Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, April 18, 2019
Teachers support changes in grading
by Tevlin Schuetz
Teaching staff at Deer Isle-Stonington High School support making changes in grading next year which would return to a 100-point, credit-based grading scale.
Faculty members shared their proposal with the CSD Board on April 2.
Several motivating factors contributed to the proposal, chief among them being a lack of clarity of what constitutes proficiency and the difficulty in tracking numerous standards and indicators for every student.
“The principle [of proficiency-based education] has been around for 100 years. It has had evolutions and slight changes…[but] it is hard to agree on just what it means,” foreign languages teacher Mark Churchill said.
Maine lawmakers passed legislation last summer allowing school districts to choose whether or not to retain the grading system, he said. “The state decided there was too much confusion…and kicked it back to the schools,” Churchill said.
“Graduation requirements under our current system aren’t clear to students…and to the community,” science teacher Seth Laplant said. Some of the practices in the current system—such as measuring and crediting students’ effort separately from the academic content they are supposed to learn—are diminishing students’ academic initiative, he said.
Laplant also noted the incompatibility of the school’s grade-tracking software with the different levels of tracking required by the proficiency-based model, as well as the difficulty in general in differentiating proficiency-based transcripts for colleges and universities, he said, which fail to show students’ progress or improvement over time.
CSD Board member Skip Greenlaw asked whether the movement to change the system was driven by faculty or the students, and Laplant said the traditional credit-based system was easier for everyone to understand.
CSD Board student representative Emma Plummer agreed, noting that students have a hard time deciphering what a 3.2 means within the context of achievement.
Other concerns raised over the proficiency-based system were the difficulty in incorporating transfer students from other schools into the existing grading system and the marginalized importance of electives, which aren’t currently counted towards graduation on proficiency-based transcripts, Laplant said.
Standards and indicators introduce greater complexity to measuring student achievement. Each subject has five to 10 standards, all of which have two to 10 indicators, Laplant said, and in the case of science, there are 11 standards and 41 indicators. A student can get a passing grade in a class, Laplant explained, but if he or she doesn’t pass an individual standard or indicator, the student may have to repeat the class if not eligible for extra help through the standards recovery process.
The proficiency-based educational model is not being thrown out altogether, however; the curriculum will still be standards-driven in order to satisfy state curriculum requirements. But social studies teacher Terry Siebert spoke to the importance of freeing up the grading process from tallying individual standards and specific indicators, which will credit students for elective choices and not unduly penalize them for not reaching every indicator. It will also allow teachers to cover subject matter in greater depth and focus more on student instruction rather than the cumbersome system of tracking standards and indicators, he said.
Educators seek to implement a grading policy that reintroduces a graduation transcript based on credits. “[The current system] is not working for us or the needs of the kids. We’re not getting rid of proficiency-based education…[but] the traditional-based grading system is proven,” principal Dennis Duquette said.
Union 76 Superintendent Chris Elkington reviewed a draft of the proposed budget for next school year, which totals $6,856,380, an increase of $165,913, or 2.48 percent, from 2018-19. The increase is due in part to a larger amount of the balance forward being directed to future building needs, Elkington said.
The towns would see a 0.8 percent increase, or around $41,828, to bring the local share of expenses to $5,470,346, Elkington said.
The next regular CSD Board meeting is set for Wednesday, May 1, in the cafeteria at 5:30 p.m. A public budget review meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, May 7, at the Reach auditorium, at 5:30 p.m.