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Teachers Weigh in on New Grading System

Libertyville Elementary District 70 teachers discover shift in teaching without letter grades.

In June 2010, the state of Illinois adopted new standards for the state’s K-12 classrooms incorporating the Common Core State Standards. These standards, now adopted in 44 states, are designed to provide children with clear and consistent educational framework and prepare them for college and careers.

Four summers ago, initiated an assessment committee made up of district teachers to research and implement the standards-based system. Patch asked two district teachers that participated in this assessment committee to explain what this implementation has meant for the district classrooms.

Teachers Understand Students’ Needs and Abilities

“My teaching has shifted 100 percent,” said Amy Nemmers, fifth grade teacher at . “I feel I know exactly what my students’ needs and strengths are. They push themselves harder instead of beating themselves up. We see better problem solving, a stronger work ethic, and they’re asking more questions.”

Nemmers has been part of the assessment committee since its onset, and says she will not go back to letter grades.

“I think that letter grades are not always the best way of communicating what a child knows,” she said. “Maybe they’re really good at homework, and that bumps up their grade.”

With standards-based grading, homework is not factored into a child’s assessments, she says, because it’s practice, and children should not be graded on practice, but on performance.

“It’s the same in the corporate world, or even in my job,” she said. “They look at my performance. What am I able to do? Where did I start and end? Did I grow? Did I get to where I’m supposed to be as a teacher at the end of the year?”

A Shift in Grading

Students keep track of their progress and understanding every day in each area of a subject says teacher Jennifer Carlson.

“On a weekly basis, students will chart out problems that they got missing or incorrect,” Carlson said. “They’re understanding how they’re doing in specific areas, not just math or social studies."

Carlson says teachers breakdown categories on a test. For example, if a student gets all of the multiplication on a test correct but did poorly on geometry, teachers will know the student's operations skills is strong but needs more work on geometry.

“Students are able to take more ownership over their work and identify where they can set goals for improvement,” she said. “Instead of saying, ‘I’m really bad at math,’ they’re looking past the score and playing an active role in their success that they can set for themselves.”

Positive Feedback From Parents

Carlson says she field tested the new standards-based report card last year and that the majority of the feedback she received from families has been positive.

Nemmers, who is passionate about standards-based education, says that they’ve been utilizing parent and student surveys throughout the implementation process to help teachers and administration make the shift easier.

“We live in an incredibly supportive community,” Nemmers said. “This is one of those changes that has a little bit of discomfort because a lot of people don’t understand it. Our parents are so involved and want to be educated about it.”

Nemmers says that a shift in letter grade assessments has been coming for a long time as universities and colleges around the nation have been finding the traditional GPAs misrepresenting a student’s actual performance.  

“We’re targeting exactly what they need to know and boosting them to where they need to go, extending their learning,” Nemmers said.

Common Core State Standards Resources

Nemmers believes that parents need to have resources in order to support such changes in the education of their children and posts resources and links for parents on her website: www.d70schools.org/~anemmers/MrsNemmers.

More information can also be found on the Common Core State Standards website at www.CoreStandards.org.

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