The Merrill Area Public Schools Board of Education took the first step in bringing the MHS grading system in line with best practices Monday evening when it approved a uniform grading model that will standardize 80 percent of a student’s grade while making the grading scale consistent for all classes starting this school year.
MHS Principal Shannon Murray told the board that the new uniform grading scale will give the students a better idea of what would be expected of them while at the same time making grading consistent building-wide. In turn, this will give administrators and teachers better, more consistent data on how students are performing in classes.
Under the new policy, an A will be achieved when a student satisfactory completes 100 to 90 percent of the class requirements, while a B will be 89-80 percent, 79-70 percent will be C level work, 69-60 percent will be a D, and 59 percent or less will result in a F.
Before the measure was voted on by the board, they heard from concerned parents who spoke against the original proposed grading system, the new Flex 14 class schedule and the state mandated changes to the sex education component of the human growth and development class. While parents spoke for 35 minutes on all three topics, along with the student activity fee, the recent changes at the high school schedule and grading system generated a lot of opposition.
MAPS Superintendant Dr. Lisa Snyder told the board that the administration has been studying best practices in grading district-wide for four years. While the discussion has been bogged down in education jargon that many parents don’t readily understand, what is best for the students is the primary concern in the process.
“All teachers must be using the same grading system,” Snyder said. “Most districts have board policy governing grading.”
She added that while it is important that the district be able to tell parents how their children are performing academically, it is equally important that student progress in obtaining skills that translate into the workplace could be measured. She said a uniform grading scale and all teachers using the same system of assessment would be able to show “are they (students) reaching the benchmarks in 21st Century skills.”
In regards to concerns from some parents that the new system would result in students being passed when they shouldn’t, both Snyder and Murray said the new system would be able to let teachers see struggling students sooner when steps could be taken to get them remedial help.
“We are not going to allow students to fail,” Snyder said.
And while the new grading system approved by the board specifies how 80 percent of a student’s grade is determined, they pulled back from approving what would go into the rubric of the other 20 percent at this time. This portion, which had generated the most opposition from parents, would take into consideration 21st Century skills more as well as a variety of areas that were grouped under “citizenship.”
Snyder said the criteria for the remaining 20 percent would be implemented after getting more input from teachers, parents and other concerned groups.
Murray said that because grades and high school transcripts play such an important part of such things as college admission, having a standard that all teachers will follow was critical.
“What we want is for all students who come through the door to know what is expected of them,” he said.
He also said that the new scale would allow more consistent data to be collected. In the long run, this data could be used to gauge the effectiveness of courses.
“I don’t expect any big jumps in our grades,” Murray said. “I don’t expect anything magical to happen overnight.”
School Board President Jeff Verdoorn said while the change may be something the parents may have just started hearing about recently, it had been debated by the board before at the committee level. He also sought to reassure the parents in attendance that rather than making courses easier for students, it would make courses and grading more rigorous. He also said the new system would be evaluated at least quarterly, if not more frequently the first few years.
He also stated that contrary to what a couple parents stated during public comment, there is no data that showed more students failed classes last year in the first year of the Flex 14 schedule.
“There are a lot of misconceptions out there and hopefully in the next couple weeks we can address these,” Verdoorn said.
The board approved the new grading scale by an 8-1 vote with Chuck Bolder casting the lone nay vote.
While the new sex education requirement that was approved by the legislature wasn’t on Monday’s agenda, several parents spoke against it during the public comment period. Many objected to the fact that it was developed with input from several pro-abortion groups as well as gay and lesbian groups. The parents strongly objected to inclusion of contraceptives, abortion and homosexuality being covered in the class, which is taught as part of the human growth and development class all MHS students must take to graduate.
“I believe it is my job to teach my son about contraception, not some politician in Madison,” said Brad Geise.
Repeatedly the parents asked that the board reject the new course requirements, which would mean that sex education would have to be removed from the course curriculum. The present course curriculum used by MAPS is primarily one of abstinence only, which the new law prohibits.
MAPS has until Sept. 30 to decide if it will adhere to the new course requirements or opt out for a year. All of the parents who spoke on the subject Monday urged the board to take the latter approach, at least until the full ramifications of opting in could be studied and parents given more information on it and be able to weigh in on it.
A committee made up of administrators, teachers and parents will meet Friday to finalize a recommendation to be forwarded to the board for consideration at their September meeting. Complete coverage of that meeting will appear in next week’s edition.