By Paul Tennant
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — Traditional letter grades have returned to North Andover Middle School.
Superintendent Kevin Hutchinson announced this decision in a message sent to parents and guardians of middle school students. The middle school had adopted a standards-based grading system in which students received numerical grades instead of the traditional A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s and F’s.
North Andover High School has retained letter grades.
The purpose of the numbers was to give a more exact report on how well students were learning in accordance with the standards established by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Hutchinson and other educators said.
Many parents, however, objected, saying that the number grades were frustrating their children and taking away their motivation to learn. They cited examples such as a student who got five answers wrong receiving the same grade as one who had everything right.
The Dec. 13 and last Thursday’s School Committee meetings drew large numbers of parents who expressed strong opposition to the numerical grades. Several middle school teachers said the numbers provide a more accurate method of measuring student achievement.
While the middle school is returning to letter grades, the marks will still be based on how well the students are meeting state standards, Hutchinson said.
“Teachers will still align feedback and instruction with the standards,” the superintendent said.
The School Committee, scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. today in Town Hall, is expected to discuss the change back to traditional grades. Committee members interviewed supported Hutchinson’s decision.
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” School Committee Chairwoman Laurie Burzlaff said. The inconsistencies in grading that parents talked about showed the teachers were “not on the same page,” she said.
“We have wonderful teachers,” Burzlaff said. She and others praised the teachers for their hard work in making the change from traditional to standards-based grading.
The inconsistencies in grading, however, were apparent.
School Committee member Christine Allen said Hutchinson’s decision “was necessary.”
“You can’t ignore that many people who spoke passionately and articulately about their children,” she said. “They did exactly what I would have done.”
The reasons for changing to number grades were not well communicated, she said.
Thomas Holland, the father of an eighth-grader who was outspoken in his opposition to the new grading system, said Hutchinson “took the appropriate action.” He credited both the superintendent and the School Committee with being good listeners.
Holland also commended parents for expressing their concerns about the number grades in a responsible fashion. The decision to revert to traditional grades is “the right thing for the kids,” he said.
School Committee member Brian Gross said the board received “clear feedback” that the numerical grades were not working as well as expected. The new system was “not fully vetted,” he said.
Gross said education needs to be based on standards and raising the level of student achievement. Hutchinson and other committee members expressed similar views.
Gross’ colleague Stanley Limpert called the change back to traditional grades “probably the only right decision at this point.”
With the academic year just about half over, there probably is “not enough time to get it (numerical grading system) right,” he said.