By Zachary Horner
News + Record Staff
Chatham County Schools is nearing the end of a two-year process of re-evaluating its grading practices and is undergoing slight changes to its homework …
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Chatham County Schools is nearing the end of a two-year process of re-evaluating its grading practices and is undergoing slight changes to its homework policies.
The emphasis, according to Amanda Hartness, the district’s assistant superintendent for academic services and instructional support, is the student.
“(We’re) really trying to get people to think about what’s the ultimate goal we’re trying to get kids to hear,” she told the News + Record. “We’re trying to be more student-centered and not make everything about the teacher being frustrated that the student isn’t doing something. It should be about students learning and having every opportunity to learn what they get to know.”
Discussions over changes in grading began, Hartness said, two years ago when the state altered the grade scale from 7-point to 10-point, which raised questions about “equities in grading practices.” A committee of teachers and administrators began talking about effective practices in evaluation, including reading Canadian education consultant Ken O’Connor’s book “15 Fixes for Broken Grades.” According to O’Connor’s website, he has worked with faculties at schools in 47 states, nine Canadian provinces and 25 countries outside North America.
Hartness said the committee found that some grading practices weren’t “necessarily equitable.” For example, some teachers would take points away from students at the elementary level if a reading log wasn’t signed, or extra credit would be given if a student wore certain types of clothes during a spirit week.
“That has nothing to do with something a student can or can’t do,” Hartness said. “It has to do with rewarding a behavior, and some things the student may have no control over.”
Hartness said the best grading practices reflect what a student knows and is able to do with content that is taught.
The district has also worked to eliminate the use of zeroes on assignments except as a “last resort.” Students have the option to make error corrections to show they know the content or apply for assignment extensions ahead of time if they know they’ll struggle to complete the work in time. Zeroes, Hartness said, aren’t reflective of real life situations and don’t hold students accountable.
“If you don’t pay your taxes, the IRS doesn’t say, ‘You get a zero because you were late,’” she said. “With kids, they don’t turn in an assignment and we give a zero, the kid gets away with it and they don’t learn.”
The district has also instituted a cap on the weight homework should have on a student’s final grade in a class at 10 percent.
Hartness said not all teachers have instituted all the changes, and the policy is not fully-formed yet, but there have already been some positive outcomes.
“You’ll hear little stories where teachers are having success changing those practices,” she said. “It’s hard to break them because it’s the way school’s been done forever.”
The Chatham County Board of Education discussed the grading changes briefly at its mid-year retreat on Jan. 14 in relation to a new homework policy.
Hartness said there won’t be much change to the actual homework policy, but there is an emphasis on more equitable assigned work. District Superintendent Derrick Jordan said he doesn’t think administration and the board should get too involved in specifying a certain amount of homework, but added that homework in and of itself is a good thing.
“Homework has been an issue for as long as I’ve been in education,” Jordan said. “I’m sure anybody who’s been to a conference – school board or otherwise – lately, there’s been a session on homework. I’m of the opinion that if you are using homework to practice, then there ought to be no question about whether or not you assign homework.
“It really does need to be tailored to the extent possible to fit the individual students’ needs. It becomes part of our responsibility to let kids know how to plan and deal with multiple assignments at one time.”
Changes in homework policy and practice, Hartness said, are designed to make things equitable for students, taking the students’ limitations and abilities into consideration. She said she’s seen more teachers assign homework “depending on the student.”
“The goal of (changing homework and grading practices) is to try to be more student-centered,” she said. “We want to have practices that help them be successful instead of putting in barriers.”