Compromise on Cumberland report cards: Bigger, but with A-B-C familiarity

Compromise on Cumberland report cards: Bigger, but with A-B-C familiarity

CUMBERLAND - Leaders of what's beginning to look like a reinvented Cumberland school district said last week they'll likely give up on one major proposal that's attracted a small but persistent opposition group.

Rather than switching to the unfamiliar 1,2,3,4 proficiency grades that characterize standards-based grading, Cumberland High School report cards will retain the familiar A,B,C look about them, complete with those comfortable minuses and pluses.

School Committee Chairwoman Lisa Beaulieu made the announcement last week, both in a letter to The Valley Breeze and again that evening at the school board's meeting.

Later, elaborating for The Breeze, she said, she's eager to put an end to the distraction surrounding the question of how best to reflect student achievement.

She's willing to keep the current grading system, she says, provided that more information is added to the report card.

The issue heads for discussion on the school board's subcommittee level in January.

Supt. Philip Thornton, who had passionately argued for the change, now envisions a report card that's several pages long to allow room for traditional grades alongside several proficiency scores per content area.

He says the goal remains for grades to reflect actual learning.

The change, he says, will communicate to students and parents where the student is doing well within the subject and where improvement is needed.

Currently, the grade of a simple B, for example, doesn't convey a student's struggle with composition versus her success with vocabulary in an English class.

The new report cards, he suggests, will delineate for parents and students where improvement is needed, based on the rubrics - a set of standards linked to learning objectives - teachers are using for every class.

His complaint: Students coming home with A's on their report cards aren't necessarily demonstrating that high-level proficiency on statewide standardized test scores. And, in fact, are finding themselves in remedial math and language arts classes as freshmen in college.

The disparity is also showing up on AP, Advanced Placement exams, where too many A-level students are not passing the final exam, he said.

Beaulieu outlines a series of changes in the school district in the past several years.

"It is important to remember that SBG is only one initiative that needs to be undertaken to improve student performance. Others include - a better integration of technology into teaching and learning, the creation of a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program, improvements in delivering differentiated instruction, full implementation of the Common Core, and the proper funding of our schools. Neither the School Committee's nor our administrator's efforts can be focused solely on SBG," she said.

The changeover to the national Common Core State Standards in Rhode Island and 44 other states, she says, makes "solid, accurate grading in alignment with the new standards essential in responding to student needs."

"It's a major increase in the expectations for every student," says Beaulieu. "We need to know how to support every student on a very regular basis. The bar is finally going to be raised through the Common Core alignment; it's up to school, student, parent and community to support this effort."

One immediate challenge for school leaders is the recommendation that the amended policy will designate proficiency as B- or better, while passing will remain at 70 or better.

Thornton says he's looking for discussion about the 10-point range that's below proficient but still passing.

The expanded, combination grading plan seems to address parent and student concerns that college transcripts reduced to 1, 2, 3 or 4 will put them at a disadvantage when competing with students showing traditional scores. A panel discussion with college admissions officers last spring saw them unfamiliar with the plan but expressing a willingness to understand Cumberland's new system.

Parent of four Carolyn Enestvedt has been one of the most outspoken critics of the grading system.

She's feeling encouraged, she told The Breeze later, but will be watching to see the policy amended that mandates SBG.

That didn't happen, she notes, after last year's delay in implementing it at the high school.

Her major complaint, she says, is that teachers "are all over the place" in their current grading practices as they convert the 4-3-2-1 proficiency grades on tests into traditional letter grades on report cards. "It just depends on which teacher you get," she says.

She also suggests that fewer teachers are onboard with the new system than have spoken out for fear of reprisals.

Beaulieu told The Breeze her proposal will go to the Policy subcommittee headed by member Linda Teel in early January but isn't likely to be discussed by the subcommittee until later that month.