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How Gainesville schools are changing grading practices
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Gainesville schools have changed the way they grade middle school students, but the change is not a drastic one, according to Sarah Bell, the district’s chief academic officer.

Instead of receiving four reports and four sets of grades each year, middle school students will receive one grade for each class at the end of the year. Parents will still receive quarterly reports that will keep them up to date on their child’s progress, but the grades on those reports won’t be part of the student’s final grade.

“Most courses at the middle-school level are considered yearlong,” Bell said. “From the parent side, not much may have appeared to change because they still receive the quarterly (progress report), but ultimately these grades will be averaged for the entire year instead of averaging the quarterly grades.”

Bell said this will likely be beneficial for students who get off to a slow start in a class but eventually catch up.

“They won’t be penalized for that difficult start,” she said. “Each grade that a child receives will be weighted across the entire year. ... It’s just a difference in the way it’s calculated.”

She said there will still be efforts to reward students who are earning A’s early in the year.

“The message we want to communicate is we’re continuing to refine our practices as needs arise,” she said.

In Gainesville, middle and high school students are graded using the traditional numeric system in which grades of 0-100 are counted within the letter grading system.

In elementary schools in Gainesville, the letter grade system was replaced with a new system several years ago, and the district is working to make sure parents new to the system understand how the grades work.

Gainesville elementary schools use the standards-based system, which gives students a grade of 1-4 based on their mastery of specific curriculum standards.

Under the system, a grade of 1 means a student does not meet the standard, a 2 means a student does not meet the standard but is progressing, a 3 means a student meets the standard and a 4 means a student exceeds it.

This is the same system of measurement that will be used on the new Georgia Milestones standardized tests that will be administered for the first time this year, Bell said.

Bell said one of the advantages of the system is that it breaks each subject down into separate areas of understanding. For example, in reading, students will be graded for both decoding — the ability to read — and comprehension — the ability to understand what’s read.

"What it does is allow our families, instead of seeing a C for reading and saying, ‘I don’t know how to help my child,’ they can see very specifically (where students need help)."

Bell said it’s also important to note children may get lower marks at the beginning of the year than they will get at the end of the year.

"Because the standards are end-of-year standards, we don’t expect children to have already mastered the standards," she said.

The target is for students to have a 3 at the end of the year, meaning they have met the standard.

Since Gainesville is a charter system, each school has a different focus area.

Bell said this means report cards also may assess different standards for different children.

"We are working toward having a consistent report card at the elementary level, but at this time, because of the different kinds of focus that each school has, they may choose different levels of detail on the standards."