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Gainesville City Schools convocation focuses on new grading system
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Thomas Guskey of the University of Kentucky talks about the philosophy of grading Wednesday during a convocation for Gainesville City Schools at Gainesville Middle School. Guskey delved into the purpose of grading and the elements of the grading system. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

The debate about grading for Gainesville City Schools was the focus of a convocation for teachers Wednesday.

Instructional coaches at each school have been working on new report cards and grading scales for more than a year, but the reality hits hard this fall. Administrators are asking teachers to take tackle a new kind of grading system, and schools are asking students and parents to change their mindset about the traditional report card.

Jamey Moore, director of standards and assessment, explained to the school board on Monday that elementary schools will now have report cards that focus on how students perform on specific standards, such as spelling, grammar and multiplication tables, rather than letter grades.

In Gainesville Middle School and Gainesville High School, students will have an “Enhancement Period” during each day to make up tests and assignments. Middle school students won’t receive grades lower than 50 percent and high school students won’t receive any zeros.

Teachers and parents are already abuzz with questions.

During the system’s convocation at Gainesville Middle School on Wednesday morning, University of Kentucky Professor Thomas Guskey shared his experiences with teaching, testing and adjusting to a new norm.

“We’re going to take on the dirtiest, nastiest issue this morning,” he said. “We’re going to talk about grading.”

Guskey tried to answer questions by explaining his own mistakes with grading as a teacher at the middle school, high school and university levels.

“I remember sitting down at the kitchen table during my first job as a middle school math teacher, and I decided to separate the students into a consistent group and an inconsistent group,” he said. “The inconsistent pile was huge. One group started out poorly but ended strong, another did well on quizzes but blew the tests and others didn’t do the homework but aced the tests. Suddenly grading became a troublesome issue.”

Guskey asked the teachers to evaluate the purpose of report cards. When he listed a series of common responses — student ranking, student self-evaluation, an incentive to learn, evaluation of teachers and evidence of students performing poorly — the teacher raised their hands for different reasons.

“We don’t agree on why we’re doing this in the first place,” he said. “You can’t serve all these purposes with one report card. Some of these reasons are even counter to each other. It’s hard to change our method of grading without looking at the purpose first.”

Once teachers decide the purpose of grading, which Guskey defined as measuring what students have learned in class, then they can understand why standards-based reporting is important.

“When we disagree on what counts, as students move class to class and all the rules change from teacher to teacher, kids see it as a game and become strategists,” he said. “For some, it’s a total mystery. Grading and learning isn’t supposed to be a mystery.”

Guskey presented examples of how standards-based reporting works in other countries. In Canada schools, for example, a main letter grade gives the “achievement,” or overall score, for each class and then separate boxes give individual grades for attendance, homework, participation and tests. This way, students, parents and even future employers can determine how students earned the final grade in a class and where strengths or weaknesses are.

“When all of those grades are combined into one, the grade is meaningless,” he said. “We’re the only developed country in the world that still combines all of those. Businesses have expressed how they like seeing which students came to class on time and completed homework, apart from how they performed on tests.”

The teachers asked questions about his grading practices and how to incorporate the new rules while still grading students fairly. Guskey explained his policies on extra credit and homework grades but pointed out his most important idea about education — make the biggest effort at the beginning of the year.

“If there’s one time to go out of your way to ensure every student does well, it’s now,” he said. “A ‘C’ on the first test may make them feel defeated for the rest of the year. But if you go out of your way one time and show them that they can be successful in your class, the payoffs will be huge.”

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