Thursday, October 4, 2012

PCS-Grading & Homework: A look back

The PCSD was covered in The NY Times two years ago due to a progressive, well studied, and student/parent friendly Grading and Homework policy. What was not mentioned in The Times article was that the policy came about in the PCSD as the result of an ad hoc committee established by me - the then Board president. However, others, also not mentioned in The Times article, were integral to the study of the issue and the ensuing policy - passed unanimously by the BOE.

Mary Ashley Carroll, long-time PCS Board of Education member, and I were members of the Board’s Program & Policy Committee when Mr. Brady was hired. We brought the topic of examining the district’s Grading & Homework policy to the committee for discussion but it was not embraced by the superintendent because it was a big undertaking. The committee put the topic on the backburner (but left it on committee agendas) because the new superintendent was busy learning his job and was grappling with a capital project. We knew we would get to it sometime.

Why was a Board committee even interested in reviewing the existing Grading and HW policy? We knew it was important to provide students and their parents with accurate information about students' mastery of subjects (or lack thereof) and students' effort/attitude in school. We knew that grades should reflect achievement or mastery of a subject - after all, that is what parents and students already think the grades do reflect. Other important qualities (like student effort and attitude) should be evaluated separately and should not be co-mingled with academic achievement grades. Why?

A parent deserves to know if his/her child's subject mastery is high but attitude is terrible. Conversely, parents should be told if their child's subject mastery is average but attitude and effort are exceptionally good. In the first scenario, one type of intervention is needed but in the second, a very different parental response is called for. Mixing academic mastery with non academic qualities might very likely result in both of the above types of students receiving the same grade (a high achiever downgraded for poor attitude/effort and a more average student upgraded for good attitude/effort.) Finally, we were interested in achieving consistency in grading, as much as practicable, between teachers in each school and between schools in the district.

In addition, the Program & Policy Committee was responding to complaints from some parents and students about certain grading and homework practices that were believed to be unfair, onerous, illogical, inconsistent, and not in the interest of helping students learn.

Then, a confluence of events brought the matter to the forefront. In October of 2008, Mary Carroll and I attended the statewide conference for school board members – something we did annually. It was at this conference that Mrs. Carroll heard Dr. Nicole Catapano (a WSWHE BOCES professional who provides staff development to teachers and administrators regarding student performance data and classroom assessments) deliver a workshop on grading and homework. Dr. Catapano's goal, at the NYSSBA Conference, was to help board members and administrators think about wise and effective grading/homework practices at their school districts and, ostensibly, to revise policy in order to reflect best practices.

Though Dr. Catapano had a central role in the creation of the grading/HW policy, serving as a consultant to the PCSD, her role was never fully credited nor mentioned in The NY Times
article, “No More A’s for Good Behavior” 11/28/10.

One month after the school boards’ conference in 2008, the death of a PCSD middle school student, the day he received his report card, (See "Father Says Soften Homework", Daily Courier Observer 5/26/10
 prompted me, as BOE president, to take action and form a Grading/HW ad hoc committee.

Mary Ashley Carroll, Dr. Nicole Catapano, and author Ken O'Connor deserve to be credited for their crucial roles in helping to establish a policy that was so progressive that The New York Times  deemed it worthy of sharing with a nation-wide audience.

Part 2 will deal with some basics about the policy that were not well understood by the public.

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