New high school grading system in Waukesha all about clarity

Emily Kundert
The new grading scale for high schools in the Waukesha School District.
Published on: 4/20/2015

Parents have said clarity has been lacking in the Waukesha School District's grading policy.

Waukesha School Board members hope a new system changes that.

"What we (will) have now is a really clear system," said school board member Ellen Langill before the board unanimously passed the new system for the district's high schools.

School Board Vice President Barbara Brzenk added: "It's much more understandable to parents and to students. One thing we wanted to make sure at the (committee level) is that parents are well-informed."

The new system, which will be unveiled next school year at just the high schools, was created so a students' grades better reflect their progress.

"This is a result of becoming aware as board members of parental concerns with the grading policy," board member Kurt O'Bryan said.

O'Bryan said that as he talked with parents, "they expressed the past grading policy was not encouraging students to take courses and scared them away," and they weren't getting credit for some things they expected to get credit for.

He said parents also found the existing grading policy to be "confusing."

Instead of its former system where a number scale was used, letter grades will now be given to students at the high school level.

The letter grades will be followed by rubric descriptors along with a grade-point average:

·A — Advanced, equating to a 4.0 GPA

·A/B — Elements of proficient and advanced, equating to a 3.5 GPA

·B — Proficient in demonstrating a full comprehension of learning and shows evidence of proficiency of concepts/skills), equating to a 3.0 GPA

·B/C — Elements of approaching and proficient, equating to a 2.5 GPA

·C — Approaching proficiency, developing an understanding of concepts and working toward independence, equating to a 2.0 GPA

·C/D — Elements of beginning and approaching, equating to a 1.5 GPA

·D — Beginning to demonstrate comprehension in learning targets with limited understanding, equating to a 1.0 GPA

·IE — Incomplete evidence of the learning target/standard, equating to a 0.0 GPA

·F — Failing: Unsuccessful attempts to complete progress and demonstrate learning, equating to a 0.0 GPA

High school first step

O'Bryan said the speed at which administration adopted this new system was encouraging to him.

"They were willing to take a fresh look at it," O'Bryan said. "I think this is a culmination of (listening to parents, teachers and board members)."

According to a memo from Jody Landish, the district's director of secondary learning and innovation, the new high school grading scale has been met with positive feedback from parent groups and teachers.

"Communication to students, parents and your administration will continue to prove critical, so we can all support your professional judgment in the decision-making around grading practices," Landish said in her memo to teachers and staff at the secondary level.

Landish said the letter grades listed on the scale would be the letters a teacher would enter into the Infinite Campus online database for students to view. Rubric descriptors are the language that each teacher would use with students to provide feedback.

Ryan Krohn, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the new grading scale will eventually extend beyond the high school level.

"We took a comprehensive look across every (school)," Krohn said.

He said administration has received feedback from teachers and some parents at the elementary and middle school level. Staff will present a couple drafts on grading scales to the Curriculum & Instruction Committee in the upcoming months.

Addressing STEM

While some parents with children at Waukesha STEM Academy have expressed concerns over the grading policy there, O'Bryan said the charter school has the ability to set their own grading policy and doesn't have to follow the district's grading scale.

O'Bryan said he feels the STEM charter school, which has an elementary and middle school, is "a little bit misunderstood" as far as how much power the district's school board has over the school.

"Sometimes I wonder why people are thinking STEM can't do their own thing," O'Bryan said. "They have the charter set up to do that. So any STEM parents that have concerns about the grading policy the district uses can go to the STEM Board and request something different. They have the freedom and flexibility under their board to do that."