Oak Grove grading policy under the microscope

Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Photos by Clint Confehr County Commissioner Seth Warf consults with interim Schools Director Nancy Aldridge after this month's school board meeting. The board rejected a motion that would have had Aldridge compel Oak Grove Elementary School Principal Lyn Stacey, center, to return to a grading policy consistent with other K-6 schools in the county. The motion was made by board member Craig Michael, right.

A Marshall County school's change in its grading system is prompting concerns it is inconsistent with a school board policy requiring equal education standards.

"We either ought to implement this system at all elementary schools or Oak Grove School should use the system that's at all the other schools," Craig Michael, a member of the county board of education, said during the panel's meeting this month.

Oak Grove Principal Lyn Stacey was not present for that part of the board's Nov. 8 meeting.

He left for visitation at a funeral home. Monday, Stacey defended Oak Grove's grading system, saying that while the new system remains comparable to that used at other schools there is room for differences in how schools grade students just as grading practices often vary from teacher to teacher.

Michael emphasized that he was not criticizing the system implemented by Stacey and has complimented the Oak Grove principal for his willingness to embrace change. Instead, Michael pointed out there's a difference.

The change at Oak Grove was announced about 4-1/2 weeks into the first grading period. A letter was sent to parents, prompting concerns among some about whether the change would affect the quality of their children's education. The letter caught school board officials by surprise as well.

Michael questioned whether Stacey had the authority to implement the change.

"One person is not to run this system," Michael said. "That's what this board was elected to do."

Board member Kristin Gold agreed during the monthly meeting that a consistent policy is needed, but said she was uncomfortable with saying one system is right or wrong.

Gold also asked if other board members were comfortable with the idea of testing students three times on a subject. Her question arose after some other practices in Oak Grove's grading plan were discussed.

"This is not about the grading system," Michael repeated. "The point is this board is the governing body and someone implemented a totally different system of grading" at one school, Oak Grove.

Board Chairman Jerry Campbell suggested the board refer the issue to a meeting of principals, but Michael countered, "If that's how you feel, maybe you should vote against the motion."

Campbell did.

Only Michael and board member Todd Warner voted to have Interim Schools Director Nancy Aldridge direct Stacey to resume last year's practices at Oak Grove.

When Stacey was reached at Oak Grove School on Monday, he said values for grades at Oak Grove are consistent with those at other schools -- meaning, for example, "an 'A' is 93 percent to 100 grade average."

Asked how Oak Grove's grading program is different, Stacey replied he suspects the practices are similar -- just as one third grade teacher might be grading differently from another teaching across the hall. Some grade homework, others do not, he said.

"We're trying to have some uniformity here at Oak Grove," Stacey said.

The state sets the curriculum, "so we should be expecting the students to learn the same things," he said.

Tests students take should relate to what's taught, he said, offering a three points to summarize educators' goals.

* "We're trying to make sure our assessments are lined up with the curriculum."

* "We want a child's grade to be reflective of their proficiency on any given objective."

* "When a child doesn't demonstrate mastery, we should re-teach with different methods and give the child another opportunity to demonstrate his proficiency."

School board discussion, with some members of the county commission present and participating, reflected some controversy among parents, county leaders and educators.

Oak Grove students are allowed to take some tests again and those who do well the first time can attempt to improve their grade, or skip that opportunity and accept the passing grade they earned, Stacey said.

Stacey said confusion may have developed when some children didn't achieve an 80 percent score to show accepted proficiency and were then retested. At the same time, a student who passed with an 82 may have ignored the opportunity to improve their score when a student with a 75 was retested and earned a 90.

Teachers should prepare three tests to equally evaluate all students on the same lessons, Stacey said. The first test is administered to all. The second test is available to retest students who need retesting and those who want to try to improve their score. The third test is for a final analysis, if needed.

"Usually what happens is all [of the students] but five pass," the principal said. "Then the material is taught again and then perhaps two still fail. They get the third test."

Inconsistency -- between Oak Grove's grading practices and other schools' -- was seen on how homework is evaluated, according to discussion at the school board meeting.

Homework is not counted when developing a student's grade, Stacey said.

"Homework to me is practice and if we're talking sports, we don't keep score in practice," Stacey said. "If a teacher takes up homework and grades it, they should use that as a formative assessment."

Homework, he said, is frequently assigned so the teacher gets feed back. The teacher is attempting to answer the question: Does the class understand what was taught today?

"A lot of the testing is to provide feed back to the teachers so they know whether they're getting though to them," he said. "If a test is given and 75 percent fail, then the question is whether the lesson was understood. And so, is it fair for the students to suffer a failing grade, or should the teacher use the test results as feed back?"

"There were teachers who did include homework scores in calculating the report card grades," he added.

Stacey, who is in his second school year as principal at Oak Grove, said he ended the inclusion of homework grades in calculating report card grades this fall.

"Some teachers just checked to see if homework was complete," he said.

Stacey said homework is also a link between parents and teachers, and he will be reaching out to parents for a more complete explanation on how grades are earned at Oak Grove.

That's to be during a "parent involvement night at the school on Dec. 11, he said. Stacey will issue an announcement later including a specific time.

As for his controversial memo issued to parents 4-1/2 weeks into this school year, Stacey said, "Obviously, I could have given them a more general explanation at the beginning of the year, but I elected to wait and work out the bugs."

The first month might be likened to a shakedown cruise, he agreed. There were other issues, too.

"We spent a lot of time at the beginning of the year going over the reading program, so we didn't have a lot of time ... and we've had to make adjustments," he said. "We spent 4-1/2 weeks getting this in our minds and working out the bugs and tweaking it and after that I felt comfortable explaining it."

Stacey said he will explain the students' results on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) tests at the Dec. 11 program. He also plans to discuss scores on the federal evaluation under the No Child Left Behind law, the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) rankings and value added scores.