Lewiston board tweaks grading for new diploma program

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LEWISTON — In response to concerns from parents about a new diploma that this year’s freshmen will face to graduate, School Committee members heard an update and made a few changes to the program Monday night.

Lewiston High School is in its first year of a proficiency-based diploma for the Class of 2018. This year, only freshmen are being taught with a performance-based style. Next year, sophomores will be added; the following year, juniors.

In performance-based learning, students progress once they’ve demonstrated they’ve mastered what they need to know. The idea is to allow students to progress at their own pace.

Students are also scored on work ethic, or “habits of work,” separate from how they’re doing academically.

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The new diploma is state law. It gives students scores of 1 through 4. This year,  Lewiston High School has also been using letter grades with the number scoring: 1 means a student is not meeting standards; 2 means they are partially meeting them; 3 means they are meeting them; and 4 means they are exceeding them.

But mixing the two isn’t working, Superintendent Bill Webster said. For instance, a score of 3, which means a student is meeting standards, isn’t the same as a grade of C, he said.

Committee members approved ending the combination of letter and number grades Monday night.

Another change is that teachers will be able to give half points. For instance, a student could get a score of 1.5 instead of a 1, or a 2.5 instead of a 2, to show when students are getting closer to meeting standards.

Committee members also voted to create a 13-member, performance-based learning committee, made up of parents, teachers, administrators and school committee members. That committee will provide oversight of performance-based learning.

In performance-based learning, teachers are developing new standards in every discipline, which is creating some angst.

Parent Diane Chamberlain complained Monday night that she’s trying to understand the grading system.

“We keep getting different answers from different people,” she said.

Webster told her that teachers will use their professional judgment on whether students have mastered what they need to learn.

Chamberlain was concerned that grades won’t be based on measurable, objective results but the teacher’s determination.

“How can this type of judgment be consistent from teacher to teacher, class to class?” she asked.

Teachers said standards are not approved until the group of teachers agree.

After hearing complaints from parents last month and after talking to teachers, Webster said it became clear that teachers needed more time to develop standards. That led to two professional development days on Dec. 4 and 5, and one more scheduled in January.

Science teacher Corey Walker said the time was valuable.

“We’re using the next generation of science standards,” he said. “We spent a lot of time making sure we have a good understanding of these standards as a group, what those standards are asking us to get out of our students.” More time is needed, he said. “I think we’re doing well. And I think it’s a very good thing for the school.”

Principal Linda MacKenzie said meetings for parents have been held and more are scheduled to help promote understanding of what’s expected of students.

Meanwhile, sophomore teachers have started developing their course standards for next year. Not all sophomore teachers are on board, MacKenzie said. She’s dealing with that by “listening and having conversations.”

Parent Tina Hutchinson said strides are being made to help top-performing and low-performing students, but those with behavior challenges “are being ignored. I’d like to know what’s going to be done for our children falling through the cracks. We can’t make a plan that works across the board, because everybody changes the rules. This has to stop.”

Committee Chairman Jim Handy said a new committee will be established to address needs of special education and other students.

“I can assure you, being a parent of children with special needs,” he said, he will be advocating for those students.

Hutchinson offered to serve on that committee.

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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