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Top Stories > Education

Sullivan West adopts new grading system

Nov 23, 2020

By Matt Shortall - co-editor

Sullivan West Central School District Superintendent Stephen Walker said new grading practices would ultimately benefit students.
LAKE HUNTINGTON —Administrators at the Sullivan West Central School District presented new grading practices for the middle school and high school at the Board of Education meeting last Thursday.
Administrators say the new practices are aimed at providing greater consistency for students, as well as showing a more clear demonstration of learning. Some faculty members spoke up against the new practices, saying that they disincentivize accountability and don't prepare students for the pressures of the real world.
“There's probably no topic for us that is talked about more often with students and parents than the topic of grading and what grades mean,” said Superintendent Stephen Walker. “In our case, we took a look at the nearly complete autonomy we were giving to teachers that were resulting in practices that, while well-intentioned, we didn't believe furthered the interest of kids and aligned with that philosophy of putting learning before everything else,” Walker said.
The district said that the practice of issuing a grade of “zero,” for assignments varies depending on the classroom.
Some teachers issue a “zero” for any work which is submitted late or submitted without a name. Some teachers accept late work with a score penalty and some teachers accept late work with no penalty.
Principal Mark Plescia and Assistant Principal Scott Haberli gave a presentation on the new grading practices, which they said were developed over 18 months in consultation with different teachers and departments.
Under new grading practices, late work will be accepted by all faculty and students must be able to receive a passing grade for late work if content knowledge “demonstrates mastery” of the subject. Teachers can only issue a zero on an assignment at the end of the academic term if they can document “multiple attempts to encourage student completion.”
The district said it hopes these new practices will mean that more work is turned in and it will reduce the number of zeros that disproportionately affect some students' grades.
“This is inherently an issue that well-intentioned people disagree on and we completely respect that,” Walker said. “Changing practices like this doesn't reflect on the people whose practices are changing. Those are all well-intentioned people doing outstanding work for kids. This is simply us trying to be able to maintain and articulate a vision and a philosophy for what grading means for students in this building.”
Walker says that about 45 percent of Sullivan West students come from homes that are economically disadvantaged.
“I believe this change in the grading practice is a movement toward equity, especially for students who come from home environments that don't have the level of support that we'd love to see for everyone,” Walker said.
Some faculty members who spoke up during public comment took a very different view toward changes to the district's grading practices.
“In my 24 years of teaching I have never been directed on how to grade my students or questioned on my procedures or requirements in my classroom,” said Cheryl Graham, a math teacher at Sullivan West. “As a district we are lowering the standards and responsibilities of our students … Thank God that we have a faculty and staff that will continue to hold our high expectations as much as will be allowed for us in order to conform with this absurd grade change procedure.”
Christina Hubert has been teaching high school Spanish for more than 21 years and also expressed her “aversion” toward the new grading policy.
“Whatever may arise, I have the intelligence to discern appropriate grading without being instructed by those who are ignorant to the circumstances in my classroom and surrounding my students,” Hubert said. “It is very rare that my students do not hand in assignments … It's because I hold my students accountable for their work. It's my job to teach accountability. I'm not a callous person. I'm not unreasonable. I'm quite the opposite, because the world can be callous and unreasonable.”
Amy Hellerer, a teacher at Sullivan West for 18 years, echoed the sentiment of other faculty who spoke during public comment.
“This new procedure is an insult to the capability of our students and, inadvertently, to our teachers,” Hellerer said. “It is telling children that they're not capable of meeting expectations so administration has lowered the bar for Sullivan West.”
New grading practices were implemented at the beginning of the second marking period on November 16. Walker said the district will review the policy and, if it doesn't have the kind of benefits administration anticipates, changes could be made.

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