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East Ridge grading proposal put on hold

A proposal that would dramatically change how students are graded at East Ridge High School went from the fast lane into a holding pattern last week.

The proposal, drawn up by East Ridge Principal Aaron Harper and East Ridge administration, would require all teachers to follow standardized guidelines, which include a provision requiring 90 percent of students’ grades to be determined by their demonstration of what they have learned.

The effort, the principal said, is for the guidelines to “reflect what the student has learned – not their behaviors and not their learning in the process.”

“It’s just to say the grade is most importantly reflecting the demonstration of what they’ve learned,” he said.

Students would demonstrate their learning through what administration calls “summative assessments” – exams, essays, projects and speeches, according to the proposal. The remaining 10 percent would come from what administrators call “formative assessments,” comprising quizzes, homework, rough drafts of papers and notebook checks.

A similar policy is already in effect at Minnetonka High School, Harper said.

Harper said the effort was spurred by concerns that even though ACT test-takers at East Ridge earned a composite 24.2, only 51 percent of East Ridge ACT-takers were deemed college- or career-ready by the test.

“That’s evidence that we have room for improvement,” he said.

The new guidelines intentionally place less emphasis on things like homework scores, Harper said, equating that work to practice.

“You practice for the game,” he said. “I’m not suggesting that hard work isn’t important.”

In addition to the “90-10” provision, the proposal outlines standardized criteria for teachers to follow in assigning grades. There currently is no uniform grading system among teachers, Harper said.

The proposal also lays out new terms for retaking tests and late work.

Harper rolled out the proposed grading system in late April and last week in a series of meetings with parents and students.

Not everyone was happy with what they heard.

Jody Standal, whose son is a sophomore at East Ridge, said she’s most concerned with what happens to students with test anxiety. She worries whether teachers would have the latitude to make the summative portion all test-based, which she said “makes it very difficult” for students who aren’t good test-takers.

“I just have concerns that I think we’ve come further than that over the last 50 years,” Standal said. “There should be different ways to measure one’s learning.”

The initial hope was for the East Ridge site committee to vote on the guidelines in time for them to be instituted for the start of the 2014-15 school year.

Harper admitted that while he is eager to have the school’s site committee pass the new guidelines, they will be revisited in light of significant input following the stakeholder meetings.

Administrators are now looking at launching the guidelines in time for the 2015-16 school year, Harper said.

“I do believe we could have additional opportunities to work with stakeholders – to explain the ‘why,’” he said.

Stakeholders include East Ridge students, many of whom took to Twitter to voice their concerns after learning of the proposal.

Noah Eckberg, an East Ridge junior and member of the site committee, was among the students who circulated a petition that generated more than 600 signatures.

“My goal was to allow time for further dialogue,” he said.

With that goal now achieved, he’s hopeful that additional input from the East Ridge community will help shape the proposal into something more palatable to students and teachers.

In fact Eckberg said one of his biggest concerns was whether the options available through summative assessment might create more work for teachers who might normally gauge learning through a multiple choice test. The proposal would allow students to demonstrate their learning through other methods.

“Teachers only have so much time,” Eckberg said.

He said other elements of the proposal – such as the retake policy – have also drawn students’ ire. Under the plan, teachers of same-course sections can allow summative retakes, provided the original grade reaches a predetermined threshold.

Eckberg also echoed others’ concerns that the policy wasn’t unveiled until April after more than three years’ worth of study by administrators.

Now that the policy is going in for retooling, he and Standal are both looking forward to more input.

“As this continues to evolve, I will certainly be engaged,” Standal said.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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