GROTON -- Citing some confusion among the public regarding a new grading system for students in the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District, administrators stressed that the changes will affect elementary school students only and not middle- or high-schoolers.
The words of caution came from Interim Superintendent Anthony Bent, who supported the changes, saying that he had a similar experience at another school system that he described as "bumpy" but that soon smoothed over as people became used to it.
Bent made his comments at a meeting of the School Committee held Dec. 12.
At issue was a change in the way the district intends to grade elementary-school students, ending the familiar letter-grade system in which the average of how students' performed in numeric based testing is determined.
Instead, a new system using the letters M, P, and I will be used.
The new lettering, Meets the standard, Progressing toward the standard, and making Insufficient progress toward the standard, will focus instead on students' "skills, progress, and capability levels."
"Traditional grading is more subjective based on the assignments given by the individual teacher rather than progress towards the identified standard," states presentation material prepared for the School Committee and submitted at its meeting of Nov. 14.
Scoring on a scale of 0 to 100 was determined to be too literal, not allowing room for teachers to detail the full range of a student's progress.
Geared to the state's common core standards for education, which the district has already adopted, the new report cards will be issued only three times a year and measure "how well a student is doing in relation to the grade-level standards rather than the work of other students."
Following the announcement of the new grading system, its indeterminate nature became the subject of local radio talk show banter in which one host poked fun at the changes.
Although Bent made no mention of the radio exposure, he did suggest that confusion over which grades would be affected had given rise to some controversy locally.
But members of the School Committee at the Dec. 12 meeting voiced some concerns about the new system, with James Frey suggesting that an additional grade be included covering "exceeds expectations," if only to give more ambitious students a goal to shoot for.
Fellow committee member John Giger noted that state guidelines did not prevent the district from "customizing" its grading system if that was what the School Committee wanted.
Defending the new grading system as it stood, accountability director Kerry Clery said it more closely matched what was happening in the district's classrooms.
"This comes from people who are working with children," said Bent of the appropriateness of the new system, adding that the changes were not being made from the "outside."
The first trimester-based standards-driven report cards were to be issued by the district's elementary schools on Dec. 7.