Jackson parents express grade system worries

Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Brad Noel expresses his opinion as a parent to the Jackson School Board on Tuesday concerning the use of a standards-based grading system. (Fred Lynch)

Jackson elementary school parents with concerns over the district's use of a standards-based grading system called for formation of a citizen advisory group and asked questions of administrators and teachers at Tuesday's school board meeting.

Some arguments heard at the board's last meeting Feb. 28 continued, with parents saying they feel there was a lack of opportunity for their involvement from the start and school representatives saying issues with the grading system are either minor and can be dealt with or are simply misunderstandings.

Principals from each of the district's elementary schools and around 25 teachers and 10 parents attended the meeting. Brad Noel, a parent of two students, passed out a statement from parents he said there was not time allowed by the school board to read during the last meeting, and read another statement that outlined parents' concerns with the grading system.

Parents' concerns include the depth of training teachers have received using the system, that the district is not using the system according to models known to be successful, that teachers aren't collaborating enough and that students are being taught the same material repeatedly when it is not necessary.

Parents call the testing methods used in the grading system repetitive and say children need to know that sometimes they will fail if they do not put forth effort. They say retesting does not allow that because it gives extra chances.

Jackson School Board president Terri Tomlin, left, listens as superintendent Dr. Ron Anderson speaks to parents attending the Jackson school board meeting Tuesday, March 13, 2012 in Jackson. (Fred Lynch)

The system assesses students with a numeric score of 1 through 4 on multiple skills within a subject instead of giving a traditional letter grade. Standards are based on state education standards. Teachers say use of the system does not affect the methods they use to teach. The district switched to the system in 2010 after consulting with other districts that made the change.

Assistant superintendent Dr. Rita Fisher said all school districts will move to using the system as the state requires a transition to using common core standards.

Noel said the district is trying to portray issues parents see with the system as only belonging to certain schools, but he and other parents believe there is a problem and won't give up easily on seeing the problem fixed.

"I can assure you that this group is not going to go away quietly into the night after one meeting of smoke and mirrors," Noel told the board.

Board president Terri Tomlin and superintendent Dr. Ron Anderson suggested to the parents that they take their concerns to teachers, and later principals if the perceived issues weren't solved. If there were more concerns and questions, the central offices should be contacted and given time to work with school staff to find solutions, Anderson said.

More than 50 people attended the Jackson School Board meeting Tuesday.

Parent Kristi Uhrhan said she has researched the use of standards-based grading and reporting systems and that the board, since it approved using the system, should be familiar enough with its specifics to be able to address questions and help parents be involved in seeing that use of the system is successful.

"Parents are supposed to be involved with this, if you read the research, and no one has ever answered me about why they weren't," she said.

She and Noel said not all of their questions that were submitted to the board before the last meeting were answered because school staff took up too much time with presentations about the system and the use of Professional Learning Communities in the schools.

Principals Shauna Criddle, Lance McClard and Cynthia Matthew were among administrators who defended the way the system was implemented and is being used.

Criddle said teachers have approached her with requests to attend training on the system, but that there were still elements of the system being worked on within her school that needed to be addressed before teachers should be sent.

McClard said teachers do reteach concepts, but that they use different methods when a student is having a hard time mastering one. He also said students are tested only after a teacher assesses a student and determines they are ready.

Matthew said teachers have been trained properly and are using the system successfully.

"It works. This works," she said. "If this isn't working somewhere, teachers need to say they need help and they will get it."

Fisher said parents and teachers were properly informed of learning goals by the district and that she does not believe any issues with the system are districtwide.

"I think if you ask the teachers in this room, they will tell you that they feel fully supported," she said.

Parents did not receive a response from the board on whether it would form a citizens advisory committee, but several board members said they would like to see parents and school staff to work together in order to make sure use of the system was in the best interest of the students.

Board vice president Cathy Goodman said during the last meeting the board would consider a committee. When asked by parents Tuesday if the board had given committee formation any consideration, Tomlin said the board would "take it under advisement."

Goodman said her comment at the last meeting was not attached to any time frame and apologized, saying she was sorry if she misled anyone.

Uhrhan said it has been more than a year since parents first voiced concerns about the grading system and board members said they would look into the issue. At the time, parents were urged to be patient with the transition to the new system and that changes would be made if there were problems, she said.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

614 E. Adams St., Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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