Dr. Jerry D. Weast, Superintendent

Montgomery County Public Schools

850 Hungerford Drive

Rockville, MD 20850

 

Ms Pat O’Neill, President

Montgomery County Board of Education

850 Hungerford Drive

Rockville, MD 20850                                                                                                            December 13, 2004

 

Dear Dr. Weast and President O’Neill:

 

                On behalf of the MCCPTA Grading and Reporting Committee and the MCCPTA Executive Board, we are writing to express our grave concern about the inconsistent, and often unfair, implementation of the grading and reporting policy. Reaction within the parent community is passionate and intense because the children “pioneering” this new policy are also the ones who have to live with any long term adverse implications of our experimentation.  At this time we will limit our focus to inconsistent implementation of reassessment practices as we understand that MCPS leadership is now working on the development of a “reassessment protocol”. We are already well into the second marking period of the year. Unfortunately, students have been subjected to reassessment guidelines being interpreted in varied and directly conflicting ways among our schools. Action is needed to correct the haphazard implementation of reassessment practices. Accordingly, we write to strongly urge inclusion of certain basic mandates in any protocol being developed.

 

                First, and perhaps most importantly, it would be our recommendation that any protocol developed must be immediately applied at every grade level. We include high school because while we are aware that the Board of Education did not intend for high schools (other than the two official pilots at Walter Johnson and Seneca Valley) to be implementing the new grading and reporting policy this year, the reality is that many high schools have proceeded with some experimentation and implementation of grading and reporting changes. Implementation has resulted in enormously inconsistent grading procedures within departments and between schools especially in the area of reassessment. It should be noted that the inconsistencies described are occurring not only at the high school level but in middle schools as well where they have been required to adopt the new grading and reporting policy.  For example, some of our middle and high schools will only allow students to retake an assessment if they score a grade of “C” or lower, whereas other middle and high schools will only allow re-testing if the student scores a grade of “D” or below and yet others are allowing any student in the class, irrespective of their initial grade, to take a reassessment if they want to try and improve their performance and grade. Moreover, some of our schools are imposing a “cap” on the grade a student may earn after re-assessment. As a result, in some schools a student may not earn better than a grade of “C” upon a reassessment whereas at other schools, a student may earn up to a grade of “A” on a reassessment. Furthermore, parents report that reassessment practices are not even uniform across departments within the same school building. This drastic variation within and across schools is patently unfair. Within our county, a student taking geometry at one school should not have advantages in relearning and reassessment that are denied to a geometry student at another school by the accident of neighborhood geography.

 

For this reason, we urge that upon completion of the reassessment protocol, it be immediately applied to all schools in order to correct the discrepancies that have resulted from the inconsistent application of reassessment procedures.  Though high schools are not yet “required” to be implementing other grading and reporting changes, we must immediately eliminate the discrepancies that allow for a geometry student in one high school to take a reassessment in order to go from a “B” to an “A” whereas a similarly situated student at another county high school would be barred from the reassessment unless she got a “D”. There needs to be a single standard that is applied to trigger reassessment in all our schools at all levels.  Whether MCPS chooses to apply that standard by subject, by department or by grade level, it must achieve fairness. Such standardization is essential to reaching the policy’s stated goal of consistency in grading across the county. In addition, we urge that the protocol categorically eliminate any “caps” on the grade that a student may earn upon reassessment.  The goal of the new policy is to support all students to achieve to their fullest potential and demonstrate their academic mastery. If after additional study and effort a student is able to demonstrate understanding and mastery at an “A” or “B” level, he should be awarded the grade that accurately reflects his academic achievement and not arbitrarily capped at a “C”. 

 

                Second, any reassessment protocol must include a requirement for, and guidelines regarding, communication with parents.  To date, parents have not been advised, orally or in writing, of the reassessment practices at their local schools.  No information has been shared as to the decisions made within particular departments or at the school wide level regarding reassessment. The result is that many parents are not even aware of the option for reassessment and are therefore not able to support their children in seeking extra help and reassessment opportunities. There has been inadequate attention paid to informing parents about the reteaching and reassessment practices that are the lynchpin to supporting students in attaining mastery. We urge that the protocol include a standardized communication explaining the guidelines adopted for reassessment and that every school be required to share this information with the parent body. For example, if schools are using “weighted” assessments and if the weight of an assessment is used as a measure of reassessment eligibility, that must be clearly articulated and communicated to students and parents. Indeed, we urge that parents receive timely and accurate communications regarding all aspects of the grading policy—not only reassessment -- as it is being implemented.

 

                Third, parents express great concern about the opportunities for additional remediation and reassessment on unit tests in math or on other county mandated tests where the current prohibition against allowing students to take the test home interferes with the student’s ability to study and prepare for reassessment. In these instances, students are granted only a very limited chance to review their initial assessment and see the errors they made.  Precisely because students are not allowed to hold on to these specific tests, their ability to study and practice toward greater learning and deeper mastery is hampered.  We urge that the reassessment protocol specifically address this obstacle and that, if necessary, changes be made to practices so that this obstacle can be eliminated.

 

                Finally, we urge MCPS to articulate the need for multiple assessments and for a greater variety in the types of assessments which are used in grading our students.  The spirit of the new grading policy requires that we recognize, and incorporate into our assessment practice, the understanding that due to their unique learning styles, not all students will be able to demonstrate their mastery in a specific format or on any single assessment. In order to program for student success, the protocol must institutionalize these practices and require multiple and varied assessments that will expand the opportunities for students of all different learning aptitudes to demonstrate their mastery in a format suited to their strengths. Our commitment to the success of every student requires that we expand the range of assessments permitted for consideration of mastery so that we have the most accurate gauge of actual student learning. Though we have been told that this is the intent of the policy and the goal of the implementation, development of the assessment protocol is a critical opportunity to revisit and institutionalize MCPS’ commitment to providing many and varied assessments to ensure that every student has an opportunity to demonstrate mastery. It is also an opportunity to ensure that our teachers are given the support in resources and time that they need to fully develop and implement such a multifaceted assessment and reassessment regimen.

 

                        We thank you in advance for your attention to these pressing concerns. MCCPTA stands ready to assist in the review of any draft reassessment protocol. A standardized guideline for reassessment across the county is essential for our students and overdue.

 

                                                                                Sincerely,

 

 

                                                                               

Shirley Brandman, MCCPTA Vice President

                                                                                On behalf of the

                                                                                MCCPTA Committee on Grading and Reporting

                                                                                MCCPTA Executive Board

 

Cc:          Dr. Frieda Lacey

                Dale Fulton

                Betsy Brown

                Dr. Karen Harvey