Faced with widespread opposition to a new grading system that de-emphasized homework and relied solely on exam performance, the Lyons Township High School administration is modifying the grading system for the second semester.

More than 1,700 people had signed an online petition calling for LTHS to repeal the new grading system. But rather than repeal it, LTHS administrators decided to tweak it.

The new grading system was designed to promote equity. However, by allowing students to take unlimited retakes of tests, it fostered a cycle of repeat test-taking, with students often falling behind on more recent material. Other students didn’t bother doing homework because it didn’t count toward their grade.

To address those issues, LTHS will now require that students submit homework before their first assessment to be eligible for retakes. Superintendent Brian Waterman announced the change at the Dec. 20 meeting of the District 204 Board of Education.

“To address some of the concerns around homework motivation, students are going to be required to submit homework prior to that initial summative in order to be eligible for the retake,” Waterman said. “We’re going to try to get students off the retake cycle that was reported this past semester.”

Waterman said that going forward teachers will give frequent exams, also called “summative assessments” to measure achievement in a variety of ways.

“Course teams will use multiple types of summative assessments in the calculation of the grade,” Waterman said. “Presentations and quizzes and lab reports and activities and performance assessments, essays and traditional tests can all be counted as summative assessments.”

Waterman also said LTHS will reinstate a traditional final exam schedule for the second semester. Final exams were typically not given in the first semester and through hybrid and virtual learning last year. Under the new policy, the decision on whether to give final exams will be up to teachers.

“Teachers will have the ability to either administer a no-harm cumulative final or they can offer their final summative experience or students can use that exam period to do a retake,” Waterman said in a brief interview with the Landmark after the meeting.

Waterman characterized the changes as short-term adjustments that don’t take the school off course in its goal to create a fairer and more accurate grading system. He said administrators will analyze first-semester grades in the coming weeks.

“We always look at updating our grading practices,” Waterman said. “We’re always going to look at data. And this semester, just hearing concerns about the semester and honestly seeing the concerns in the classroom, specifically, we acknowledge that this endless cycle of retakes is something that our students were on.”

LTHS began reassessing its grading practices in 2017 in an effort to make them more uniform and fairer. For the past few weeks a grading assessment team consisting of teachers, a counselor, an improvement facilitator and administrators looked at the new grading system that began last year and came up with the changes that will be implemented in the second semester that begins this week.

“There’s been a lot of work done in a short amount of time,” Waterman said.

The theory behind the new grading system was to measure actual knowledge rather than just conformity to expectations. Homework and class participation did not affect grades. 

It was an effort to promote fairness, as some said socioeconomic status affected students’ ability to do homework. In practice, the new policy, according to many parents, dulled the motivation of students to study. If homework wasn’t graded or required, many students simply decided not to do it. And if they didn’t do well on a test they could always just retake it.

At the November school board meeting, a number of parents spoke out against the grading system during the public comment period of the meeting.

Elizabeth and Braden Slezak spoke out against the new system saying that it resulted in “serious and immediate negative impacts on our kids.”