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City Schools of Decatur community in uproar over proposed changes to grading scale

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City Schools of Decatur community in uproar over proposed changes to grading scale

Elizabeth Wilson School Support Center, City Schools of Decatur. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated.

Decatur, GA — City Schools of Decatur is in the early stages of planning the implementation, timeline and logistics of changes to the district’s grading scale. Students, parents and other stakeholders are asking the administration to keep the current grading scale.

The district has not made a final decision on what changes will be made to the grading scale. The CSD School Board will continue to talk about grading at its work session on Tuesday, April 26, at 6 p.m.

Decatur High School junior Malena Clavijo created a petition supporting the current grading scale. The petition has gained over 300 signatures.

“Like many students at DHS, I am upset and frustrated about the changes being made by the superintendent and board to change how our tests are graded,” Clavijo said in the petition. “We have all been using this system for the entirety of our time in Decatur, and the changes being made would negatively affect students and parents. The 1-8 scale allows for students to get grades that reflect their work in their classrooms and at home. The variability of the scale means that for students who score higher than a B but lower than an A, they still have the opportunity to get credit for that extra effort. Changing the scale to a 1-4 makes no sense, and appears to only be hurting the students, teachers, and parents in CSD.”

Several people have reached out to Decaturish sharing concerns about the timeframe of the implementation and saying that stakeholders have received little communication about the changes. Decatur School Board member Hans Utz said that needs to change.

“I would like to see us think a little more beforehand about how we choose to communicate things like this,” Utz said. “This is not an unreasonable community, but major changes being announced before the case for change has been made is a recipe for disaster. This is not the first time we’ve found ourselves in this spot. I would like it to be the last time, if at all possible.”

Superintendent Maggie Fehrman established a teacher task force to analyze CSD’s grading system and make recommendations for improvements to the grading system, practices and procedures, Fehrman said in her weekly newsletter on March 25.

“Some of the problems that need to be solved with our current grading practices include the need for transparency in our grading practices; the need for parents, students, and school leaders to have continuous and instant access to monitor student achievement and progress at all levels for all courses; and the need for our grading systems to be easily understood and explained,” Fehrman said. “Furthermore, in our most recent accreditation report, Cognia identified the effectiveness of grading practices and communication of grades as a growth area for our district. I believe that I am responsible for ensuring CSD has a grading system that is clear, easily understood, transparent, equitable, and helps students become leaders of their own learning.”

In her April 22 newsletter, Fehrman noted that she and the school board have received several questions about the changes and mentioned that the planning is in the early stages.

“A decision on how to move forward had to be made, so we can engage with our staff at our schools on the best way to roll out a new grading protocol and flesh out details on the various nuances for what is best for the students in CSD,” Fehrman said. “We will have much more information for all stakeholders coming soon, including coffee chats, resource documents, and crosswalks.”

At the April 12 school board meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Kristy Beam explained that part of the reason for evaluating the grading practices is that CSD’s data is not reflective of teachers’ work in the classroom.

“We need to make the adjustments to our classroom instruction and assessment practices so that these test scores reflect what is happening with our students and what our current students are capable of,” Beam said.

CSD sees a disproportionate outcome on all measures when it comes to test scores. On the Georgia Milestones Assessment, 33% of Black students score proficient and distinguished on end of grade assessments for English Language Arts from grades third through eighth. Twenty-eight percent scored proficient and distinguished in math, 23% in science and 31% in social studies in 2021.

On the Milestones Assessment, 78% of white students scored proficient or distinguished on the English language arts end of grade assessment, 70% scored the same in math, 61% in science and 53% in social studies.

In high school, students take end of course exams for American literature, algebra, biology and United States history. In 2021, CSD didn’t have enough student participation in some subject areas to gather data from the Milestones Assessment. Last year, 30% of Black students scored proficient or distinguished in American literature and 61% in algebra on the end of course assessments.

Eighty-eight percent of white students scored proficient and distinguished in American literature, and 73% score the same in algebra.

CSD students have also consistently ranked below the state average of students receiving a score of three or better on Advanced Placement tests in calculus and statistics between 2017 and 2021. All students also take IB biology in the International Baccalaureate diploma program. Since 2016, CSD has fallen below the world average of passing scores.

“On the surface, our data is exceptional and overall our students perform well,” Beam said. “When we dig deeper, there is a sense of urgency that our policies and practices need to be revised so that all of our students are achieving the success that they are capable of and that they deserve. Commonly accepted research clearly shows that our assessment practices drive our instruction. It is our responsibility as a school system to ensure that our grading and our reporting practices are clear, transparent and accurate.”

Throughout CSD, different grading systems are being used that report outputs. The district cannot easily pull grades and monitor student progress on an ongoing basis, Beam said.

“District data demonstrates that grades for students of color are lower than grades for white students at every grade band, which, again, suggest an issue with our policies and practices, not our students,” she added. “Parent difficulty and frustration with the present grading system has been reported to our equity office. Some have noted that our system leaves a great deal of room for subjectivity and bias.”

There is also concern about the conversion from the one through seven grading scale used at Decatur High School and the 100-point scale that is required to be reported and used for the Hope Scholarship and the Zell Miller Scholarship.

CSD is required by the Georgia Department of Education to report a 100-point scale in grades nine through 12.

“It has to be a numerical 100-point scale through our student information system, which is Infinite Campus,” Beam said. “So the conversion from the one to seven to the zero to 100 and between the two platforms of ManageBac and Infinite Campus create unnecessary opportunities for error.”

The equity in grading task force was charged with providing high-level recommendations for a common district-wide grading scale to provide clear, easy-to-understand descriptors, a common grade book tool and district-wide agreements and expectations, Beam explained.

“Our equity in grading task force is a recommending body. It is not a decision-making body, so we are still in the process of gathering recommendations,” Beam said. “It consisted of 16 teachers, seven elementary teachers and nine secondary teachers from across a variety of great bands, schools content areas, demographics and experience.”

As for next steps in the process, the task force gave their recommendations to the superintendent. Fehrman will make the final decisions on which recommendations to implement and will share more information with the CSD community in May.

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