2014-02-07 / Community

New grading system introduced in city schools

By Tracy Orzel
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – While some people may balk at the new proficiency-based grading system being implemented across the state of Maine, South Portland has already begun integrating the reporting system in the district’s two middle schools.

“What we’re doing only appears unique to local residents, but this is a conversation that is happening across the state of Maine and is prevalent in every community,” said Rebecca Brown, the district’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

Since September, sixth-grade teachers at Daniel F. Mahoney and Memorial middle schools have been using the new system, which tracks students’ progress towards meeting particular standards in English, mathematics, world languages, social studies, etc. The new system also gives parents and students an itemized account of what the pupils can and can’t do.

RatherthangettinganAoraBoranumericalgradelike a 97 on tests, students are measured by a 4-point rubric system, which reports on students’ strengths and weaknesses by breaking down specific skills within a subject, such as the ability to add or subtract fractions with common denominators, and other components such as preparation, participation and effort.

According to the system: 1 – does not meet the standard; 2 – partially meets the standard; 3 – meets the standard; and 4 – exceeds the standard by showing an exemplary level of understanding.

Students’ progress is reported using the 4-point system throughout the year, which is averaged into a final grade, also using the 4-point system at the end of the year.

Although state law mandates schools change over to the standards-based grading system by 2017, Brown said the South Portland School Department has been looking at moving to a standards-based system for more than five years.

The decision to implement proficiency-based reporting in sixth grade was made last spring.

“The primary reason we started with sixth grade is, these students came from our own elementary schools. They have always only had a standards-based system. TheyhaveneverseenanAoraBora95,sotherewas no expectation of these kiddos that they would be getting something different,” said Brown.

The district plans on expanding the grading system to include seventh and eighth-grade next year and go from there.

“At this point the district is focusing on implementation at the middle school (and) slowly and incrementally thinking about how that rolls into the high school,” said Brown. “We don’t really know what the high school implementation looks like yet, but that’s the current plan. Of course, things can change and that would be up to the board of education.”

As with all change, it will take some adjusting to.

“There’s always folks who don’t feel its necessary to make the change or don’t understand the change and have some anxiety about the change, so certainly that is a drawback,” said Brown.

The number one concern Brown has heard from parents is how students will be recognized without a GPA once the grading system is extended to the high school.

Sixth-graders in both middles schools are currently honored with several awards based on criteria for achievement.

Memorial Middle School Principal Megan Welter said awards haven’t changed for the most part, nor has the number of students who receive them.

“We did one recognition assembly in the first quarter and … it was very similar to what the awards assembly looked like last year with one exception – we didn’t list kids on the honor roll in particular, but we did identify students who were doing their job in their classes: participation, engagement and demonstrating that they were working toward their goals,” said Welter.

The district is working on a series of philosophies and policies to recognize students in the future. A steering committee will hammer out the details then hand off their proposal to the board of education. The board will then make a decision on how students will be acknowledged for their academic achievements.

Still, Brown said there are far more benefits than drawbacks.

“It’s giving truly specific feedback to students about their own learning. Students know what they can do, how far away they are from the target they are – that kind of thing – so it’s really about focusing student learning, making sure that we can track where students are and support them to getting to those proficiencies,” said Brown. “It’s about being more transparent and more specific and fruitful in the feedback we give to students and parents.”

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