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Greater Albany Public School has its district office at 718 Seventh Ave. S.W. 

Mark Ylen, Democrat-Herald (File)

Standards-based grading at Albany's middle schools will get a closer look, Superintendent Jim Golden told parents who complained Monday at a meeting of the Albany School Board.

Four parents and Sue McGrory, president of the Greater Albany Education Association, spoke against the current system during the meeting's public comment time. The parents said the grading system is confusing to both themselves and their students, who tend to lose interest and motivation because they can't figure out how to raise their scores.

Golden said the grading system predates his time with Greater Albany Public Schools, but said he welcomes further discussion.

"Let's meet with you folks, listen to you closely and see what we can do," he said.

The standards-based system is used in place of A-F grades at both elementary and middle schools. Timber Ridge School began using it first and others joined in about five years ago.

Here's how it works: Each subject has a series of "domains" that encompass various standards. Language Arts, for instance, contains the domains, among others, of writing, speaking and listening, reading fiction and reading nonfiction.

Students receive a score on a 1-4 scale, with 3 considered "at grade level" on each of the domains. Previous report cards stated whether the student met or didn't meet grade-level performance in their classes. New report cards that came out last year give multiple pages of information, mostly in number form, on how they're doing in each domain of each class.

The report cards are part of the problem, said Michelle Fief, who has two children at North Albany Middle School. Despite being 10 pages long, they don't really indicate, to her, how her student is progressing.

Her son's science teacher, for example, said the boy was right on track, but his progress report noted four of seven science standards marked at 2.67 or lower. She's concerned that when he gets to high school, he won't understand the type of work necessary to get an A. "That's too late," she said.

Megan Vandelinder said she has a seventh-grader at Timber Ridge who gets discouraged after working exceptionally hard and being rated a 2.67 on a particular academic effort. "He's disappointed," she said. "'Why should I work hard? I'm never going to get a 4.'"

McGrory said her members say they have two major concerns: first, that there's a negative impact on both student growth and effort; and second, that teachers struggle to communicate with parents on how the system works.

McGrory surveyed 100 middle-school teachers earlier this year on how they feel the grading system is working. She received answers from 62. Of those, 80 percent said the standards-based grading system has led to a decrease in student effort, and another 51 percent said it led to a decrease in student growth in knowledge and skills.

Almost 90 percent of respondents said they at least somewhat understand the grading system themselves, but nearly 80 percent said the parents they talk to are confused about it. Asked whether the system disrupts or discourages communication with parents, 75 percent said it did. Overall, about 76 percent said they'd prefer to go back to an A-F grading system.

"My members want you to know that what we're doing now is not working," McGrory said.


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