The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

July 10, 2013

Traditional grading system eliminated for Clinton fourth-graders this fall

By Katie Dahlstrom
Assistant Editor

CLINTON — Fourth-graders at Clinton elementary schools won't be 'A,' 'B,' or even 'C' students at the end of their first trimester.

Instead, students will only receive marks on their report cards that indicate how close they have come to mastering a subject.   

Curriculum Director John Jorgensen is going to suspend letter grades for fourth-grade students in the first trimester of next school year, leaving them with what he feels are marks that more accurately reflect student progress.  

The report card is broken down into subjects such as math or language arts and for each subject students are measured on a set of standards as "beginning," "developing" or "consistently demonstrating."

Students receive an overall letter grade in the subject, but Jorgensen explained the letter grade doesn't give parents a good sense of what the student is truly accomplishing.

The move to suspend the letter grade is a product of the Iowa Core. The core dictates students should master a skill by the end of the year, making grading with one letter at the end of the first and second trimesters difficult, teachers told the Clinton School Board during the board meeting Monday night.  

"We're not just putting worksheets in front of kids saying 'here you go.' We're giving them problems to make them think. We're creating many, many rubrics for everything we do to show parents what their child is doing and what they're capable of doing. And that's really hard to put a letter grade on," fourth- grade teacher Erica Felkey said.  

In January, Jorgensen will come to the board with a recommendation on whether to return to the letter grades. The decision would be based on teacher, parent and community input.

Board member Jim McGraw asked at what grade eliminating letter grades would stop. Jorgensen said the recommendation in January could be to remove letter grades in fifth grade, but said he did not want to change grading at the middle school level.  

"When a seventh-grade teacher said, 'grades don't fit into these standards,' I said to her, 'not going there.' We can pretty easily go there in fourth grade or into fifth grade. Actually the fourth-grade parents next year will have never had grades for their children, so that's a pretty nice transition," Jorgensen said.

The district did away with grades for third-grade students a couple years ago. While Jorgensen did not need board permission to begin the fourth-grade pilot program, he wanted to solicit board members' opinions.  

"I think it's a great idea. I'd rather have my child be able develop something that he's eventually going to master it than have a 'C' or a 'D,' knowing that he's going to have an 'A' by the end of the year," Board member Missey Sullivan-Pope said.