The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 grading methods still under examination
By Seth Hancock
The 2015-16 school year saw discussions in School District U-46 regarding Standards Based Grading (SBG) and the secondary grading scale implemented in 2013-14 slow down a bit, but does that mean stakeholders have suddenly fallen in love with SBG or that the administration has done an effective job of silencing critics?
The changes made in 2013-14, which came without board approval, had seven guiding principles with a few that were heavily criticized including that letter grades should have “equal incremental value,” homework must be accepted late and students are offered retakes on exams if they didn’t get the score they wanted. Teachers are now required to use either marks or SBG, both of which follow those principles and secondary math classes will be using SBG next year.
The district’s administration gave a standards based learning and assessment presentation at a Board of Education meeting on Monday, June 6.
According to the presentation, only 16 percent of middle school teachers use SBG while 52 percent of high school teachers use it.
U-46 CEO Tony Sanders told the board: “I think that the board would recognize that this year has probably been the quietest year in terms of public feedback in regards to standards based learning and assessment, and I think it’s because of the job that this team has done, and others at the school level, to make sure that staff understand what it is about, students understand. I think we’re starting to see that reflected in our day to day practice.”
Over the first two school years, parents and students as well as teachers expressed plenty of opposition to the change for varying reasons which included some high school students in 2014 saying they’ve gone through three different grading scales in their high school careers. One concern often raised was that these guiding principles harm high achieving students and artificially inflate the grades of low achievers.
In an October 2014 update, the figures appeared to give weight to that concern as the number of A grades given to secondary students after the first progress report, “approximately four weeks of school” according to Assistant Superintendent Suzanne Johnson, went from over 40 percent in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years to under 30 percent in 2014-15 while the number of E grades dropped from around 10 percent to around 5 percent.
The district changed which figures it would present to the board in the June 6 presentation, from first progress report to final grades at the middle school level and second semester grades for high school, and made a change that appears to artificially boost the number of As.
On why the first progress report numbers were given in the October presentation, Johnson told The Examiner: “At the time, I was asked to provide this overview to address questions about change in practice.”
The June 6 numbers showed middle school A grades at 37 percent in both 2012-13 and 2013-14 which dropped to 26 percent the next year but rose to 35 percent in 2015-16 while Es dropped from 6 percent in 2012-13 to 1 percent the next two years and 2 percent this year. High school As hovered around 25 percent for three straight years but rose to 29 percent this year, and Es dropped from 11 percent in 2012-13 to 7 percent the next two years and 9 percent this year.
The presentation noted that originally an A cutoff was 3.51 out of 4 but in 2015-16 it was lowered to 3.21. Although the presentation says that adjustment creates “a truly, equal incremental scale,” that change likely accounts for the increased number of As this school year.
Bartlett parent and Citizens’ Advisory Council member Roger Wallace said: “I’m concerned that we’re doing a disservice to our kids by not preparing them for what they might see in college… and in the workforce from what I’ve seen.”
That came during public comments at the June 6 meeting shortly after the presentation and after board members Jeanette Ward, who opposes SBG, and Traci Ellis debated how this will affect the work ethic of students in the future. Ward contends it won’t prepare students for the “real world,” but Ellis said in the “real world” employees are not punished for poor work.
Wallace said his daughter completed her first year of college and “it’s certainly been nothing like the system we’ve been trying to setup here.” He said a friend of his daughter “suffered greatly because she had kind of bought into the whole system.”
“I made it clear to her that colleges don’t work the [same] way… the way we’re teaching kids they can take tests multiple times, that they can not turn in homework. At one point [in U-46] they were still getting grades for not turning in homework,” Wallace said.
Jeff Horler, a Bartlett High School teacher, told the board he’s used SBG for two years and is “still on the fence.” He said most of the parent feedback he hears is similar to Wallace’s concerns and said the district should seek data driven parent feedback.
Although Sanders claimed the staff’s work in clearing up confusion on the new system as to why conversations on the change have quieted, the district’s actions have shown that criticisms of the system were not welcome from the start.
The change in the 2013-14 school year came under then Superintendent Jose Torres, and the previous school year, then Streamwood High School Principal Terri Lozier told that board, during an update on the work of the secondary grading committee that came up with the guiding principles, that a vote on the change would take place.
The new system was announced at the end of the 2012-13 school year which was met with criticism from parents, students and teachers alike and the administration’s statement that a vote would take place changed to a vote was not needed nor was ever planned.
Then newly elected board members Frank Napolitano and Veronica Noland requested a vote be taken and current board member Cody Holt, as a member of the public at the time, got hundreds of signatures on a petition to ask for a vote, but the board’s president Donna Smith claimed the board couldn’t vote on it.
However, Section 7.32 of the Elgin Teacher’s Association contract states the board is to take a vote on changes to “pupil evaluation.”
During the first year of implementation, one high school principal was accused of “interrogating” students as some students were pulled from classes and questioned on why their parents opposed the new system. The district and that principal admitted that occurred but defended it as just trying to explain the new system.
A Bartlett High School teacher was put on administrative leave for a few days shortly after an Examiner story was published in which that teacher voiced objections to the system. The district claimed that criticism was not the reason for the leave.
The Hawkeye, Bartlett’s student run newspaper, reported that students planned a protest in support of that teacher but were not allowed to do so.
In December 2014 after being promoted to CEO, Sanders addressed the apparent double standard after another district high school allowed a protest concerning an issue completely unrelated to U-46 and education. Sanders said: “I am not aware of any instances where students have been told they cannot demonstrate peaceably over standards based grading or any other matter.”