After experiencing what one administrator called the “unintended consequences” of the new grading system, Lyons Township High School officials are once again tweaking how student performance is graded. 

Next year homework will count as 10 percent of the final grade in a class, but only if it will help the student’s class grade. Students will also have to turn in summative assessments, usually papers or projects, on time in order to be able to retake or revise their work.

These changes are coming after a number of parents, teachers and some school board members expressed concerns about the new grading system, which that did not count homework toward final grades, initially allowed unlimited retakes of tests, and made final exams optional or non-existent.

“It is very clear that we still have some significant concerns with the end-of-the-semester final exam procedures and also ensuring that we have a reasonable procedure in place for retakes,” said LTHS Superintendent Brain Waterman at the June 21 meeting of the District 204 Board of Education. “So, I want to clear we hear the concerns and we will be working immediately to update both of those.”

Brian Waterman

During the public comment portion of the meeting, five parents criticized the new grading system and called upon the board to change it.

The parents said that their children, and most teenagers, typically would not do homework if it did not count toward a final grade.

“It’s human nature, and in particular teenage nature, to choose entertainment over hard work if the hard work does not count for anything,” said James Williams, the father of two LTHS graduates and two current students.

School board member Dawn Aubert stated that a survey of teachers indicated that about 70 percent of LTHS students did not do homework last year.

Williams was not satisfied with the new plan to have homework count for 10 percent of a final grade only if it improves the grade.

“This is just another way of saying homework is extra credit,” Williams said. “Again, teenagers are going to choose other things over extra credit.”

Ellen Smith, the mother of two LTHS graduates and two current students, said she wanted the school to revert back to former grading practices.  

“What I’m asking from you is to bring things back to what they used to be,” Smith said.

After the first semester of the 2021-22 school year, LTHS officials began requiring that some homework be turned in before a student was eligible for retakes after parents and teachers complained of an endless cycle of retakes in the first semester.

Parents said the grading policy was not preparing students for life after high school. 

“In the real world there are no retakes,” said parent Sheila Jercich.

Jercich said homework should be required and graded and that students should have to take final exams. There were no final exams at LTHS in the first semester and in the second semester final exams were optional — and could only improve a grade.

“Not showing up is not an option in the real world,” Jercich said. “We request that you hold our children accountable for completing homework by grading their work and entering it into the gradebook. Homework will reinforce concepts taught and inform teachers of what they need to reinforce.” 

The parents who spoke at the board meeting said LTHS was not adequately preparing students for college where final exams are typically required. 

“We are setting our kids up for failure once they leave this building,” said parent Beth Walsh.

School board member Michael Thomas agreed and said he, too, had concerns about all elements of the new grading system. Thomas said homework should count and be graded and that students should have to take final exams.

“I think that we’ve seen through the past year that the whole policy is just not working,” Thomas said.

Final exams were deemphasized at many high schools during the pandemic. An emphasis on the emotional health of students also seems to have contributed to a de-emphasis on final exams as way to reduce student stress.

LTHS Director of Curriculum and Instruction Scott Eggerding said that historically not all classes administered finals and that different types of classes had different types of final exams or projects. 

Part of the grading changes presented to the school board at the June 21 meeting gives teachers the option of scheduling a final assessment no later than five days before a final exam period and states that the final exam period should be used for retakes or revisions.

Williams believes that students should be required to take final exams.

“Finals should count,” Williams said. “Students should have the challenge and opportunity to show that they’ve mastered the material. The current policy of allowing students to opt out of finals places preserving one’s grade over learning the material.”

Parents said they wanted the grading system to hold students accountable and to motivate students to study and learn.

“The grading policy should be consistent, but it should not be consistently soft; it should be consistently rigorous,” Williams said. “Homework should count positively and negatively. There should only be one mulligan or retake per semester.” 

Waterman said the administration has heard the concerns about finals and that it would work on further changes to the grading system to go into effect next year and will report back to the school board by early July.