Madison Middle School Report Card/Homework Assessment Proposed Changes

Michael Maguire, via email:

I’m interested in gathering more information on this topic, as outlined in a message I received from a neighbor and PTO member. I appreciate more background info, if you have it (or a suggestion of where else I can go/with whom I can speak) to find out more: [“On Wednesday, February 20, at 7 pm Dr. Pam Nash and Lisa Wactel from MMSD will present the new format for middle school report cards. The meeting is in the LMC at Hamilton Middle School [Map].
The district is changing the middle school report cards to the same as the elementary: proficient, at grade level, needs improvement (or whatever those categories are). They will eliminate the letter grades: A, B, C, etc.
Another factor in the report cards is that homework will not count toward the grade. Teachers can still assign homework, but that will not count toward your child’s assessment.”]

Michael Maguire
(608) 233-1235
I’ve heard that this model is also intended for the high schools. Related posts by Mary Kay Battaglia, “Can We Talk?

31 thoughts on “Madison Middle School Report Card/Homework Assessment Proposed Changes”

  1. Good luck changing high school grades to “standards based” reporting. How on earth do MMSD kids then compete/compare to other districts in the college application madness? “I had a 3.95″….”well big deal I was completely proficient, and I took TAG classes”…

  2. Well…….
    Yes they are changing the report cards to include the standards rating of 1 – 4 similar to the elementary school to reflect the standards that are under the process of being changed at DPI!
    Yes, they are considering not including homework in these grades. From what I gather the infinite campus would remain the same. The report cards will only cover what standard is being covered at that time. They currently have a sample report they are working with and they plan to have meetings with staff and parents (right) to get more input. Other item of interest is they are proposing no report cards for 6th graders…..just two parent teacher conferences a year. Those 5 minute meetings are so useful I guess.
    I spoke my mind about this to Lisa Wachtel in Teaching and Learning about the following things:
    1. These elementary cards are awful. Each teacher my child has had interprets these reports differently.
    2. My daughter will never do homework if you do not weight it.
    3. The kids find these kind of report cards a joke.
    4. This disinfranchises the low income families, because these three page report cards are very hard to understand.
    Her response:
    1. Oh parents hate change.
    2. This gives you so much more information.
    3. Teachers should be able to interpret these report cards similarly after we give them feedback.
    4. This is what all the schools are going to around us and the country
    5. My favorite—-well its not a done deal.
    That last one was a cop out as the form is made, all the rest of the middle school staff meeting revolve around how to do this and they plan to role it out this fall.
    I have many friends that are elementary school teachers and they HATE these report cards. One of these very bright friend states the only reason they are doing this is to give Teaching and Learning something to do…….well I have a handful of teachers in my middle school that could use help on how to TEACH and help my children LEARN…..but instead those teachers will have to learn how to fill out a new report card that as a parent I will not understand. Joy!

  3. It seems like there is a trend to less reporting of grades to parents. Since our kids started school they have gone from four report cards, a ready-set-go conference, and a parent-teacher conference, to three report cards for homeroom two for art, music, P.E. and com tech and a parent-teacher conference. These are changes at the elementary level. I appreciate the time teachers spend on the report comments and I really appreciate the time they seem to spend struggling with the system, which crashes almost every quarter because the teachers all log on at once.
    I am surprised that homework might not count as part of the grade (number). Does that mean teachers won’t have to grade it? As for it being a done deal, well, I wonder what will change with the new superintendent?

  4. Most of the teachers I know hate these report cards (the ones in place already at the elementary schools), and find them of limited use at best; but they have at least swallowed them eventually as, “Well, at least it’s only elementary reports and grades don’t count as much”. The mess this will make with the middle schools, in terms of parents not understanding what is really going on and children not, having any motivation at all to do the work will be horrible. My own children read the elementary reports with us and were horrifed to get anything other than at least a few 4’s and everything else 3’s. They care about knowing how they’re doing, and the middle school grades used to let them know in a more standard fashion. They were excited to finally be getting “real grades” for middle school that showed up better for those who worked hard versus those who barely did enough to get by with a lot of teacher support and handholding (those 3’s just mean they meet expectations, and are “right where they should be”, and 4’s are not the same as A’s).
    It is so frustrating to know that 3’s are essentially C’s (average, where they should be, proficient), and most of the teachers don’t give any 4’s except in an area where you far exceed expectations (like, straight A’s or A+’s used to be). Honestly, I don’t know if this is more frustrating for the student’s who give a rat’s a** about grades, or the parents who aren’t quite sure what these numbers and limited comments on a few currently addressed points are supposed to mean. They (the district) obviously learned nothing from those joke reports they gave last year (3rd quarter?) that had no information at all for anything but a few parts of reading and math. Parents were in an uproar. That is about the last chance you have in a school year to make sure any learning happens that year, and if the families aren’t aware of problems because no one has told them, they can’t do much. Is it really fine to only have meetings and tell parents their kids are not doing anything in school if they have a GPA below 1.75, or whatever the cut off is now for even telling parents anything? How many of us here would be fine with their middle schoolers only having a GPA of 2.2 because “it’s only 6th/7th grade and doesn’t really count until 8th grade”? Soon it won’t count there either.
    If the Teaching and Learning folks want something to do, they can help with the teaching and learning that is not going on in many of our middle schools right now, as Mary stated above. If they really do this, they are just going to bleed away even more families committed to knowing what on earth their children are doing in school. And I remember, Celeste, your comments before. I think people were rightfully distracted by the superintendent search at the time, and when we were or were not going to be allowed to know who got the position. But this is how it seems to happen – distract us from one big issue by focusing on another as long as possible, then turning around and deciding the first with no comments from others with vested interests in changes of all kinds. And claiming it is not a “done deal” is not even just a copout, it’s a lie.

  5. I’ll have to hear more from T&L. But what does it mean to not count homework? Isn’t homework where practice and learning really happen?
    Is the move to standards ratings, whatever that means, an explicit “teaching to the test” process?
    What are the standards? As Fordham Institute indicates, Wisconsin earns a D on state standards, in their opinion. Is DPI building more explicit and less abstract standards into the State’s Standards? Or, is MMSD’s interpretation of the State Standards going to be the criteria that kids will be rated on?

  6. My daughter’s 6th grade teachers think this is a terrible idea and have said so in class. If they leave Infinite Campus the same, I can at least build a “real” grade portfolio for my daughters off of the info listed there.
    A few other observations:
    1) I assume we won’t have Honor Roll anymore in the middle schools. If you want less of something, reward it less, don’t reward achievement and you will get less of it.
    2) There needs to be clearly defined parameters and expectations for each number and each criteria. Not in “edu-speak” either, something parents can understand. That does not exist in the elementary schools with the exception of reading level.
    3) This progress needs to formally recorded every quarter, not twice a year with an mini-report after third quarter as in the elementary schools. Middle schoolers can fall off the tracks in a hurry and a full semester without formal recognition of that can be very difficult to undo.
    4) There is something to be said for teaching the concept of having to give effort every day through homework. There is a lot of truth to the old line “70% of success is showing up”. Putting effort into daily homework is the school version of “showing up” and it should be reflected in some manner.

  7. To answer Larry’s question….yes those standards that are rated D. DPI is currently revising the standards, while I am unsure when they plan to have them complete, the revised report cards will be outdated soon.
    The homework idea is a proposal…..the students will be given homework and it is not clear if staff will just give checks or actually grade the homework, but the standards grade will only be based on the test and quizzes students take. My favorite part of this is in my elementary very FEW test are given and it took a while for my kids to adapt to test and anxiety that created.
    Also some are saying the typical grade 88% or whatever, will also be on the card.
    I think the biggest issue here is that this will not affect you and I that use infinite campus and such BUT it will really hit the families that we seem to refer to as the GAP. How will this help them understand their childs progress?
    I also wonder who the report cards are for anymore. It is clearly not for the parents because they keep reducing the information and making it more irrelavent.

  8. I find that assessments based on tests and quizzes alone quite disturbing because such narrow assessments can only measure a very narrow range of knowledge acquisitions.
    1) Tests and quizzes are timed — typically short — and tend to measure simply cognition and recall of memorized material. They really cannot measure mental processes requiring deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning, or evaluative reasoning.
    2) Tests and quizzes will typically only require short answers. Elaboration, nuances cannot be emphasized.
    3) Homework, if thoughtfully designed by the teacher, and conscientiously performed by the student, allows synthesis of the material. However, my daughter often remarked to me that after the homework was turned in, the teacher did not discuss and elaborate on the assignments, did not discuss what the “right” answers were and why. Often teachers merely asked “Any questions about the assignment” — often there were none — then off to the next topic.
    So I suppose that if the teachers use homework only for grading and not for teaching, then it wasn’t being used properly anyway.
    I remember a presentation that former UW-Madison Chancellor Donna Shalala gave at Teacher’s College (with William Bennett and Diane Ravitch), where she elaborated on what she saw as the basic failure of teachers — they don’t act as coaches. She saw the prototypical coach as one who forced his/her charges to practice the fundamentals repeatedly, who gave constant feedback to students to improve their skills, who could demonstrate that skill.
    Of course, this description is of the ideal coach — one whose goal is to teach the skill — not just win in competition.
    In any case, I certainly will listen for justifications for the approach that MMSD is taking — with my normal degree of skepticism.

  9. Thanks for all of the comments – so far! Very helpful for me.
    I had a fascinating discussion with a MMSD board of education member today. Apparently, the specific proposals to change middle school grade reporting and to eliminate homework as part of assessment have not made their way to the Board of Education via the Performance and Achievement Committee.
    So, I will present what I know (and my questions about this issue) at the next meeting of the BOE’s Performance & Achievement Committee. It’s on Monday, February 25 at 5:00 p.m. in the Doyle Admin. Bldg., in the auditorium. Anyone want to join me?
    I’ll bring with me a summary of observations posted here and other suggestions anyone may have. Thanks, again!

  10. We had a long discussion about the new assessments at our PTG meeting last night. To me it sounded very time consuming for teachers. From what I understand, there are additional reporting requirements for kids with IEPs. They are still working on the assessments and hope to implement them for the fourth quarter this year. There will be an assessment for each standard. Teaching and learning staff are looking at the standards and make sure that there is a place for kids to be assessed for each. An example at the elementary level would be: Knows multiplication facts. Homework probably won’t count but projects and tests will. Anyway, I would like to know how the teachers feel about the new reporting – I hope the board will take their input.

  11. Thanks to Michael for offering to speak before the Board! I would like to say that I can’t believe this is even being proposed, but I’m not surprised. In my many years with MMSD, I’ve seen only a trend of making everyone less accountable. Our students need to have expectations placed upon them, as do our teachers. Middle school needs to be a time when students become more challenged, focused and responsible to prepare for high school. There is so much discussion about eliminating honor roll, advanced classes, TAG… High school is supposed to prepare students for college, if they choose to go on. Our students have to be prepared for high school, also. We all know that getting into college is becoming more difficult.(See yesterday’s Wisconsin State Journal article,”Record number of applicants for UW”-2000 fewer students will get in) The direction that MMSD is heading will ensure that more of our children will not get in!

  12. I think there is a lot that hasn’t been decided yet for this new assessment method. This is purely speculation on my part but it seems that the assessment is more for the administration than for parents and kids. It looks like it will make it easier to track kids over time and do statistical analyses for each standard for groups of kids.
    Based on the elementary reports, I think the assessments provide information that parents aren’t necessarily interested in. I’m not sure what good it does me to learn, at the end of the quarter, that my child is not proficient in for example: knowing how to multiply fractions. I usually already know that from talking to the teacher or through homework assignments. I do want to know if math is a challenge so my kid can get the help she needs.
    One thing that came up at our PTG meeting was that sixth graders like getting grades because it is different from elementary school. It separates them from little kids. The grades are a nice pat on the back when kids do well. Will pages of “3” s be as motivating as A’s and B’s?

  13. Mary Fish posted her notes from Wednesday evenings presentation on the planned report card changes here:
    I wanted to present my concerns regarding last night’s meeting on standards based grading. If you heard me hrumphing from the sidelines, I apologize. However, I felt that the information provided was nothing more than persuasive argument and I was there for the bottom line.
    For starters, last night’s meeting was never intended to be part of the MMSD agenda on the grading system changes. It was precipitated by parental outcry about not being advised of the likely change (I understand it’s been in the works for several years and begins this fall) and quick, strong opposition. The first I heard of the new grading system was from Principal Schmelz at our last PTO meeting. I contacted active parents from Cherokee and O’Keefe Middle Schools who also were unaware of the changes and disturbed to the point of rallying other parents and contacting the School Board and MMSD.
    Throughout the meeting, I felt that when direct questions were asked, indirect answers were given. I don’t need to hear repeatedly about the general importance of homework. That’s obvious and was distracting from the heart of the matter. However, after witnessing parent questions about homework and daily work assessment being underplayed and redirected several times, I again asked whether homework would be evaluated. The response was that “hopefully” the teachers would look at homework/daily assignments and provide feedback. “Hopefully” is neither assessment (grade), evaluation (feedback) nor a guarantee. All that’s required in the new system is a “check” of completed or not.

  14. If homework doesn’t count in the grade, most kids aren’t going to do it. Middle school to me seems a “key” period in moving kids from the elementary school, single-class/teacher model to having more defined subjects and classes as they will experience in high school and college. Part of that needs to include encouraging them to do homework. In addition, many students freeze up on tests and don’t perform as well as perhaps they should. Homework grades help even that out. (Not to mention that telling teachers what they can and can’t include in their grade seems a little overintrusive to me!)
    As far as the “numerical” grading, that’s just as disturbing. Again, high school and college are not going to grade that way (if the high schools try to change it — that would be absolutely terrible on so many levels…). Students need to begin understanding the way this system works in a lower-stress environment. I think it helps them take school more seriously when they’re finally getting “REAL grades” (at least that was my reaction in sixth grade) which would only be beneficial. The only thing that could sway me is if this was replaced with a real commitment to substantive qualitative evaluations: thoughtful comments by teachers beyond the fifty or so predefined infinite campus ones. (However, if that could be done, why not throw a grade on there too?).
    Does anyone know who downtown is responsible for this/who to contact with public input?

  15. Interesting thread. I don’t have an opinion at this point about standards based grading for middle school, however, I think that standards based report cards (when used appropriately) have been a significant improvement for elementary schools. Prior to standards based reporting, there was not any consistent standard that I could see in elementary level reporting. It often seemed that students were graded in comparision to classmates rather than in comparison to a more objective standard. This produced very misleading information about students’ actual skill level, particularly in classes where overall achievement levels were low.
    I find it helpful as a teacher to have set standards and a rubric to use to determine whether a student is meeting goals. The suggestion that proficient means “C” is concerning to me. There is, I think, a signficant conflict between the idea that we owe every child a solid education, and the idea that if we actually meet that goal, we aren’t expecting enough.
    Proficient, to me, is a perfect goal as long as we have high enough standards for what that means. I don’t think that letter grades produce any higher standard of performance. In fact, since so many parents expect students to get A’s, teachers are pressured to give A’s. There have been too many situations in which teachers have been told to lower their standards and give students A’s they didn’t earn. Standards based grading (again, if done well) at least provides a set criteria–the student can or cannot demonstrate a specific skill or skills.
    That said, our current elementary system needs some adjustments.
    First, I believe that standards should be set for work completion (including class work and homework) that are as specific as standards for academic work, and should not be buried in the behavior area under a separate coding system.
    Second, a more finely tuned system for students at the “1” or “4” level needs to be set up. These are students who are more than a year above or below grade level in their demonstration of knowledge/skills. I’d like to see either of those marks kick us to an actual grade level comparison (e.g. “4” for computation skills on a second grade report card, requires teacher to mark whether the student is currently meeting 3rd, 4th or 5th grade standards in that area). Progress is not tracked otherwise, because a student significantly above or below could stand still or move academically and net the same marks on the next 3 report cards. This is not as true at the 2 or 3 (progressing/proficient) because the range of possibility is much narrower.
    So…I see that I am out of synch with the posts on this thread, but I don’t want my child’s “4”s replaced with “A’s”. An “A” MAY tell me that my child is working hard, but won’t tell me anything new about the skills she has acquired, and may tell me less.

  16. What I find confusing about the mid-year Elementary report cards is whether the 1/2/3/4 represents where the student is performing based upon expectation for that moment in time during the year or whether it represents performance expectation at the end of the year.
    I also am not convinced the evaluations are consistent between teachers. I’m sure the metrics are clear, but there is always a subjective element to such evaluations. Greater consistency might be better achieved by having the teachers evaluate as a team between a set of rooms and focus their evaluation on a smaller portion of the assessment. Just my thought.

  17. These report cards are the latest manifestation of the age of accountability and the perpetuation of the crazy idea that one can improve achievement through assessment. This is like saying that the weatherman can change the weather by finding better ways of measuring the snow. These insane report cards are what happens when children who are only five must learn how to fill in the bubble of a scantron test. Careful what you wish for, you may get it.

  18. This is from the district and will probably come home in backpacks:
    Families of 5^th , 6^th and 7^th *
    *Grade Students,*
    You are invited to attend an Information Session on the 2008-09
    transition to Standards-based Report Cards. Sessions will be held at
    Toki Middle School on Tuesday March 4 and Sennett Middle School on Thursday March 6 from 7:00 -8:30 PM.
    There will be a brief presentation followed by question/answer sessions.

  19. At the BOE performance & achievement committee meeting last night, it was mentioned that the topic of middle school report card changes is on the agenda for the BOE meeting Monday March 3rd, which is at 6 p.m. in Doyle, according to their calendar.

  20. I am not as concerned with the format of the grading as I am with the accountability. As a high school math teacher I witness too many students who have passed 8th grade, but not their math class. If we are to have standards, we need to hold students accountable for those standards. What good is a U (unsatisfactory) if the kid is just going to move on? It’s like, “thanks for the info, I can tell the kids not proficient-I don’t need a letter to tell me that. The thing I want to know is what are you going to do about it.” Algebra is lowest level math taught at the high school in MMSD, so I intend on teaching just that…algebra. If a kid can’t read “See dick run” you do NOT pass him/her and expect them to read Shakespear. The same goes for math. If a kid can’t add integers without a calculator, then they should not move on until they can. Does anyone remember the snowball metaphor. Teaching kids how to graph a line (thats an algebra standard set by the state by the way) cannot be achieved when they have no fraction sense. So, to sum things up here, standards really are not and will not be an issue as long as we start holding students accountable for those standards.

  21. For most standards, the standard for proficiency is different mid-year than it is at the end of the year. For some areas, the standard is the same, but the content that is covered changes. Teachers use one rubric for quarters 2 and 3, and another for quarter 4.
    Consistency of interpretation is a problem under nearly all assessment systems. However, standards still provide a more concrete framework than anything else I’ve seen. Building a shared understanding across a school (not to mention an entire district or state)is no easy task, but I do think that it’s an ongoing goal.

  22. “Accountability” does not just mean holding students accountable for the standards. It means holding the teachers, the principals, the staff at Doyle, the Board of Education, DPI, the legislature, the Feds accountable, and the schools of education accountable, too.
    If the curriculum approach does not meet the student’s needs at that time, and the teacher is unable or unwilling to diagnose what approach/content/skills the student needs in order to be successful, and/or if the resources (time, materials, teacher skills, teacher willingness) are not available, then it is hypocritical at best to hold only the students (or their parents) accountable for the student’s failure to succeed.
    No amount of research on math curriculum can prove that one approach is better than another — except on average — for that is the only result that the research can show, and even then, such research at best is obtained under research conditions which themselves are significantly confounded by the practical (and ethical) limitations on research methodology. Add to this problem that there doesn’t seem to be significant followup when such curriculum is pushed into “the wild”, with real teachers, real schools, real kids. Perhaps there may be an acknowledgement that such curriculum did not work — say, 10 years after it was pushed into the school curriculum — or pushed out by another poorly designed curriculum that catches the political fancy.
    So, “on average”, some math curriculum might be shown to be better than another by some research. But, such research says little or nothing about the real individual student — it cannot, for even perfect science does not and can not say anything about the individual (individual object or event). In the physical world, concern with the individual object/event is more an engineering problem than a scientific one.
    Blind adherence to either constructivist math or traditional math (CMP or Singapore, for example), in both cases, fails to take into account the individual — where each student is in their progress toward competency. CMP may be wonderful for some kids, and a complete failure for others; likewise for Singapore.
    Failure of teachers and educational purists of one ilk or another to recognize these basic truths is most likely to be the major reason for a student’s lack of success. The two failures (the schools’, and the student’s) combine into a deadly embrace, certainly for the student, and eventually for the schools.

  23. To parents who want to weigh in on the proposed switch to standards based report cards in middle and high schools… please do so now. I went to the March board of ed meeting where district staff made their presentation to board members and they were not overly impressed. They had questions and concerns, many of which you all have raised here. But they need to hear from parents and teachers alike. I urge you to send your comments to them. Here is the letter I sent to board members and staff on March 7th. These are issues that I feel need to be addressed before the rush to implement in fall 2008.
    Dear Board of Education Members,
    First, let me say that I have a whole new respect for your job as Board members after sitting through only half of last Monday night’s meeting. I appreciate the time and effort you put forth wrestling with such difficult issues. Thank you.
    I was one of the speakers who expressed concern about the proposed switch to middle school standards-based report cards last Monday night. I intently listened to Lisa Wachtel’s presentation and the remarks of board members and administrative staff. I would like to ensure that I correctly understand the rationale for this switch, and tell you what I see as issues with some of these arguments. Bear with me.
    Teaching & Learning Rationale for Switching
    As I understand it, district staff claims that these new report cards will give parents more and better information and serve as an important communications tool between teachers and parents. This was the main argument I heard for switching.
    Issues with this Rationale
    Here are some potential problems with this rationale — some of which were already expressed by board members at Monday’s meeting:
    The draft report card that was displayed on the screen had verbiage very similar to the K-5 report cards that I am familiar with now. Yes, there will be more information but not understandable and relevant information. In order to know what “Content Knowledge” means, for example, one would have to refer to the standards on the website, according to Lisa Wachtel. I see two issues with this. First, is accessibility. Not everyone has a computer and so this system immediately disenfranchises many Madison families. Second, even if one does have a computer, the standards are not easy to navigate or comprehend. There are hundreds of them. It takes time to look up your grade, then the subject, then the exact standard. This would be very difficult and unwieldy for even the most sophisticated parents to do at report card time, especially with multiple children in the household. Thus, the communications argument breaks down.
    Lisa Wachtel mentioned other forms of communications such as newsletters and teacher conferences to discuss the standards as well. The newsletter from our school comes out every few months and does not coincide with report cards. It would be unrealistic to expect a parent to save their newsletter with the standards printed on there (which would be more than 20 pages long) until report cards came home. Our conferences are 15 minutes long once a year, leaving far too little time to discuss anything substantive, let alone all these complex academic standards.
    This leads me to concerns about the language used in these report cards. I am an English-speaking college grad with a B.A. in journalism and I don’t know what most of the report cards mean. How are Latino and Hmong families, and others who speak English as a second language, supposed to read and comprehend these?
    I urge you to take a real K-5 report card, go to the MMSD website, look at the standards and see for yourself the time this would take and the frustration that it would likely produce in most Madison households. Kindergarten music alone has so many standards and substandards I did not know where to begin. See
    According to Superintendent Rainwater, adopting these report cards will require either the same amount of teacher time or less because the computer programs are automated and can sum up the grades with one push of a button. However, Monday’s debate left unanswered the important question about whether every teacher has learned this software and has full access to all of these automated features. I believe Mr. Rainwater stated that about 50 percent (I’m not sure about this number) are currently able to fully utilize this technology. So, whoever does not have the software would need to do all recording by hand. This would take a lot more time. Even if teachers do have a computer and a press of the button will give them their grades instantly, look at the time it would take to input the grades for such a large number of standards, and then multiply that by the number of students. If social studies has 3 power standards, and 6 sub standards, that is 9 grades for just one subject for just one child. Add to that the other subjects and the behavior standards that are graded as M, S, and R and you have a LOT of grades to enter. Do teachers really have time to go through each of those standards and substandards, and determine where each child is on them? It seems overwhelming to me and frankly, not how I would choose to use teacher time. I would rather have them spend their time on valuable and personal comments on the report cards. Check out the 6th grade music standards (9 standards and 35 substandards on 12 pages) as an example. Is it likely a chorus teacher with 222 sixth graders can really do this?
    So then I have to ask… is this really a better system? Given the money, time and energy it will take to train teachers, implement, and handle all the questions and issues from parents, is it worth it? With the budget being so tight, this doesn’t seem the highest priority for spending limited dollars.
    I encourage you to discuss this issue with teachers directly. Admittedly, I have only talked to a handful of teachers, which may not be a representative sample. But I have talked with and heard from dozens of parents who do not support this move, especially when informed that homework would not be counted in their child’s grade.
    I would also be curious to have the incoming superintendent, David Nerad, weigh in on the issue since it is he who will have to deal with the aftermath. It appears from the Green Bay school district website that they use the traditional grading system in K-12, and that homework is a key component of these grades.
    Thank you for reading. Please call or email if you have any further thoughts.
    Anne Morgan Giroux
    Parent of 5th grader, 6th grader and soon-to-be kindergarten student
    P.S. On a personal note regarding this system for my daughter with an IEP… I began this story the other night during my 3-minute presentation but ran out of time. This past year’s 6th grade report cards are the first ever that we have been able to sit down with Lily and review together. We were able to discuss her grades, the comments, what needs improving, and how awesome she did. She beamed with pride at her As, Bs and yes, a C – all based on a modified curriculum. Why couldn’t we have done this in grades K-5? Because on a standards-based report card, Lily’s grades were always 1s, 2s or see IEP. It seemed cruel to point out her low grades and what they mean in the system. She worked hard and met her IEP goals and yet her grades could not reflect that.
    I can’t hide them from her anymore. She’s a 6th grader and is old enough to care about grades, to improve them, to work harder and to be proud of them. Or be ashamed. How can 1s and 2s benefit her if it is physically impossible for her to learn 6th grade standards?

  24. It will be interesting to see how the new report cards change average grades in MMSD middle schools. My suspicion is that not including HW in the letter grade will bring average grades down, since there are more highly motivated hard-working kids who hang at the edge of A’s in mastery but make sure they keep grades up by diligently working on assignments, whose grades will go down, than there are lazy geniuses who master everything easily but refuse to do their work, whose grades will rise. It is useful for parents and schools to know at what level material is really mastered, since then they can predict how well kids will do on tests by looking at grades, and see more easily where they need to aim intensive instruction. But it will be sad news for the self-image of afore-mentioned group of hard-working students, who will find it almost impossible to regularly get A’s.
    It will also make life difficult for kids who do really have mastery, but who have difficulty on timed tests and other in-class assessments. For example, my daughter does well on many kinds of tests, but in order to produce any quantity of writing for an assignment she needs a place which is quiet and in which she can pace and think. She would suffer in a setting where her writing quality was graded based on in class assessments. She does not have a disability where I could ask for a private room for testing. It’s just a quirk of who she is. So when she knows she’ll see an essay on a history test, part of studying for the test involves thinking out answers to many possible essay questions in advance so that she can regurgitate them on the test if need be.
    The new system does require a fair bit of parental work to really understand what’s going on. I have to admit that when you get beyond the vagueness/eduspeak of the report cards and cross-check the standards, which are quite detailed and plainly written, there is a lot of good information. But it requires commitment to keep up with it. At the time my kids were in MMSD elementary, I wasn’t aware that there was a way to decipher the report cards, so I quit reading them, except to scan to be sure there were mostly 4’s and no 2’s, and read the comments.
    MMSD has prepared a series of info articles about the standards-based system which it has been running in MMSD Today. The article about standards-based assessment, which is no longer on MMSD Today, but is available at link below:
    contains an example of the sort of math problem that reform math people love, but that gives me fits. Here it is.
    Example of a constructed-response item:
    How many bows can you make from 3⅔ meters of ribbon if a bow takes ¼ meter of ribbon?
    Show your work.
    How do you know that your answer is correct?
    OK, the problem itself is fine, but “How do you know your answer is correct???” C’mon. I would tell my kids to just ignore that part of the problem. But a little devil in me wants to tell them to write, “Because I am not an idiot and checked my work” or “Well I don’t really know because you didn’t specify that the ribbon isn’t elastic, so maybe it is and I can stretch it out and get more pieces that are stretched to 1/4 m length.” This sort of thing is just so vague and meaningless. If they want the student to show how they check their work, they should say so clearly and then students can write the sequence of answer checking calculations: 1/4 X 14 = 3 1/2, 3 2/3 – 3 1/2 = 1/6, 1/6 is less than 1/4. If they want the students to use 2 distinctly different means to reach the answer and see that they get the same answer both ways, they should say that and perhaps students could add a pictorial solution with a ribbon chopped up into pieces, or something.

  25. I appreciate the comments shared by TeacherL, but I am not sure that teachers read the difference between 2s, 3s and 4s the same way you do now, even at elementary level. My kids have had teachers who never give a 4 unless the child is far above grade level in every possible standard for that sub-group. So, a 3 – which means meets grade-level expectations – is anywhere from a C to a B+ or even A-. That is not cool and very disengaging for the kids who care or who do their best. My kids have had other teachers who give them 2s midway through the year because they figure that there is no way they can have a 3 because they are not at the end of the grade level and can’t have mastered all the grade level material knowledge (especially common with specials and science, in our experience).
    We have even had a teacher who told my daughter’s class this year that she has never given as many 1s and 2s as she had to give for first semester (2nd quarter) grades this year; then we heard from other teachers that no one is “allowed” to give 2s or 1s to most of their students at our elementary school this year because the principal “won’t allow it” because it “isn’t fair” to the kids who can’t possibly catch up to 3s. No joke. So, did this teacher’s grades all (or mostly) get changed before report cards were sent out? Or did the other teachers get the message but she didn’t, and grade on completely different standards and expectations?
    The elementary grading reports don’t work. Why are we changing to this non-standardized, poorly understood, “standards-based grading” for middle schoolers, when it has not even been fairly implemented at the elementary level across different schools in the district, or different classrooms in the same school, over the past five years? This is a mistake and will end up disengaging communication between parents and school even more for parents who don’t have the time, interest, education, or other resources to look over each child’s reports with all the relevant standards at hand. We are already down to ONE 15-minute conference PER YEAR with middle schoolers who are not at risk of failing or on IEPs. Is that going to go away too with this “more informative report card format”?

  26. I would agree that uniform interpretation of what qualifies as a 1,2,3,4 is a problem. What I am struggling to understand here though, is how letter grades serve to provide a more standardized representation of student performance. Wouldn’t it be more subjective since it would be based on whatever work the teacher gives (often varying in difficulty from classroom to classroom or student to student)?
    I also wonder about how well letter grades inform parents about a child’s actual level of proficiency. Many students begin the school year without having met standards for previous grades. In order to reach the standards they have not yet achieved, these students need instruction based on standards from those earlier grade levels. If students then consistently demonstrate acquisition of those standards after instruction, do they get an “A” on their report card? When a parent then sees the “A” on the fourth grade report card, wouldn’t it be misleading? I would think the implication would be that the student was mastering fourth grade standards.
    I wonder if what we really need is a sort of hybrid system. For instance, a student working on standards below their grade level might receive a “2A” or “2D”. The 2 would indicate that the student was approaching, but not yet working at grade level, and the “A” or “D” (or B, or C….) would indicate their relative performance. I continue to believe that parents (and students) need honest indicators as to whether students are below, within, or above grade level, but I recognize the need for students to see a reflection of how they’re performing on what they are doing in class. The reality is, the achievement range within a class of students is so broad that it is not possible to provide an appropriate education if all students receive identical instruction and assignments. To do so would leave students who are significantly above or below grade level without meaningful learning experiences or opportunities for growth.
    Perhaps a “3” plus a letter grade would ease the pressure on teachers to use a “4” inappropriately. There are a year’s worth of instructional goals between the minimum proficiency standards at one grade level and the minimum proficiency standards at the next grade level. Demonstrating ability at the high end of a grade band of achievement is not the same as meeting a majority of the standards for the next grade level. However, the letter grade could help represent that range in much the same way that the individual WKCE reports show where, within the band of minimal, basic, proficient, or advanced, a child appears to be achieving.
    It has been difficult to disassociate the “4” from “A” in many peoples’ thinking, even though they do not mean the same thing.
    Personally, I would love to see a hybrid system for my above level students. It is too easy for above level students to get “high marks” without working. However, if a student is already at a “4” when they begin the year, and if they are receiving appropriate instruction, combining a letter grade to that “4” could acknowledge student acheivement relative to grade level expectations, provide useful feedback to the student regarding their progress on work at their challenge level, and discourage students from resting complacently on the skills they already have.
    No matter which standards students are working towards, they ought to need to struggle a bit to receive an “A”. We do not do anyone any favors by providing “A’s” based upon natural abilities, nor do we do anyone any favors by providing A’s based upon access to enriching experiences they may be fortunate enough to have had outside of their school day.
    I’m curious. What do people think? Would a hybrid system address the concerns about how grades are reported? Would it be way too complicated for parents to interpret? What do people want the most, a reporting system that indicates whether or not students are meeting expected achievement benchmarks for their grade level, or a reporting system that recognizes student effort/work? Under a straight letter grade system, do people envision “A”‘s as grades reserved for students who are working above grade level? What about students who can demonstrate grade level skills on assessments, but don’t do their work with effort. Do they still recieve an “A”? Under what circumstances should students recieve an “A” or an “F”?

  27. I remember the elementary report cards I received for my child as somewhat confusing, and I did equate 4, 3, 2, 1 with A, B, C… With all the information presented, which I knew took a lot of time to prepare, I did not feel I knew what my child was supposed to know, how well she knew various subject areas and what challenges she was facing that I could help with as her parent. I don’t remember the terms being very concrete and straightforward. Also, I never felt I had a good sense of what content my daughter was expected to learn. Knowing these things would have helped me.
    I’m hopeful there will be more discussions with parents and teachers. When the presentation on the report card was made to the school board, there were a couple of reasons given for making this change. One of those reasons was that parents want this. I’m not sure, so i hope dialogue continues.
    When I listened to the presentation to the board, I couldn’t help but think how hard the proposed report card design would be for parents who are not strong readers or English Language speakers. There is a considerable amount of jargon even for a proficient English speaker.
    Also, I’m not convinced this won’t result in a significant increase in workload for teachers. Behind “pushing one button” and out comes the information, which the Superintendent discussed, there is the underlying matrices; which, unless they are clearly defined, could be as subjective as some feel the current system is. And, there would potentially be more variables, which I think could result in greater subjectivity and variation.
    At this point, given the issues facing our children, I feel this report card change process is at more of an inquiry and investigative stage and is far from ready for prime time. I hope the conversation continues.

  28. I’m trying to reseach and find out what is a typical breakdown for figuring out end of the semester grades for a middle school age astudent. My son had 25 A’s; 3 B’s; 1 c ; 1D and 5 F’s. The F’s were on tests. He has trouble with test taking. However, on his final exams (open book)he scored and a B. Before the final he was going to get a D for the class. I work at a community college and most of the instructors say their tests count for 30 to 40 percent of their grades. I’m looking for documentation to take to the school in effort to make the grading system fare to the students. Any suggestions?

  29. I don’t know that anyone can tell you how much tests “count” for versus assignments, versus in-class quizzes, versus worksheets, in anyone’s class but their own. Some teachers don’t even give “tests” anymore, but “quizzes” only (which they then count as ‘tests’…or don’t, as the case may be). My son’s French teacher (whom we adore, I must add!) has had daily in-class points (up to 5 for being attentive, speaking up occasionally – one of the only measures she has of learning, since it is maonly verbal and phrase-based, and not grammar and tests, etc.), occasional in-class exams on a whole unit (such as time phrases, decsribing words, etc.), and always 150-200 points per quarter in “French activity points” which mean WORK OUTSIDE CLASS that can take the form of watching a movie in French and writing down some of the words you recognize (up to 50 points for 100 words and phrases!), doing simple worksheets (typically conjugation work, making sentences from single words, negating pre-written sentences, etc.), and doing fun sheets with word finds, crossword puzzles, or coloring sheets in French. Once you have done activities worth so-many points, you can even do extra point ones such as making a French entree or dessert, and sharing it with the class, or other projects. The majority of their grade ends up coming from the daily class points and the French activities. That seems fair enough, since the activities you take home can be done in five-ten minutes each, and you can do them regularly, or all at once ni the last week of the quarter!
    Problem is, now she has a sub (who seems to be quite competent in most ways!) and the sub does not seem to be using the system the same way at all, and the kids have no idea where they stand, but hesitate to ask. No sub wants to hear, “But Madame ___ always said/did/counted…” The teacher had a great system going, but it was very different from all the others in her own school. Now, her own sub is not aplying it the same way in the same class. What happens here? Obviously, a sub should be expected to be consistent with the long-term teacher. But who is to say how “all” the teachers in a school (or subject) “should” grade at all? And if homework “can’t be counted as part of the grade” under the new system, then what does that mean for a carefully set-up system like this teacher’s, who understandably (it’s a foreign language class!) counts on kids spending some time more days than not on outside-of-class work for it to “take”? If it all comes down to tests, and you only have a couple per year or semester, then that is going to hit someone who is sick or simply test-anxious very hard. And if they are suddenly getting B’s and C’s when they got A’s before, how is that going to motivate them? For the same teacher and subject?
    I agree that this whole thing sounds more like it is still in the planning stages and getting input than that it should be implemented now. But they are implementing it next Fall. Basta. NO further discussion invited or considered. This is going to a be a train wreck. People are still unclear and inconsistent in how they view the “same” essential system in the elementary reports, which have been in place for over five years. It’s a confusing mess and not going to “help” staff-parent communication at all.

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