Case in point: Last week the board objected to the endorsement of so-called “standards-based grading” for K-3 in a “vision statement” of the Georgia School Boards Association and the Georgia School Superintendents Association.
This numbers fad for grading uses 3-2-1 and variations to replace the time-honored and understandable A-B-C grades. Unfortunately, the fad was sold to the Cobb school district by a high-priced edu-consultant and introduced into the lower grades by Superintendent Fred Sanderson without public notice or formal approval by the school board a couple of years ago.
Only an outcry from parents and teachers forced administrators to add a 3+ grade indicating a student “exceeds standards” and “makes applications and inferences beyond expectations.” A plain old 3 in Cobb means “meets standards,” while 2 indicates “progressing toward meeting standards” and 1 denotes “limited progress or does not meet standards.” The idea is to turn grading into a fuzzy, feel-good experience in which no student fails and none excels. It is one of the worst forms of political correctness, aimed at stamping out any spirit of competitiveness.
The Marietta school board wants none of the 3-2-1 fad. Parents want letter grades which are “more tangible,” said board member Jill Mutimer. So, the board directed Superintendent Dr. Emily Lembeck to prepare a resolution adopting the vision statement except for the 3-2-1 grading system. It’s not only the right decision but it was made by the school board, not unilaterally by the superintendent.
On the heels of that decision, the board unanimously agreed last Tuesday to expand the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills to the first through eighth grade. Previously, only students in grades two, four and seven took the nationally normed tests. The objective is to inform parents how their children perform on a national level. That’s the upside. The downside is it’s another test, but the point here is that the decision was made by the duly elected school board, not the superintendent.
In contrast, the Cobb superintendent in 2009 changed the grade for the ITBS from the eighth to the seventh on the basis of the district’s “strategic plan” without discussion in a public session of the school board or even adoption of a formal policy set by the board. That has been all too typical of the outgoing superintendent. Before the last election which brought an independent-minded majority to the board, most of the members played the role of potted plants.
It’s true that a school board should not try to micromanage the school system, but such major questions as the grading system and nationally normed tests are policy matters that belong in the province of the school board and should be publicly discussed and acted upon.
How else can the board exercise “management and control” of the school district?