Wake County to stick with 4-point grading scale for elementary schools

Posted by T. Keung Hui on November 18, 2013 

It looks like Wake County elementary schools will remain on a four-point grading scale for report cards.

Wake County school board member Jim Martin had asked to either have a five-point scale or that the definitions on the four-point scale be changed to widen the gap between proficient and exemplary status. But school board members agreed during Thursday’s joint meeting of the policy and student achievement committees to leave the scale unchanged for now.

Since 2004, every Wake County elementary school has used the 1 through 4 grading system instead of the old letter-grade system. The move, which had been piloted by schools as early as 2001, marked the start of standards-based grading in Wake. It was meant to help align the grades with the state end-of-grade exams in which levels 3 and 4 are passing.

A 3* grade was later added because of complaints from parents that teachers were giving few 4s.

The new report cards in use this school year drop 3* while changing the definitions of 1-4.

A 4 means exemplary: “Student consistently demonstrates an in-depth understanding of the standards, concepts and skills taught during this reporting period.”

A 3 means proficient: “Student consistently demonstrates an understanding of the standards, concepts and skills taught during this reporting period.”

A 2 means approaching proficiency: “Student is approaching an understanding of the standards, concepts and skills taught during this reporting period.”

A 1 means non-proficient: “Student does not yet demonstrate an understanding of the standards, concepts and skills taught during this reporting period.”

James Overman, senior director of elementary programs, said the 3* was confusing to people. He said that teachers gave a standing ovation when they were told that 3* was being eliminated.

Overman said the majority of school districts using standards-based grading employ the 4-point scale.

Martin said a 4-point scale is good if you believe that the EOG is a good assessment, which he does not. He called the end-of-grades exams reductionist, saying that if you’re a good testtaker that getting a 4 is not a really big deal.

Martin said that the EOGs don’t capture a lot of the learning you would expect to see in a grade level. He said the exams aren’t a good test of pushing students to higher levels of accountability and responsibility.

Martin questioned whether the 3 would be very big window and the 4 a small window under the new report cards.

Board member Susan Evans said she’s heard concerns from parents who would prefer more differentiation in the scale. Evans added that she was only laying out what she had heard and wasn’t petitioning for a change.

Evans said parents want to know if their children are barely proficient, average proficient or highly proficient, which she said parents could tell back when letter grades were used.

But Evans added that the new report cards, which now include grades for individual concepts, may overcome the issues about what the overall grades mean.

Overman said he feels the new report cards will provide more clarity. Overman also said there will be more opportunities now to achieve a 4 because in the past teachers felt it was a grade for only the very top students.

Board member Tom Benton asked Overman what’s his sense of what teachers and principals feel about the grading scale. Overman half joked he was reluctant to say considering all the problems they’ve had entering grades with PowerSchool. But Overman said they’ll feel better when the system is working better.

Martin said that having 3* didn’t mean that they had a 5-point scale before because the grade was never defined.

Overman answered that he to respectfully disagreed. He said that 3* was defined but not consistently carried out.

At this point, staff asked if the board could back leaving the 4-point scale in place.

In the ensuing thumbs up vote, only Martin appeared to vote no.

Evans said she’s willing to support continuing it because she’s hoping the new report card structure will answer the concerns parents had.

Martin said that he had to explain he was against leaving the scale as is because he feels that it disadvantages the top learners. He had wanted either a 5-point scale or that a 2 be redefined as proficient. Staff said it was important to have two levels of proficiency and two levels of non-proficiency.

Superintendent Jim Merrill said they may need to have an official vote on the four-point scale. He said they might move it into the policy or have an official vote on an R&P, something which is not normally done.

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