Kennewick School Board backs additions to grading policy

The Kennewick School Board gave initial approval to several additions to the school district's grading policy Wednesday night.

Among the additions are requirements that grading systems be easily understood by students and parents, nonacademic extra credit be prohibited, and efforts be made to keep grading consistent within courses and schools. The board is scheduled to give final approval at its next board meeting Aug. 15.

Four other proposed changes were not approved and included conditions such as not using student behavior to calculate grades and a requirement for teachers to give students opportunities to redo work. Those changes were elements of standards-based grading systems in place at three of the district's middle schools.

Board members and community members, who filled the board room, voiced concerns and praise for the proposed changes before the board moved forward with the six that had universal appeal to all board members.

"If we don't start now, we're not going to gain any progress on it," said board Chairwoman Dawn Adams.

The board has discussed adding to the district's grading policy for weeks. That discussion stemmed from a desire to make grading equitable and transparent for all district students and ensure students were learning the material in their classes.

Group work grades, use of an A to F grading scale for third- through 12th-graders and assurances that principals get feedback from teachers before implementing a building-wide grading system also were among the approved changes.

Board members did voice some concerns about the changes, with board member Heather Kintzley saying she wanted to make sure principals factored in teacher feedback into grading system decisions. Superintendent Dave Bond said there were procedures in place to get teacher feedback, and it would be wise for principals to do so.

"It's a foolish principal who pushes ahead," he said. "You won't get buy-in (from teachers)."

The four rejected changes generated the most debate. All four are derived from standards-based grading, which uses a 4 to 0 scale and seeks to assess students strictly on academic achievement and not for student behavior and performance on homework, among other things.

Kintzley and Adams debated the merit of allowing students the opportunity to redo classwork. Adams said not all students learn at the same pace, and it would ensure they were learning the material. Kintzley countered that real life doesn't always offer second chances.

"There are students who will take advantage," Kintzley said.

Those who attended the meeting also commented the most on the four discarded changes. Teachers said the addition of those conditions to district grading policy would undercut their ability to teach their students work ethic and responsibility.

"We all know teachers teach a lot more than academics," said Geoff Simm, a social studies teacher at Southridge High School.

Several parents also complained about the standards-based grading scale in place at Highlands, Horse Heaven Hills and Park middle schools, with one parent saying she never could understand how her son managed to get an F for the year in one course after he received a 3 and 1.

Bond said that implementing the approved changes will take effort, especially in making grading scales consistent across courses and schools. As for the rejected changes, he said many of those already are implemented by teachers on a case-by-case basis with students who demonstrate they're working hard but need extra help.

Also Wednesday night:

-- Board members approved the district's budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year. The district will spend $152.5 million, about $3 million less than $149.5 million in projected revenue for the year. The deficit will be taken from the district's unallocated funds, which are currently about $26 million. No programs will be cut.

-- The board heard a presentation on the state of the district's technology, including computers, internet network and software.

IT Director Ron Cone said that while the district has gotten better at servicing the district's more than 6,700 computers and other technology, it has fallen increasingly behind in upgrading and replacing equipment. To start catching up, the district would need to invest $1.5 million in the IT department more than what is currently budgeted for the 2012-13 school year.

The board is expected to revisit the issue at a future meeting and discuss options of how to address theneed.

-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com