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May 3, 2011 > New Haven Unified School District Board report

New Haven Unified School District Board report

Submitted By Rick La Plante

Should school grades take into account factors such as homework, classroom behavior and participation, or should grades primarily reflect how much a student knows?

The Board of Education pondered questions like that on April 19, during a report from the District's Grading and Assessment Task Force, made up of parents, teachers, administrators and a high school student who have been meeting since last fall to review and help lead an improvement of District-wide grading practices.

Director of Instructional Programs Joe Feldman reported that a survey of teachers conducted by the Task Force revealed a wide range of philosophies about the purpose of a grade, what it should reflect and also that teachers have different expectations for student performance.

Teachers Carmen Galli of Alvarado Elementary School, Vicki Baker and Jennifer Nemecek of Alvarado Middle School and James Logan High House Principal Grace Kim -- speaking on behalf of teacher Kim Petitt -- discussed learnings from "action research" conducted in their classrooms. They found:

When teachers use grading and assessment systems that more accurately reflect what students know and less about their other behaviors, more students receive passing grades.

When students are allowed to turn in late homework with no penalty, more homework is actually completed. Students also become better managers of their time when they can make decisions about how to prioritize their work.

When an F grade isn't a 0, it enables students to "redeem" themselves, and their attitude and belief in themselves improved.

High-quality assessments enable students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in varied ways.

When grades no longer are a punishment or reward for good behaviors, teachers have to create alternative strategies, which can be very difficult.

When students believe that grading practices are designed to reflect what they know and not to penalize them for other factors, they understand that the grade is within their control and is fair.

The Task Force concluded that a student's grade should reflect only the student's mastery of course content, not factors such as behavior, effort, attitude, participation and attendance. Although students should be given feedback on such elements of student performance, they should not be included in an academic grade, the Task Force believes.

The Task Force has been sharing its findings with Instructional Leadership Teams (ILTs) at each school and through the District-wide Targeted Leadership programs. It plans to submit recommendations for Board policy on grading and assessments and create a strategic plan for expanding and deepening improved grading and assessment practices.

Readers with comments or questions about the Task Force's work can contact Mr. Feldman at or (510) 476-2612).

Also, the Board adopted its meeting calendar for 2011-12, including the following dates: July 19, August 16, Sept. 6 and 20, Oct. 4 and 18, Nov. 1 and 15, Dec. 6 (annual organizational meeting) and 13, Jan. 17, Feb. 7 and 21, March 6 and 20, April 17, May 1 and 15, June 5 and 19.

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