EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 4, 2013

Educators tout new grading system

By Paul Tennant

---- — NORTH ANDOVER — Superintendent Kevin Hutchinson and other school officials have their work cut out for them.

If they want the new standards-based grading system to succeed, they need to iron out the inconsistencies in the marks given to students. They must also get parents “on board,” said Thomas Holland, the father of an eighth-grader.

Well over 100 parents attended the forum hosted by Hutchinson and the School Committee in the North Andover High School auditorium last night. One woman called the new system, in which traditional letter grades are replaced with numbers, “complete rubbish” and urged the committee to get rid of it.

Her suggestion drew applause.

The system is being used at North Andover Middle School. High school students still receive A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s and F’s. In the standards-based system, a 1 means no progress; 2 indicates improvement is needed; 3 stands for proficient; and a 4 reports advanced achievement.

Several parents complained their children had received 3’s even though they made no errors on a test. A number of middle-school teachers, however, said they like the new system because it gives a clearer picture of just how well a student is doing.

Stanley Novak, father of an eighth-grader, said his child got all the answers right on an algebra test – and received a grade of 2.5. Another child in that same class had five wrong answers – and also received a 2.5.

“Can somebody look into this?” Novak asked. Middle school Principal Joan McQuade suggested he tell her the name of the teacher.

Patty Dunbar said her child received a 2.5 for a test on which she gave correct answers to 29 out of 30 questions.

“That’s not right,” she said.

Hutchinson said after the meeting adjourned that those and other inconsistencies need to be resolved. Administrators will be working with teachers to make grades more consistent next week, he said.

“My job is not to grade your child but to teach your child,” said Nancy Chandler, who teaches sixth-grade math and science. Chandler and other teachers said the standards-based system provides a more detailed picture of how well a student is learning.

Rachel Darley, a social studies teacher, said she began using numbers instead of letter grades last year.

“I am able to be a better teacher to your child,” she said.

Another middle school teacher, Barbara Sparks, noted that earning the highest grade, a 4, is more difficult than getting an A.

“Last year’s A is this year’s 3, because we have raised the bar,” she said.

Barry Connell, a science teacher, said the more detailed numerical system gives parents “tools that you never had before.”

“Our job is to help you (parents) help them,” Hutchinson said.

The superintendent had said many times and reiterated the point last night: “Our goal is to improve student achievement.”

He also noted that “we are required to teach to the standards.” Hutchinson said many school systems have not adopted standards-based grading. Superintendents know changing the grading system is bound to be unpopular, at least initially, he said.

Lincoln, Shrewsbury, Methuen, Brockton, Dartmouth and Billerica are some of the Masschusetts school districts that have adopted the new system, he said. Standards-based grading is prevalent in other parts of the nation, he added.

“I want to see evidence this is working,” said Donald Nolette.

“Has there been any discussion about getting rid of it?” Timothy Goland asked. School Committee members said they have not talked about doing away with standards-based grading.

“We realize there’s plenty of work to be done,” Hutchinson said. School Committee member Brian Gross said the plan was “not fully vetted.”