Standard Deviation - Board Votes To Postpone New Grading System At Middle School

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By: Alex Scofield
Published: 10/15/10

Bourne Middle School students still have the chance to achieve straight A’s.

The school will continue the traditional letter-grade method of evaluating its students, reversing a planned implementation of standards-based student evaluation this year.

Following Bourne Schools Superintendent Steven Lamarche’s recommendation, the Bourne School Committee voted unanimously on October 6 to postpone implementing standards-based evaluation at Bourne Middle School for an indefinite time period.

“It wasn’t a fly-by-night decision,” Mr. Lamarche said. “This was a systematic, long-term decision.” In his first year as superintendent, Mr. Lamarche said it felt like the culmination of a philosophy of making decisions based on collaboration and extensive research.

Mr. Lamarche watched recent videos of school committee sessions on standards-based evaluation, paying particular attention to parent questions and comments. He reviewed six years’ worth of minutes from the curriculum subcommittee. He issued questionnaires to school staff, reviewed their results, and spoke informally to anyone eager to discuss the subject. By last week, all the review had led Mr. Lamarche and all of the school committee members to the same conclusion—not now.

“Standards-based curriculum and standards-based report cards are a very important goal, just not right now,” said school committee member Matthew Stuck. “If we’re going to do something that big, we want to make sure it’s embraced by the schools and the parents.”

On the surface level, last week’s decision simply maintains the status quo. Students’ report cards will be identical in format to those they received last year, with A-through-F letter grades, and will be sent at the same intervals in the school year.

However, the decision meant a reversal in course for the BMS teachers, administrators, and staff members who began the year evaluating student progress under the standards-based system. On Friday, the school’s teachers and administrators used an in-service day to plot their transition back to the traditional method.

“We had a conversation for a couple of hours, and then for the better part of the day, [teachers] worked together,” Ms. Childress said. At that point, the teachers’ mission was to complete their gradebooks for the marking period. It was not merely a matter of converting numbers to letter grades. “It’s much more complicated than that,” Ms. Childress said.

Under a standards-based system, teachers evaluate students based on how well they understand, use, and manipulate specific concepts. Instead of an overall letter grade for each subject, as per educational tradition, standards-based report cards evaluate a student’s strengths and weaknesses on multiple skills and knowledge standards within each subject.

Ms. Childress said that many of the major assignments had just been given by BMS teachers, and the timing worked well in these instances. “They can grade [these assignments] the traditional way instead of re-grading them,” Ms. Childress said.

Mr. Lamarche wanted to make sure that the door remains open to standards-based evaluation, but to do it in a way that did not build anxiety and trepidation among school staff and parents. “Last year there was a postponement, and a postponement, and a postponement, and a postponement,” Mr. Lamarche said.

An informational meeting on the standards-based system for BMS parents last month was a major factor in Mr. Lamarche’s recommendation to postpone, he said. Based on their questions and comments, Mr. Lamarche felt that no more than one-third articulated a sense as to what standards-based reporting meant for their children.

“There was so much good that was done,” Mr. Lamarche said, regarding the efforts made on all levels of Bourne schools to implement the standards-based system. “I think that what was needed was a connection between all of it.” That means harmonizing the methods of student evaluation on the elementary and high school levels in Bourne, so it is not done in isolation at any of the levels, Mr. Lamarche said.

“I’m confident that it’s going to happen in the long run,” said Mr. Stuck, who along with David B. Harrison was one of two dissenting members in the committee’s 5-2 vote in June to implement the standards-based system at BMS for the 2010-11 school year. Mr. Stuck maintained his stance, after revisiting it and listening to Mr. Lamarche’s recommendation, that the school was not ready to implement it right now.

For Bourne Middle School students, progress reports will be sent out on November 3.

“We will absolutely get it done, and we will do it successfully,” Ms. Childress said.


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