Duneland School Corporation

Letter grades don't tell whole story

2013-02-07T00:00:00Z Letter grades don't tell whole storyChristy Jarka, Principal of Liberty Elementary School nwitimes.com

In the fall of 2012, letter grades were given to all Indiana schools by the state’s Department of Education. The process for determining the letter grades is very complicated. Educators know that the grade is based on one year’s academic growth for students and that this growth is based on one test. For example, Liberty Elementary School is a Kindergarten through fourth grade building. However, the letter grade for our entire school is determined by the academic growth of students from third to fourth grade. Like many school officials across the state, we believe the current grading system is flawed. This is not an excuse for our students’ test scores, but the current process and grading system partially explain how Liberty Elementary received an “A” rating in 2011, and then fell to a “C” rating in 2012.

I want to focus on what the school letter grade given by the state does not show. The letter grade does not show the academic growth of students entering kindergarten without any formal education such as preschool. Several incoming kindergarten students do not know the letters of the alphabet, the letters in their name, or which hand to write or cut with. Yet, when they leave kindergarten, they have mastered those skills and have started to learn how to read.

The letter grade does not show the reading level progress of a first grader from the beginning of the year and end of the year. The letter grade doesn’t show that a child entering second grade did not understand how to subtract, but leaves second grade knowing how to borrow in a subtraction problem. The letter grade does not show that at the beginning of the school year children are apprehensive about reading out loud or speaking in front of the class, but with the guidance and support of their teacher, they are successful in each area by the end of the year.

The letter grade does not show the number of students who receive a warm breakfast and hot lunch at school because food is not available in their home. The letter grade does not show the number of referrals made to physicians because the school screening process indicated that some children need glasses. The letter grade does not show the number of teachers who arrive early and stay late so they can focus completely on the needs of each child during the school day. The letter grade does not show how the classroom teacher differentiates their instruction so that the needs of each child can be addressed while making sure the state standards are covered.

The letter grade does not show how the bus driver is the first positive person a child may see in the morning and that bus driver knows the name of each child that rides his/her bus.

At the beginning of this school year, our Superintendent stated that, “we serve all of the blueberries.” The school letter grade misses the point that while a well-known manufacturer of jelly takes only the best blueberries to make the greatest jelly, public school corporations take all of the blueberries and try to mold them into successful citizens and lifelong learners. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Despite the system’s flaws, the faculty, staff, and I agree that improvement is necessary. We always believe “as good as we are, we can always get better.” Please know that we will continue to focus on the whole child and work with our students to help them improve their academic achievement.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.

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