Friday, February 12, 2016

New Grading System Gives insight to work ethics - By Elizabeth Richards RSU 14 has been using standards based grading on a 4-point scale for several years now, many of the schools are using a new reporting system called Jump Rope to give parents information about their children’s progress.

“There are lots of different systems popping up and what we are trying to do in RSU 14 is find the one that matches what we believe in and what we want to report out to our community in order to help them understand the curriculum we’re teaching,” said Christine Hesler, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment For RSU 14.

Raymond Elementary School, Jordan Small Middle School, Manchester School and Windham Middle School are all using Jump Rope exclusively at this time.

At Windham Primary School, staff was given a choice to stay with Infinite Campus or try Jump Rope, while knowing that at some point the district might decide that Jump Rope is the program to be used.

“We want a system that’s going to best meet the needs of our students and generate an understandable report card for the parents,” said Dr. Kyle Rhoads, principal at Windham Primary School. “Parents want their children to get a customized learning experience. We want to make sure that whatever we end up doing the report card reflects that.”

Administrators said that the move to Jump Rope has increased the level of transparency in grading. Hesler said that the reports offer more information about a student’s learning, allowing parents to see both areas of strength and areas of weakness that they can help their child with in concrete ways. “Everything that is in the Jump Rope system is what standards and performance indicators that we have decided as an RSU are important for students,” she said. “It also allows us to be very transparent about where children are and where they are heading in the next sequence of their learning.”

Many of the schools have opened the Jump Rope parent portal. With this portal, parents and students can log in at any time to see how a student is progressing, rather than waiting for a printed report card.

The primary school has not opened the parent portal yet. Rhoads said that he supports using the parent portal, but it needs to work in a way that makes sense for parents. “We want to make sure what we’re giving them is easy to understand. If you don’t it could lead to more confusion,” he said.

Trista Collins, who has three children at Windham Middle School, said she has used the portal. She said that while information hasn’t been consistent yet, due to teachers still getting used to it, she knows from attending parent meetings about Jump Rope that this issue is being addressed. “Once the system is fully implemented and being used the same way by all teachers I think it will be very helpful,” she said.

Patin said he is working with staff on consistency, and has clarified his expectation that grades will be entered into Jump Rope at least every two weeks. Teachers will review the information to look for patterns, and reach out with an email or phone call to work with parents on how any issues can be addressed.  He added that discussions with parents helped him realize that although the reporting system provides a nice level of detail, it is no substitute for quality parent-teacher communication.

He said he hopes that they can make up for any downside by having quality communication with parents, involving them in the problem solving process, as well as being able to reach out and praise kids for the work they’ve been doing.

Collins said the report cards give information about areas parents previously would not have seen, and that without explanation these reports would be difficult to understand. She added that it will be important to continue to talk with teachers to be sure parents are correctly interpreting the data they are given.

The district has tried to offer a variety of ways for families to learn about Jump Rope and to give feedback, including a video, posted parent forums and parent meetings.

“Drew Patin has been absolutely phenomenal in providing parents with opportunities to provide feedback and be involved in discussions regarding everything from layout to what this means in conjunction with teacher conferences. The teachers are all new with this program too so we all need to continue to ask questions and work through this together,” said Collins. She stressed the importance of parents utilizing the opportunities offered at the middle school to be sure they can understand the report cards.
In addition to academic information, the reports in Jump Rope cover work habits, including academic responsibility, organization and social responsibility.

“In the past there’s been a lot of emphasis on purely grades,” said Patin. He said work habits are helpful in determining if someone is workplace ready. For instance, a student receiving ones and twos in organization might not be able to keep up with workplace expectations. “We want to bring those more to the top. Usually there’s a correlation. If a student isn’t doing well in some of the academic areas, that usually can match up with the habits of work,” he said.

Although grades K-3 will still receive printed report cards, now that the parent portals are open Manchester School and the middle school levels will only be printing them upon request. “It’s not about cleaning the slate at the end of the trimester, it’s about building on and showing a progression of learning,” said Patin. “Think of it as an open grade book for the entire year.” He said that parents can log on to see information anytime, and they are also working to make accessing this information part of the student’s day.

If parents want a printed copy, they can call and specify the level of detail they are interested in. “We don’t want to have [lack of] access to the Internet or technology at home to be a barrier to knowing how their child’s doing,” said Patin.

Hesler said the system is used to inform instruction as well as to report progress. Teachers are able to see which piece of the information the children didn’t get, she said, and give accurate, targeted instruction in that area instead of simply moving on.

If families have questions on the new report cards, or need information or assistance in using the Jump Rope system, they should talk with their building administrator.

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