D86 reports on first semester grades

Administrators review how changes to grading system affected final marks for students

Administrators have offered a first look at how changes to the grading system in Hinsdale High School District 86 affected first semester grades

More students are earning A’s and many F’s are being replaced by incompletes, said Chris Covino, assistant superintendent for academics, at the Feb. 24 board meeting.

“The intent was not to try to create more A’s,” he said. “We have very strong academic students and moving grades to be more summative in nature is a clear indication we have a strong sense of work ethic and academic achievement in most of the student body.”

This semester, teachers were asked to base between 70 and 100 percent of a student’s total grade on summative assessments and 0 to 30 percent on formative assessments. The district also started using “M” for missing and “ME” for missing essential assignments rather than giving a zero. Assignments that are never turned in will receive 50 percent instead of a zero.

The changes are designed to focus on evalulating what students can do and what they know rather than their behavior, Covino said. Course data collected during the first semester indicated students are achieving at high levels regardless of how the course is weighted, he reported. Some charts also showed how individual (unidentified) students performed. Educators examined those cases to compare the students’ performance last year with this year.

Central Principal Bill Walsh said former grades might not have accurately represented what a student knew. Instead, they might have reflected how good a student was at turning in work.

“We’re only going to grade a student on what they know and not detriment them or put them in a hole for those zeros,” Walsh said.

Several board members worried that having homework constitute 30 percent or less of a student’s grade might discourage them from doing it.

“Students aren’t doing their homework,” Covino acknowledged. “It’s one of the harder things for a teacher to do is to create motivation, regardless of what the grade is going to be. It’s something we as teachers are challenged by all the time.”

Teachers and administrators will continue to work on grading, including developing better summative and formative assessment, Covino said.

“We shouldn’t be surprised by a student’s unit exam result,” he said. “We should know because our formative assessments tell us so.”

Best practices for relearning and reassessment also will be examined.

“These are not consistent in the district. They never have been, and they will be in the future,” he said.

Board members also said they worried that guaranteeing 50 percent on a homework assignment, even if it’s not turned in, might encourage students to skip it.

“The punishment for not doing the work is doing the work and doing it well, because that is our expectation for every kid,” Covino said .

Board member Jeff Waters asked how “no harm” finals might have affected first semester grades. Covino said 15 percent of students elected to take a final exam with the hope of improving their grades.

Board member Debbie Levinthal wondered if the same approach will be taken with second semester finals.

The district is leaning toward a return to normalcy, Covino said, adding that parents should receive a communication with more details about second semester exams in the near future.

Before the presentation, Meeta Patel, a former Community Consolidated 181 Board member, described the changes in grading practices as “slipped into the school year in a disingenuous fashion” and said the slide presentation offered only “broad, sweeping statements” that did not include enough specifics. Shealso said students should have been surveyed about grading changes and added this is one of many concerns she has spoken about over the past three years.

“We don’t understand how this affects student motivation to do the critical formative work that is the foundation of learning,” she said. “I ask this board and its leadership to please take stock of what’s happening and make the right decisions for this district, which would include a national search for a new superintendent.”

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean