BOE Hears NHS Grading System Presentation
At Newtown High School, the 2019-20 school year brought a new grading system, and the Board of Education heard a presentation on it at its November 19 meeting.
Newtown High School Principal Dr Kimberly Longobucco explained that parents had voiced concerns around discrepancies between how different teachers taught the same courses. So in January, department chairs were given access to see their teachers’ gradebooks, “which they did not have in the past.” After reviews, the department chairs reported to the administration team “that there was in fact... differences in experiences of students, depending on who their teacher was within the same course that was being taught.”
Teachers were using percentages they chose on their own; some heavily graded homework, and others emphasized participation and behavior. Some used points that did not equal 100. There were differences in the number of assignments, too, according to the presentation.
Work began to determine “what we could do to bring a consistent practice to our school [and provide] common experiences for our students, because we are a large high school with many teachers teaching the same thing,” Dr Longobucco shared.
By the end of the 2018-19 school year, a percentage grading system was settled on, and administration team members examined that further over the summer, according to Dr Longobucco’s presentation. Grading systems at other local schools, including those in Newtown’s state determined District Reference Group (DRG) schools, were reviewed as part of the summer work to create the new grading system. When teachers returned after the summer, professional development and support was offered for the new system. Departments then met to make further determinations on how the new system would work, and assignments of grading practices followed.
Formative And Summative Assessments
The new grading system calculates a student’s quarter grade based on a minimum 60 percent summative assessments and a maximum 40 percent formative assessments. Different departments can determine the exact percentage of each used, and all courses must use the same percentage, regardless of teacher.
In the presentation, formative assessments were described as “low stakes” that “monitor students learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used to improve teaching and learning,” like homework, classwork, partner work, quizzes, journals, study guides, and other practice tasks. Summative assessments were described as “mastery of skills that ‘evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard benchmark,’ like tests and exams, major projects, research papers, major essays, presentations, performances, and “anything the teacher may use to make a judgment of a student’s mastery of content.”
“The guidelines were given to the whole school, but the departments were allowed to make their determinations after that,” said Dr Longobucco. “And then at the beginning of the school year, we started with an alignment of grading practices.”
Dr Longobucco highlighted grades from the CP Western Studies, Honors English II, and CPA Geometry classes and honor roll results to show similar grades between years. The CP Western Studies average grades, for example, in 2017-18 were 88.88 compared to 86.42 in 2018-19, and 86.11 in 2019-20. The first quarter honor roll from 2018-19 had 952 students, or 59.87 percent of the student body, and this year’s first quarter honor roll had 944 students, or 61.58 percent of this year’s student body. (The 2019-20 first quarter honor roll as released by NHS is published in the November 22 print edition of The Newtown Bee.)
“This is another comparison to show that students are performing the way they did in the past, regardless of the guideline that was provided to teachers,” said Dr Longobucco.
Communication And Misconceptions
The presentation also highlighted misconceptions around the new grading system and corrections. For instance, homework does count. “Homework is graded and considered a formative task,” a handout with the presentation reads. To a misconception that grades and grade point averages are negatively impacted, the document reads “Previous grading practices had the potential to negatively impact students by creating inconsistent experiences for each learner. We have compared average grades for every course, between current classes and [quarter one] class averages last year. Average class grades are in line with averages last year, and many classes have a higher average this year.”
Another addresses a misconception that only some teachers are following the new grading practice with “All teachers in all departments are following the NHS Grading Guidelines. We are able to monitor all teachers’ gradebooks in PowerSchool. All teachers are using percentage within the agreed upon provided guidelines.”
Discussion at the meeting also focused on how the new grading system was communicated to parents. One parent, Kinga Walsh, spoke during both public participation portions of the evening. She expressed concern for the social and emotional well-being of students in regards to the roll-out of the new system. She also said parents should have been given guidelines, that the Board of Education should have been presented the new grading system, and that a communication plan should have been implemented. After Dr Longobucco later spoke, sharing her presentation would be put online, Ms Walsh said the presentation itself lacks some of what was shared at the meeting and she requested it be added to in order to better communicate with district parents.
The guidelines were explained by teachers to classes, at an open house night, and in an e-mail to parents, according to Dr Longobucco.
During board discussion on the topic, Board of Education Vice Chair Rebekah Harriman-Stites said she is happy Dr Longobucco “owned the piece” of not properly communicating the new system with parents.
“It’s really important to reflect on the way we implement major change and sort of note that and come up with core practices of how we communicate our efforts and how we implement things that make even the best decisions sometimes not seem great if we are not communicating properly,” Ms Harriman-Stites said.
Board member Dan Delia requested another presentation on the new grading system be shared with the school board at the end of the 2019-20 school year.