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Claremont To Reexamine School Grades

Claremont — The school board and administrators promised action after hearing a litany of complaints and criticisms from parents Wednesday night about the district’s new grading system that eliminated traditional letter grades in favor of broader descriptions that are supposed to measure students’ academic performance.

The board agreed to establish a working committee that will include parents to review the grading process. It also supported surveying parents, teachers and students to collect data on the current grading system and work with Rose Colby of the N.H. Department of Education, described as a leader in grading and assessment reform.

“I feel it was positive and I was happy to hear the board’s reaction,” Kim Gogan, who along with Christina Johnson, gave a PowerPoint presentation to the board on the problems with the grading system and recommendations to the SAU on how to move forward, said after the meeti ng. “We didn’t hear anyone disagree that the system needs to change.”

The presentation was roundly applauded by the approximately 60 residents in attendance and praised by the board for its thoroughness.

The Claremont school district last year completed implementation of the new grading system to address what board member Heather Irish called “gaps in education.” She said students were not all in the same place in terms of their academic progress and the changes were an attempt to find a solution and while not perfect, pieces of it nonetheless have strong potential.

Gogan and Johnson, both with children in the school district, told the board their perception is that the current grading system was implemented without adequate planning, clarity or consensus.

“It is also our perception that this system is doing the students of Claremont a disservice. We are asking the Claremont School District to stop, backtrack and re-evaluate the implementation of the current standards-based model of instruction and proficiency-based model of assessment.”

The new system replaces the A through F grading with designations such as “proficient,” “proficient plus” and “proficient with distinction” (PWD).

The experiences parents have encountered with the new grading system drove home the point made by Gogan and Johnson that it is failing the students and difficult for parents to understand and teachers to implement. They quoted one parent who said her son wanted a PWD but the teacher could not tell him how to achieve it. Another said her son’s confusion over the grading system left him unmotivated.

Johnson herself had her own negative experience. She said her seventh grade son achieved PWDs in all his classes but when he took a 22-day class in guitar — an instrument he had never touched — he did not achieve a PWD and therefore did not make high honor roll.

“That has to change,” Johnson said.

Erica Keyser, the parent of a Stevens senior, told the board about the time she and her daughter visited a college and spoke to a person in the admissions office and told him about the new grading system.

“He said, ‘let your school district know you’re doing your child a disservice,’ ” Keyser said referring to the assessment and grading.

It was also stated that teachers have been intimidated over voicing their concerns.

“I am no longer under stress or feel someone is out to get me,” said Rebecca Ferland, a former Steven teacher who retired last year. Ferland said the petition being circulated asking the district to evaluate the grading process is something she never would have signed while employed by the district for fear of by the administration.

Gogan and Johnson recommended creating a grading and assessment system that is “clear, fair and realistic and takes into account the values of the community.”

Both women said they were moved to research the new system after hearing from confused and frustrated parents, teachers and students who did not understand it.

“We see a huge disconnect between what the district (mostly administration) thinks they have done and are doing in the areas of curriculum, instruction, assessment and grading and what the public (teachers, students, parents) seem to understand,” Gogan and Johnson said.

The presentation concluded with a long list of questions and recommendations on how to proceed, which led the board to support forming a committee.

Board chairman Richard Seaman he could relate to the frustration because he has experienced them himself with his daughter, a sophomore.

“The answer is not to throw it out but to make adjustments,” Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin said, adding it could be a multi-year project.

McGoodwin acknowledged the confusion and a lack of clarity felt among parents and said and the administration is prepared to listen and respond.

He also said the notion of “intimidation” disturbs him and teachers should not be afraid to speak out.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.