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Performance Indicators

Marblehead Introduces New K-6 Report Card System: “It came from teachers”

Marblehead Beacon sat down with Marblehead Superintendent John Buckey and Assistant Superintendent Nan Murphy to discuss the new K-through-6 grading system recently implemented for the Town’s elementary schools, Glover, Brown, and Village. 


“M, P, B, and N” Replace “4, 3, 2, and 1”

Called “Standards Based Grading,” the new approach reports student performance using four indicators represented on the report card by letters of the alphabet: (M) meeting the standard consistently and independently, (P) progressing toward meeting the standard, (B) beginning to progress toward meeting the standard, and (N) not yet demonstrating progress toward meeting the standard. Students will be evaluated on the basis of a series of detailed end-of-year goals established by Massachusetts for each grade level.


The new metrics take the place of the previous report card system, which measured student performance using the numbers 4 through 1, representing a range of status points from (4) advanced, to (3) proficient,  (2) basic, and (1) exhibits difficulty.


Also new to this grading system is the use of personalized commentary for each standard, which Buckey explained will allow “parents to get that metric for how they are approaching the standard or meeting the standard and also some narrative commentary, anecdotal commentary, that supports the designation.”


Highlighting what she sees as the advantages of the new system, Murphy spoke to the teachers’ desire to “accurately report to families how a student was doing based on a standard.” She noted that “it’s not about how they're doing right now in the moment with a particular standard or instruction, but the long-term end-of-the-year standard.” Murphy explained that the teachers felt that this system better allowed them to represent student performance in a way that parents would be able to understand. 


Teachers Supported Removal of “Advanced” Category

One of the biggest changes with the new system is the removal of an option for indicating that a student has reached the “advanced” level in a specific category, as the new highest assessment level is now “meeting the standard.” About this change, Murphy said it had come from the teachers. “Teachers created the indicators; they’re the ones that removed the ‘advanced.’” She further elaborated that “when you look at the standards, you’ll be able to identify that they are explicit in whether a student can do something or can’t do something…for example, in kindergarten or first grade, some standard might say, ‘a student can add a single digit [number] to single digit numbers.’” For this type of assessment, Murphy noted, “there is no ‘advanced,’” because a student is either capable of doing a particular task or is not. 


Murphy later reaffirmed that teachers were the driving force behind this change, stating that “this was teacher decided, and teachers felt like this–these indicators–reported more concisely to parents how students were doing.”


When asked about the potential for inaccuracy when students who are performing well above the expected end-of-year standard receive a designation suggesting they are meeting the standard, Buckey stated, “I think that for me, that’s about making the parent feel better…saying you are advanced in the standard doesn’t mean anything. It makes a parent feel better. It might be like getting the plus next to the A.”


Impact on Older Students

Right now, the report card change is limited to grades K through 6, and Buckey explained that extending this grading method to older grade levels is “not a conversation here at the moment.” They have observed the successful implementation of standards-based grading at the middle and high school levels in other districts, he said, but they don’t intend to do so in Marblehead at this time. There is a concern, Buckey acknowledged, that this would negatively impact Marblehead’s competitiveness in the college application process. 


About the current A-through-F system in place at Marblehead High School and Veterans Middle School, Buckey voiced his concern about the fact that it may not be “the best reflection of a student's knowledge.” He gave the example of a student who raises his hand frequently, always completes the homework, but to varying degrees of accuracy, and may fail one test but earn an ‘A’ on another. Buckey explained that there is no traditional letter grade that accurately represents this type of student. 


Impact in the Classroom

The new system affects not just the way that teachers assess their students but also the way they run their classrooms. With the new “What I Need” (WIN) blocks, students will receive more individualized instruction from their teachers, according to Murphy. Murphy explained that “our WIN blocks are so valuable because that is when students are working at their instructional level. So if they’re able to independently meet the standards, that’s when the teacher is able to create other opportunities for them to move forward.” 


Families will be receiving the new version of the report card when their student’s grades are released in the coming months.