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Hernando County abandons proposal for uniform grading policy in elementary schools

BROOKSVILLE — When the school district started to ponder a policy to get rid of zeroes from elementary grade books, School Board members heard from a fired-up public.

Most who offered feedback railed against the proposed policy, which district officials said was meant to give students a fighting chance if they miss some assignments.

Kids are coddled enough, opponents said. Don't give them something for nothing. It won't serve them well when they get to the real world.

Board members agreed, district officials backed off, and the issue has been taken off an upcoming workshop agenda.

Lost in the uproar, though, was another idea offered at the same time: setting a districtwide policy for how class work, homework, quizzes and tests are weighted to calculate an elementary student's overall grade.

Under the proposal, assessments such as tests and quizzes would account for 80 percent of a student's overall grade, while homework and other components selected by the teacher would comprise the other 20 percent.

Currently, that ratio can vary from school to school and even classroom to classroom, assistant superintendent Sonya Jackson said. The goal is to establish a uniform system that is fairer to students, especially those who transfer from one school to another, she said.

"That is what we're looking at," Jackson said. "Consistency across the board."

Debbie Pfenning, the district's elementary curriculum specialist, was among staffers who recommended both policies.

"An A in my classroom might be a C in that classroom," Pfenning explained. "We're just trying to level the playing field."

But since the two policies were offered at the same time, the grade-weight proposal got shelved with the no-zero idea — for now, anyway.

"Maybe we shouldn't have bundled them together," Pfenning said. "Live and learn."

The idea is one that teachers can support if it's done correctly, said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association.

"Teachers feel that, yes, there needs to be a standard across the line," Vitalo said. "The question is where that mark is going to fall. That will be the debate."

The district may want to consider the definition of an "assessment," Vitalo said. Teachers, he said, need some leeway to use methods other than standard tests and quizzes to evaluate a student's progress.

"If I'm a teacher that gives a lot of projects, it's not going to be just 20 percent," Vitalo said. "That's the flexibility teachers are looking for."

Joe Clifford, principal at J.D. Floyd K-8, agreed.

Principals and team leaders provided input on the grade-weighting proposal and supported the final version, Clifford said. Those administrators and educators are determined to make sure teachers retain enough freedom to do their jobs, he said.

"Everything doesn't have to be dictated from on high," Clifford said. "Teachers should be able to determine what they feel is appropriate to assess and what's happening in their classroom."

Pasco and Hillsborough counties do not have a set policy for grade weighting, officials with those districts said. Pinellas officials could not be reached.

Jackson and Pfenning said they're not sure when they will come back before the board with the grade-weight proposal.

That's unfortunate, Clifford said.

It would be a much easier pitch than the controversial elimination of zeroes — a proposal that Clifford also staunchly supported.

"It's throwing the baby out with the bathwater," he said.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Hernando County abandons proposal for uniform grading policy in elementary schools 07/18/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 18, 2009 1:54pm]
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