BLANCHARD — Nearly 50 concerned parents of Montabella Community Schools students attended a public forum at the school Thursday to address concerns about the district’s newly implemented schoolwide standards-based grading policy.
“I’m actually pleased to know parents have questions about the policy,” said Superintendent Shelly Millis in her opening statement. “That means they’re concerned about their kids and what’s going on at school.”
Standards-based grading has been used for 20 years and soon will be adopted by most schools in Michigan, according to Millis. Michigan is one of 48 states to adopt Common Core State Standards, which is integrated into Montabella’s new grading policy — Grading for Learning.
“This is putting everybody on the same page,” Millis said. “Instead of Michigan having our own set of standards, Ohio having theirs and so on, they’ve made a broad adoption of Common Core Standards.”
Parents and students are confused about specific elements of the grading policy due to variances among teachers. Millis openly admits there are inconsistencies from teacher to teacher and aims to actively work with staff to gain uniformity.
“There are many misconceptions on what the program’s all about,” Millis said. “Tonight’s meeting is meant to provide clarification. Our goal is to get some consistency and make sure everything that’s happening is happening across the board.”
Under the new policy, assignments are divided into three categories: practice, formative assessments and summative assessments. Only summative assessments are used to calculate final grades.
According to Millis, there’s a misunderstanding that summative assessments are solely tests. They also include reports, projects, quizzes, presentations and papers. Students are allowed to retake (reassess) summative assessments to improve their grade.
When students reassess, Katrina Hunt of Edmore questioned whether summative scores were averaged together or the highest grade was recorded. Another parent asked how many times a student could reassess.
“It’s the better score, always the better score,” Millis responded. “We’re still having conversations with teachers and talking it through with them to be sure they all have the general idea. Our ultimate goal is to make sure kids know the material. Our goal is not to fail kids.”
Hindsight is 20/20
Millis used a PowerPoint presentation as a basic outline of the new policy and to show its educational benefits. A two-year comparison of Montabella’s ACT and eighth grade MEAP scores to the state average showed underperformance in most areas.
The PowerPoint also showed levels of standards-based grading systems in three Michigan schools. Tri County Area Schools uses 70 percent summative grading. Breckenridge High School currently uses it in their senior class only. Dansville Schools has used 90 percent summative grading school-wide since 2009. Dansville reported an overall increase in ACT scores following its grading policy change.
Kay Wisner of Blanchard questioned why Montabella didn’t start with a more moderate version of standards-based grading.
“Why didn’t we choose a more middle-of-the-road version, something like what Breckenridge did or Tri County, something that would have been a little less severe and would have allowed the teachers to get in sync, the administration to get in sync, the parents and students, and start aligning this to where you want to go in the end?” she asked.
“Yes, we did kind of take a big leap from one extreme to the other,” Millis responded. “I think the fact that we’re open to some adjustments shows that we want it to work. In hindsight, would we have done things a bit differently … probably? It’s going to be a learning experience, and we are going to have some little glitches as we go along.”
Millis mentioned recent modifications to the policy — which became effective Oct. 1 — which allowed for a two-week summative reassessment period, beginning when a graded assignment is returned. Grades lower than a C are not calculated into a student’s final grade during this period. Giving summative assessments more often and over less material is being discussed. This makes it easier for teachers to re-teach specific sections kids are failing, according to Montabella Elementary School Principal Brad Reyburn.
Julie Davidson of Millbrook saw the policy’s potential to increase ACT test scores as a positive.
“I think there’s a lot of negative here, but ACT scores are important,” said Davidson. “Higher ACT scores will help our kids get into college.”
Montabella teacher — and stepparent — Roger Champion likes the policy’s reassessment benefit, which allows students to improve their grade.
“I can tell you what I like about this grading procedure is that it gives them opportunity for a second chance,” Champion said. “They never had that before. Before, it was one and done. Now, it’s actually forcing us (teachers) to look at what we’re doing wrong and how we can teach better to get our kids to understand.”
Ironing out the details
Throughout the meeting, Montabella Junior/Senior High Principal Shane Riley noted questions and concerns. The PowerPoint and answers to commonly asked questions will be available online at www.montabella.com. A parent advisory committee is being organized to gather input and troubleshoot problems.
Montabella’s goal is to have a more concrete grading policy in place by the end of the first semester, according to Millis.
Another public meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Montabella Junior/Senior High cafeteria.