re-teaching policy. Christensen said she didn’t object to the district making changes with things, but she was more frustrated with the notion that this seemed like it was going to be implemented without following district protocol.

Labedis does think the existing grading policy can be too harsh and needs to be changed. She points to the Huffines Middle School policy which requires that work turned in one day late be graded no higher than a 70, and gives zeroes for work more than one day late. Labedis proposes a policy that would simply deduct 10 points per day from assignments up to three days late, with a zero given after that.

Waddell said that he and the board had received emails from about six parents on the subject. “Some of the people who have objected, objected on the basis that we should give kids zeroes.” said Waddell, “That’s really not what this is all about. This is about more information to parents. It is about trying to get kids to pass. I think that’s what we’re in the business to do-- to get kids to learn and pass,” he stressed. “They have to do the work - and acceptable work too. You know, not just ‘that’s all I want to do, and I’m done’. But ultimately if the kid refuses to do the work, they’re going to get a zero for that. There’s going to be a point at which they have to do it. What we’re saying is we’re not going to make it easy for someone to fail,” he added.

Waddell explained that part of the reasoning for the new policy was to make it so that kids who have fallen behind can recover their grades by learning the material, rather than being forced to fail based on the terrible damage that zeroes can do to a grade average. “You know, our view is that the society we live in today, everyone is going to have to learn,” said Waddell. “We can’t afford drop-outs anymore. When you give a kid enough zeroes, they’re going to drop out. that’s probably the primary cause of drop outs-- the kids see no hope of success.”

The Lewisville Texan Journal will provide updates if we learn of any developments in this proposed policy.

What do you think? Read the proposed policy and leave a comment below.

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