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New grading system in Jaffrey-Rindge school district questioned by parents

  • A new grading system for Conant High School and Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School was discussed during two meetings on Monday at Conant High School. Many parents have voiced their opposition to the new system and its implementation. Sept. 10, 2018. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

  • Jaffrey-Rindge School Board chair Laurel McKenzie reads a statement during the board meeting Monday. McKenzie addressed criticism levied at the district about staff turnover and the new grading system.  Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

  • Conant High School/Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School Principal Brett Blanchard discusses the new grading system on Monday. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, September 12, 2018 2:31PM

The Jaffrey-Rindge School Board has agreed to discuss feedback the district is receiving about controversial grading changes being made at the district’s middle and high school.

Over 60 parents, students, and other community members gathered at Conant High School on Monday to discuss the new grading model – which separates work habit factors like timeliness, effort, and preparedness from the student’s academic grade – with Conant High School/Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School Principal Brett Blanchard and Assistant Principal David Dustin, who oversees curriculum, instruction, and assessment for the district.

About half of the people in attendance remained for the regularly scheduled school board meeting –which began late, after the informational meeting ran more than 30 minutes past its regularly scheduled end time of 6:30 p.m.

“The meeting that we just had, I don’t think clarified any of our real concerns – we were left with no answers,” Jaffrey parent Erin Chamberlain said during the school board meeting. “… we need to back off, we need to step back and say this is not working right now… the school is in chaos and we need to hold off.”

The board has agreed to discuss community feedback during the next school board meeting on Monday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. at Rindge Memorial School.

“The initial concern I have is that we decide based on the feedback if we want to move forward with certain things, that we want to delay certain things,” board vice chair Charlie Eicher said.

Monday’s informational meeting was the first of two this week to help explain the new grading model and give the community a chance to ask questions. A second meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. in the Conant High School music room.

The new grading system carries over many things from previous years, administrators said, but also makes a number of notable changes.

A student’s grade in a class is now solely designed to display their proficiency in a given topic, with things like late and incomplete work reported separately.

Practice work – things like homework, short quizzes, and some in-class assignments – will not be used as a part of the student’s academic grade, with various assessments such as essays and tests now showing a student’s knowledge in a particular unit or class instead.

“The grading that we are going to be doing is better than the grading that we’ve done in the past... it’s superior to what we’ve done in the past,” Blanchard said.

Blanchard said attendance, participation, behavior, extra credit, and a “series of other things” have in many cases falsely inflated or deflated students’ grades, not giving a true picture of what they are learning and retaining in the classroom.

“When you remove practice and work habits from an academic grade, suddenly that academic grade takes on a huge amount of increased rigor just by the nature of what’s now being assessed,” Dustin said. “The only thing showing up in that percentage grade is what has been learned in a class… when you earn a 90 now, that means you have achieved 90-percent of the content and skills for that course.”

The new system also allows for students to reattempt certain summative assessments after a consultation with their teacher. Dustin said this consultation between students and teachers has always been a standard part of the Jaffrey-Rindge experience, but the new grading system makes it more an expectation than a recommendation.

“That does not mean unlimited re-dos of any assessment,” Dustin said.

Rather than giving a student the same assessment until they score higher, Dustin said the focus is to determine where a student lacks knowledge or skill. Through discussion, the student is able to work with a teacher and better learn the skill during their time. 

Rolling grades will also be implemented, meaning that a students’ grades will not be locked at the end of each quarter. Rolling grades allow students to demonstrate at a later point that they understand concepts they may not have understood earlier in the year, Dustin said.

Darien Murphy, an eighth grader at Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School, came to the meeting with her mother Amanda, to learn more about the grading changes as she was initially confused about what was taking place.

“I feel like I’m kind of lost in the middle,” Murphy said. “I was very confused and the teachers don’t seem to know either.”

Murphy said after the meeting that some of her questions were answered during the meeting.

“I’m still a little hazy, but I think it’s a good idea,” Murphy said.

Many who spoke at the meeting were concerned about the rollout of the new grading system and the lack of communication from the district prior to the start of the school year.

“There’s still no communication… to me that shows a real lack of leadership,” Rindge parent Deanna Wilson said.

Administrators said during the meeting that they are still meeting with classes this week to explain the changes taking place.

Concerns were also raised about the accountability associated with the new grading system.

Jaffrey parent Tammy Cummings said she is one of many who fears that the new grading system will discourage students from turning in homework and other classwork on time, as they won’t be receiving grades for their work.

“There’s no deductions for late assignments – they don’t seem to matter – there’s no accountability,” Cummings said. “And there really isn’t when you are saying to a child that it doesn’t matter because you can have ten chances… I have to be honest with you, there are a ton of us in here that all we see is that you’ve lowered the academic and the motivational expectations for our kids.”

The vast majority who spoke up were against the new system, but at least one person supported the concept.

“I like it. Sorry guys, it seems like it’s going to be a good thing from my perspective on what I’ve read,” said Rindge parent Karen Arsenault. “It doesn’t mean I don’t have questions, doesn’t mean I don’t have concerns, that’s why I’m here.”

Nicholas Handy can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or nhandy@ledgertranscript.com. He is also on Twitter @nhandyMLT.