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Teachers criticize grading system

Seventy percent of Pasco County elementary school teachers say the controversial system of grading pupils using the letters E-S-P-U should be discontinued for third to fifth grade.

However, 74 percent of the teachers responding to an anonymous survey want to keep the E-S-P-U system for kindergarten through second grade, though most in that group want further study and modification.

The School Board ordered the anonymous teacher survey after a parents group collected more than 3,000 signatures on petitions urging the board to scrap E-S-P-U grades, begun two years ago, and return to the A-B-C-D-F method.

The parents say, among other things, that the new system does a poor job of communicating how well pupils are progressing and does a poor job of motivating children to do their best.

The preliminary report on the grading survey, made available Thursday evening, shows teachers agree with some of those views, especially in grades K-2.

It finds that most teachers believe the E-S-P-U system is ineffective or just marginally effective in communicating learning to parents, pupils and staff. And most teachers say that in terms of motivating pupils, the new system is "not effective at all."

Surveys were sent to 1,140 instructional employees surveyed at all 25 elementary schools, and the answers of the 657 who responded (58 percent of the total) were included in a preliminary report. It was written by Bruce Hall, chairman of the department of measurement and research at the University of South Florida, and Madhabi Banerji, supervisor of research and evaluation for the Pasco school district. Hall was asked to help design, tabulate and analyze the survey and did so for free.

The survey results were broken into several sub groups: primary teachers, those who teach kindergarten through second grade; intermediate teachers, those who teach third through fifth grades; and a third category that combines the two groups. Generally, primary teachers like the new system more than those who teach third- through fifth-grades.

Of the responses tallied and analyzed thus far:

Nearly 75 percent of all teachers responding say that E-S-P-U is only marginally effective or not effective at all in communicating pupils' achievement to both parents and the pupils themselves.

46 percent say that E-S-P-U does not motivate high-achieving pupils at all; 30 percent say it motivates those youngsters somewhat. The majority of teachers also say that the system does not do much to motivate "F" pupils. The desire not to label children as failures, or as anything else, was a factor in the switch to the new system.

For all pupils, 53 percent say the system is not effective at all in motivating pupils.

53 percent of all teachers say that E-S-P-U negatively affects achievement; 29 percent say it makes no difference and 18 percent have seen positive results.

Breaking those figures down:

At the primary level, 36 percent find a negative impact on achievement; 37 percent say it makes no difference and 27 percent find a positive impact. At the intermediate level, 66 percent have seen a negative effect; 21 percent see no difference and 13 percent find a positive impact.

Asked if a lack of understanding of the system limited their ability to use it, 36 percent of all teachers say that had no effect; 24 percent say it had very little effect; 29 percent were somewhat effected and 11 percent say it had a great effect. Lack of knowledge in applying the system was not a factor for the majority of teachers and most felt that having ample time to apply the system had only a slight impact on them.

58 percent say they are somewhat uncomfortable or not comfortable at all using the system in academic areas compared to 42 percent who are very or somewhat comfortable.

56 percent say they are somewhat uncomfortable or not comfortable at all explaining E-S-P-U to parents while 43 percent are very or somewhat comfortable.

The anonymous teacher survey included 27 questions, including one asking for written opinions. The teacher comments have not yet been analyzed and are expected, along with a final report including late responses, to be presented to the board in July.

In a cover letter to Mary Giella, the district's assistant superintendent for instruction, Hall writes: ". . .I have not attempted to draw inferences from the data or present recommendations for policy. I think those actions would be premature, given that the open-ended comments have yet to be analyzed and returns coming in after June 15 have not been scanned."

The old grading system

This system, still used in middle and high schools, indicates how an individual student is doing compared to his classmates.

A: Your child is excelling.

B: Your child is doing above-average work.

C: Your child's performance is fair.

D: Your child's performance is poor.

F: Your child has failed.

Within this grading system, some tests were scored on a percentage point basis. For instance, 94 or above on a test was an "A." Individual teachers place more weight on different factors involved in grading. Test scores might account for most of a grade from one teacher, while another might give more weight to homework assignments, effort and attitude.

The new grading system

The current grading system for pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade is designed to reflect individual progress rather than to compare pupils.

E: Extends or applies what has been learned. This grade recognizes outstanding achievement in the area for which it is given.

S: Successfully demonstrates what has been learned. Your child has learned concepts or skills appropriate to his or her ability.

P: In the process of learning. Your child is beginning to learn concepts or skills appropriate to his or her ability.

U: Unsatisfactory. Your child has not yet learned the concepts and skills that have been introduced.

NA: Not assessed at this time.

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