JR school board discusses grading changes, communication

  • Jaffrey-Rindge Superintendent Reuben Duncan discusses district test scores during Monday's school board meeting. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Friday, October 05, 2018 3:53PM

Communication, proficiency, and grading practices were again a large discussion point at the Jaffrey-Rindge School Board meeting on Monday.

Superintendent Reuben Duncan discussed the school district’s standardized test scores during the meeting, noting a continuing trend of students in the district having higher proficiency levels in earlier grade levels, with overall percentages dropping in district in later years.

“We have students who do a very good job computing… we do see a need for making sure we’re really helping them view mathematics through patterns and seeing connections. Inductive reasoning and higher order of thinking skills are very important,” Duncan said. “… when you learn in silos – like addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, money, or geometry – when those are not connected very well, it gets more and more difficult to go into that application mode.”

Duncan said the district has been aware of the patterns for about a decade now, and has supported efforts in developing a new strategic direction for the district. There has been much focus on professional development around mathematics at the elementary school and a recent focus on curriculum and instruction district wide to address the issues at hand, Duncan said.

Board vice chair Charlie Eicher called the test scores “unacceptable,” and expressed a need for the district to continue implementing changes to transition to a proficiency-based educational model.

“Even though we got off to a rough start this year, if you look at our state assessment results, we need to persevere,” Eicher said. “For me, being at or below average is not acceptable. Our children need more from us.”

Eicher used an example of one passing their driving test to bring home his point, saying that much like with the written and driving test, standardized tests set forth a minimum expectation of what needs to be know by someone before passing the test.

“Very few people remember how many questions they got right or how many points were deducted, they just remembered if they passed or failed,” Eicher said. “That’s proficiency. If you are proficient, you get a license.”

Eicher said the first step in the district’s implementation plan – changing the middle and high school grading system to separate work habits from a student’s academic grade – shows students, parents, and teachers, a student’s proficiency in a given topic.

“Grades shouldn’t include a false sense of achievement by including non-academic factors,” Eicher said. “Those factors are important, but should be reported separately.”

Eicher also pointed to the new emphasis on allowing students to have re-dos in certain scenarios as an opportunity for a student to show their proficiency at a later point, just like with the driving test.

Eicher also took time to respond to results from an online survey created by a district parent. The survey polled 119 people – a mix of students, parents, teachers, staff, and other community members – about recently implemented grading practices, which separate work habits from a student’s grade.

Eicher acknowledged the statistical analysis contained in the survey – points like only 36.1 percent of respondents felt the district should move forward and 46.2 percent feel they weren’t informed by the district about the changes – but said he didn’t want to emphasize the numbers as much and instead wanted to focus on the specific comments and the resulting lessons that could be learned.

“Communication was cited as the most important area that we needed to address. Readiness, or at least the perception of readiness was another area of concern,” Eicher said. “… communication is our number one issue.”

Eicher said the board would not move forward with implementing new parts of the strategic design without holding communication sessions, and will hold feedback sessions after changes are made.

Superintendent Reuben Duncan is also working to determine how best to communicate to those affiliated with the district, Eicher said. There is currently a communications survey on the district’s Facebook page and website to gather data.

Jaffrey parent Erin Chamberlain said she happy the district was making steps toward improving communication in the future, but felt the board has yet to offer any steps toward fixing issues that were occurring in school now, mainly how the grading changes have been implemented

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