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Albany's middle-schoolers will receive A-F grades on their report cards once again when the 2018-19 school year starts.

Greater Albany Public Schools has used a "standards-based" grading system for middle schools for the past few years, some schools since 2013-14. Instead of traditional letter grades, the system breaks down subject areas into various skills and rates each using a scale of 1 to 4.

The district reversed course on its report cards following parent and staff complaints last fall that the system was confusing and that students were getting discouraged and giving up rather than working on figuring out how to raise their scores.

Superintendent Jim Golden organized several meetings to research the system. Middle school teachers and administrators are now working on moving back to A-F grades.

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

Students receive a score on each of the domains on a 1-4 scale, with 3 considered "at grade level." Last year's report cards tried to explain those ratings through multiple pages of information, mostly in number form, on how students were performing in each domain of each class.

For some parents, however, that was both too much information and not enough. Some told the district office the number scores didn't seem to match what teachers were telling them. Some were concerned students wouldn't know how to translate their work into the A-F grades they will receive in high school.

Sue McGrory, president of the Greater Albany Education Association, surveyed 100 middle-school teachers in fall 2017, asking 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. Overall, about 76 percent said they'd prefer to go back to an A-F grading system.

Work is expected to continue through the summer to get there. Currently, Albany's four middle school principals are meeting to develop trainings and professional development for teachers, and teachers are leading monthly conversations about content.

The big question, said Assistant Superintendent Tonja Everest, is how parents will translate letter grades to proficiency in the standard the grade measures.

Teachers are working on that right now, Everest said. For instance, students who bomb tests but make up for the point loss by turning in extra homework may have good scores but not really possess an understanding of the material. Teachers are restructuring grade books so the assignments that provide the most information about the child's skills are worth more points.

The letter grades also will reflect a blend of content knowledge and student behavior, Everest said — so homework completion, attendance and classroom effort will still be a part of that A or F.


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