A new grading system at Lyons Township High School designed to establish consistency and promote equity has not proven popular with many parents and students at the school.
The system, which was put into effect last year, bases grades solely on so-called “summative assessments,” which are typical exams given periodically throughout the semester.
There is no credit or points given for homework, class participation and other so-called “soft behaviors,” which some argue result in implicit bias.
“The gist in the shift in grading was to make sure grades measure learning as opposed to behavior,” said Scott Eggerding, the director of curriculum and instruction at LTHS, which serves the southern half of Brookfield. “So, they don’t measure attendance or whether you wore the right clothes for P.E. or got punished for being late, that kind of stuff. We wanted to make sure that students’ grades reflected whether they had or hadn’t learned the outcomes of the course.”
The new grading system has resulted in negative impacts for students said Elizabeth and Braden Slezak, who criticized the new grading policy during the public comment period of the Nov. 15 meeting of the LTHS school board. The Slezaks said they were asked to speak out by a number of other parents and students.
“Almost all of the parents we spoke with said that it’s hard for their kids to keep pace in their classes,” said Elizabeth Slezak. “They leave too much learning to do right before the exams. Because the homework and quizzes do not count, many kids simply don’t do the work and falsely believe they can make it up at the last minute.”
Elizabeth Slezak said the new grading system just doesn’t work in practice.
“While conceptually a student should know they need to learn and prep over time to succeed in these summatives, many don’t have the maturity or discipline to keep up with the foundational work and find themselves struggling to understand the concepts,” Elizabeth Slezak said. “This is a time for them to establish good study habits, which this new system is failing to do.”
Eggerding said teachers’ opinions about the new grading system vary.
“It’s all over the place,” Eggerding said. “We have some teachers who really love it, we have some teachers who really hate it, we have some who need to make some changes to how they teach their courses in order for it to work better.”
While the system doesn’t factor in things like class participation, it does allow students to retake the summative assessments, sometimes an unlimited number of times, until they are satisfied with their grade.
Administrators say the multiple retakes are encouraged because what is important is that a student masters the material being taught, not when they master it.
In practice, some say that students get caught up in a vicious cycle of retakes, focusing on past material and instead of what the class is currently studying, falling behind and ending up having to retake more assessments in the future.
“Students get behind in their current class material because they’re studying for these retakes, so it puts them even further behind and a vicious cycle is created,” Slezak said.
On Nov. 8 the Lion, the LTHS student newspaper, published an editorial, headlined “Grading system causes endless cycle of retakes,” and called for changes to allow homework and quizzes count toward a student’s grade. The editorial said that making a grade entirely dependent on summative assessments has increased student stress.
Eggerding acknowledged that endless cycles of retakes has been a problem since the new grading system has been implemented.
“For some students that has resulted in them not doing homework and trying multiple retakes to see if they can get a higher grade, and that’s not the intent of the system,” Eggerding said.
Having a consistent grading policy across teachers was a major goal. In the past, grading policy was left to individual teachers and some students complained that different teachers teaching the same class often had very different grading practices.
“We didn’t necessarily have a consistent grade book even in the same course prior to making the change,” Eggerding said.
By stressing summative assessments, often chapter tests and the like, the goal was to measure how well a student has mastered the material which should be the sole factor in determining a grade, school administrators say.
“We want students to demonstrate the learning,” Eggerding said.
It doesn’t matter so much when a student masters the material taught in a class, just that they do, said Karen Raino, the division chair of the Language Arts Division in a 16-minute long video explaining the rationale for the new grading system on the LTHS website.
“We want to grade to reflect the quality of the work, not the timing of the work,” Raino said. “Penalizing for late work creates inaccurate grades. By allowing students to turn in work late we shift the focus on the importance of learning rather than the behavior of timeliness.”
Promoting equity and eliminating implicit bias is also a main goal of the new grading system.
“Our grading practices reduce the influence of behavior such as how compliant or outspoken a student is, and the influence of implicit bias based upon factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, or disability,” said Melissa Moore, the chairperson of the special education division, who is also featured in the online video. “They also reduce inequities due to external variables, like socioeconomic factors, access to outside resources and support available in the home environment.”
The new grading policy eliminates any “extra credit” work.
“Offering extra credit is not equitable because it doesn’t consider a student’s home situation or other factors,” Raino said in the video. “Since extra credit is optional and beyond the scope of the course content, typically students with greater resources are often beneficiaries of the points, which pad their grades, leaving other less-resourced students without that benefit.”
Cara Ferrell, the mother of two LTHS students, also spoke out against the new grading system at the Nov. 15 school board meeting. She said that a self-paced summer school chemistry class just did not work with her 15-year-old son.
“I’m absolutely positive my situation is not unique,” Farrell said.
Farrell said that since homework does not affect a student’s grade, many don’t do their homework and are unprepared for the summative tests.
“I’ve never seen a greater lack of motivation among high school students, never,” Farrell said.
The Slezaks called upon the school administration to make changes to the grading immediately.
Eggerding acknowledged that some changes may be necessary, but he cautioned that since last year was so unusual due to hybrid learning, the school has limited evidence of the impact of the grading system.
“I think we definitely need to make some tweaks to it,” Eggerding said. “The students getting stuck in that cycle of retakes and not doing work is something we’d like to try to solve.”