D86 board: Grading plan misses mark

A new set of grading practices has opened the latest schism among Hinsdale High School District 86 Board members.

At the Sept. 30 board meeting, district administrators reviewed the grading framework that, among other provisions, eliminates zeros from the grading scale. It also establishes that summative assessments used to gauge a student’s mastery of content, like unit tests and labs, account for at least 70 percent of a student’s grade, and formative preparation such as homework and class participation constitute no more than 30 percent.

The revisions, first unveiled last spring, bring uniformity to what had been a widely varied grading landscape across the two-school district, officials said, and reward subject comprehension while also giving credit for diligent work.

“This is moving toward an alignment process that actually values what students know and can do,” said Chris Covino, assistant superintendent for academics, noting that grading practices fall under the administration’s purview.

But board member Jeff Waters expressed concern that students may discount homework and quiz performance due to their secondary weightedness.

“There is a disincentive to execute repetition, and because of that, mastery will be difficult for some,” he said, suggesting a more individualized grading approach. “It seems to me there’s too much of a moral hazard with this policy to spread (it) across the whole student body.”

Board member Peggy James also questioned the approach, saying her child is an example of a student that tests well but often doesn’t do the homework assignments.

“What he needs is that executive functioning and that practice and repetition in order to learn those skills for when he does ultimately get to a higher-level class,” she said.

Covino responded that executive functioning needs are distinct from grading.

“That’s a completely separate type of intervention than saying that he needs academic help because he’s not doing well on his unit assessment,” he said.

Hinsdale Central Principal Bill Walsh, a former classroom teacher and member of the 40-member Learning Leadership Team made up of teachers and administrators that crafted the aligned grading plan, said formative assessments remain key components.

“No matter whether it’s a 30 (percent) for formative or a zero for formative, there are numbers still being calculated and assessed to that work that can compare to how the student does on the summative,” Walsh said.

The new plan also does away with zeros for missed assignments, denoting them instead as missing and assigning then an “F” grade of 50 percent to avoid unduly punishing students.

Board President Terri Walker wondered aloud if that would unfairly reward delinquent work. Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Brad Verthein said zeros can undermine a student’s motivation and create logistical headaches for administrators.

“One of the great benefits to this approach is that ... we can avoid chasing our tail around some of these zeros and missing assignments,” Verthein said.

Later, during the future agenda items section of the meeting, Waters requested that the matter be discussed again at the board’s November meeting. James and board member Debbie Levinthal, both elected with Waters in April, supported the request. The longer-serving members balked at the idea, saying more conversation is warranted only after first semester grade data becomes available in late January.

“I don’t see any need for us to bring this up as a future agenda item,” board member Kathleen Hirsman said. “I would oppose that.”

She was joined by board member Cynthia Hanson. Board member Eric Held said the administration is charged with crafting grading practices, intimating that additional discussion undermines that authority.

“It’s not within our purview to be defining a grading scale,” Held said.

The two factions have also clashed in recent months over decisions to alter science class sequencing and to implement an integrated math curriculum.

Walker, another April electee, struggled to see the rationale for more discussion but ultimately relented, providing the fourth vote needed to revisit grading in November.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean