BETHEL — Students at Telstar Middle and High schools are being graded this year not only on the quality and accuracy of their work but also on respect, responsibility and perseverance.

“We’re transforming what the classroom looks like,” Principal Cheryl Lang said. “It’s no longer enough to have a desk with a chair and a teacher up front. We need to create an experience.”

The traditional A-through-F grading system has switched to numbers 1 to 4. From lowest to highest, the numbers mean the student has not met expectations, has partially met expectations, has met expectations or has exceeded expectations.

A separate grade is called HOWL, which stands for “habits of work and learning.” Students are given separate grades for respect, responsibility and perseverance.

“The HOWLs tell a story,” Lang said. “They aren’t factored into the academic grade, they’re separate. We want kids to understand the importance of their work, and that grade is a reflection on their efforts and their character.”

Kristin Dacko, dean of students at Telstar High School, said HOWL grades give “a clear picture of (students’) true capabilities and efforts.”

For example, Lang said, with letter grading, a student might have turned in a well-written paper two days after it was due and had points taken off because it was late.

“That grade doesn’t necessarily give an accurate picture of the student’s understanding,” Dacko said.

With the new system, students receive a grade strictly on the content of the paper and a HOWL grade in their progress report for each class. The HOWL grade represents whether assignments were delivered on time and whether students were prepared for class.

“It’s a huge mind-set shift,” Dacko said.

Student athletes still must maintain a HOWL grade of 2.5 in every class to be eligible to play. Their academic grade must be at least a 2.0 in every class.

Lang said the academic standard is slightly lower because a student may start the year off at a 2.0 but would be given a chance to raise his or her grade and still be eligible for fall sports.

“We don’t want to penalize them because they’re still learning,” Lang said. “We want the kids always on a learning continuum.”

The method for calculating final grades has also changed. The school year is divided into trimesters, and progress reports are sent out every six weeks. At the end of the year, students receive their final report card, and their final grades are not an average of each trimester grade, but instead show the progress they have made throughout the year.

For example, a student could begin the year with a 2.0 in a class but by the end of the year raised it to a 3.0, which would be his or her final grade.

The progress reports and final report card are available to parents electronically on a portal called JumpRope. A link to the portal is on the Telstar High School website.

Parents can also request that the reports and grades be emailed to them.

“It gives parents an idea of where they can help their child,” Lang said. “They can really see where strengths and weaknesses lie.”

Additional benefits to the new grading system are consistency and accuracy.

“Before, if I gave five teachers the same paper to grade, I’d probably get five different grades back, just due to the different backgrounds and expectations of those teachers,” Lang said.

Now, there are specific requirements laid out, she said.

Principal Elaine Ferland of Crescent Park Elementary School in Bethel said the school has not switched to the system used at the middle and high schools.

“We are currently learning about it,” she said, “and will implement it next year.”

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