[Skip to Content]
  • Decrease Text Size
  • Increase Text Size

Our Job is to Educate

Our Job is to Educate

Over the past several months, many questions have arisen regarding some of the changes that are taking place in the schools. Most of the questions referenced either the high school schedule or the grading practices.

It may seem like the schedule discussion was light years ago, but it was in February and March of 2017 that we held three large public meetings about both the schedule and grading practices. These two areas are closely tied together, so we addressed these topics at the same time. Our contention then was the same as it is now. For a number of years, we had more than half of our students receiving either a “D” or “F” grade in one or more subjects. We reviewed the data from 2013 through 2017, not counting any students twice. We did not believe this was acceptable for a school that says we promote excellence. Something had to change.

A number of people were against a scheduling change. A new schedule was prepared, because the more time that students are with teachers, the more opportunity students have to show what they are learning. During the large parent meetings to discuss the schedule, we also discussed grading practices, allowing the teachers at HVRHS in the 2016-2017 year to “try out” not grading homework or formative assessments, but still giving feedback to students on what they do well or need to do to improve on that work. Teachers could also allow students to retake summative assessments until they receive a proficiency grade of “C” or above. Some teachers tried the practices; others opted to not. That was their choice. The Strategic Plan, agreed to by all Region One administrators, stated that all of the schools would use the 2016-2017 year as a trial year, knowing that the 2017-2018 year would be full implementation.

I believe it is true that some staff or parents did not receive adequate communication from their administrators and that is unfortunate, as it has set us back in a couple of the schools. The schools where administrators communicated the grading practices to both staff and parents have been more successful in adopting the changes.

Educators in schools nationwide who have undertaken changed grading practices understand that the training needed is for people to learn from experts in the field through professional development of some kind - through workshops, videos, articles (and we shared many of these in all of the schools), and then have collegial discussions. Then we begin the work. It does not require extensive training. Each school usually needs to make adjustments, based on how the system is working, but they do not go back to the drawing board. The entire reason for changing grading practices is to ensure that students are learning and that we are not just giving a “D” grade to move them on. Nor do we fail a student to make them repeat an entire course they didn’t understand the first time. Our job, as educators, is to ensure learning.

The argument that “colleges don’t allow retakes” is missing the point of what our K-12 schools are intended to do. Students who don’t learn and achieve proficiency in K-12 will likely never be accepted into college, because of the failing grades they received with us. Our goal is to see that a student works until learning goals have been met, so that every student has a chance for post-secondary education, so vital to success in life today. And our job is to be present to help students and make certain we provide that support.

We will continue to find ways to improve the grading system. All schools that have made these changes freely admit that this is a part of the process. No one expects a “smooth transition” to a new program. Change does not work that way. We have to continually make adjustments, including changing the pace. Already, we have slowed the change at the high school to not moving to letter grades in replace of percentages. Experts in the field do not support percentages, but the staff decided that they were not ready for that change. That decision was made last June.

We will make greater effort to improve communication about this and all topics that impact student learning and help to ensure that what we are doing in the school creates a more successful system for students. The Leadership Teams in each of the schools are meeting, planning, and discussing improvements to the grading system. But one thing we do know, failing students and moving them on through the years is not producing the kind of graduate that we want for our high school. When students fail, we fail.

There will be a School-Community Partnership Meeting for HVRHS, the second one this year, on Tuesday, May 29. The topic will be “Preparing Graduates” and one of the topics will include a discussion of the timeline and strategies for grading practices. The same topic was discussed at the School-Community Partnership Meeting last fall, but unfortunately only about a dozen parents attended that meeting. We hope to have more participation from parents who want to learn about what HVRHS staff is doing to prepare successful students.

Region 1 wants to be the best. I think it can be. But we need to allow our educators, who have done this work, to proceed. We are not ignoring problems that need to be addressed. We are addressing this topic each and every day.

Dr. Pam Vogel

Region One Superintendent of Schools