School district tests new grading system

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comNovember 20, 2013 

Students at three Beaufort County schools won't receive the typical quarterly report card this year as part of a pilot program on the best way to evaluate learning.

Under the current system, students receive a grade at the end of each quarter and start fresh at the beginning of the next. At the end of the year, the four grades are averaged together for a final grade.

In the pilot program, students receive a snapshot of their grade at the quarter break to assess their progress. However, that grade continues into the next quarter. The final grade is based on a year's worth of work rather than the average of four 9-week quarters.

Rhoads said he believes the new program, which began this fall, will give a more accurate representation of a student's learning and achievement.

Principals at the pilot schools agree.

"We feel this is going to be reflected in the grades and it's going to give us a better picture of year-long progress of students," Okatie Elementary principal Jamie Pinckney said. "An end-of-year grade is more reflective of a year of learning. That's exactly why it makes more sense."

Rhoads said the method provides a system that increases student responsibility in learning.

The system also allows teachers to more accurately assess student knowledge because progress is being tracked from the start of the year, he said.

The system is focused on overcoming some unequal features of the quarter schedule. All quarters are not the same, he said, since instruction is broken up by holidays and differing numbers of assignments.

Beaufort Middle School principal Carole Ingram said another benefit is that teachers aren't kept to a strict quarter schedule where they must turn in grades by a certain time. The pilot lets teachers work with students on a schedule driven by learning, she said.

"It's more conducive for student learning because a teacher doesn't have to hurry up and meet a deadline or a teacher doesn't have to say 'We have to quickly finish this unit by the end of the quarter,' " Ingram said.

Both Ingram and Pinckney said they hope to see increased student achievement at the end of the year and are encouraged by the system.

Attempts to reach Whale Branch Early College High School principal Priscilla Drake on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

S.C. State Superintendent Mick Zais said he was unfamiliar with the method but thinks it is good for districts to find the best way to evaluate students.

Dana Yow, Director of Public Engagement and Communications with the state Education Oversight Committee, said she also has not heard of the method.

In addition to gathering feedback from teachers and students, the district is measuring the pilot's success by looking at the year-end percentage of students failing one or more classes and the percentage of students on the honor roll, Rhoads said.

The district hopes the former will decrease while the latter increases, he said. If successful, the district will consider replicating it in other schools.

"If we're meeting the needs of students across our system, then we will see less students failing and more students being successful," he said.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

Related content:

Beaufort County school board discontinues use of grade floors, July 2, 2013

Beaufort County educators see need to reform grading system, April 8, 2013

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