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Morton's new grading system still debated by parents, students

Parent Jill Alexander of Berwyn comments negatively on Standards Based Grading instituted in the 2013-14 school year, at the Morton High School District 201 board meeting on April 9.
Parent Jill Alexander of Berwyn comments negatively on Standards Based Grading instituted in the 2013-14 school year, at the Morton High School District 201 board meeting on April 9.

Supporters of J. Sterling Morton High School's new standards-based grading system instituted this school year maintain the system will provide students and parents with more complete information on the students’ mastery of their learning goals.

But Morton parent Jill Alexander, herself an educator, believes the new system is more about giving passing grades to failing students, and making it harder for college-bound kids to get A's, and as a result, more scholarship opportunities.

Alexander, and her husband, Jason, both teachers at other districts, and their son, Drew, spoke at the April 9 Board of Education meeting, along with a handful of other students opposed to the new system.

Supporters say the new zero to 5 scale is more fair than the traditional percentage scale, because when a student earns a low grade or doesn't submit an assignment, the resulting “zero” can doom the student’s grade in the course, according the district officials.

However, opponents say the system has lowered he bar, allowing students to pass when they should have failed, and that the system is unfair to high achieving students, who are now finding it difficult to earn A's under the new system and as a result, losing opportunities to obtain scholarships.

"More people are passing, which looks great for the school," said student Peter Finucane of Lyons. "On the opposite side of the spectrum, it's harder to get an A. My grades are now plummeting."

Alexander said numerous questions have been posed to administrators by opponents of the new system that remain unanswered.

Senior student Rocio Hernandez said she agreed.

"I attended two PTO meetings within the past month in order to learn more about the new grading system," she said. "My parents and I had a lot of questions – not about my grade specifically – but about issues that affect every student at Morton."

Hernandez was able to run off a list of questions she had about the system.

"None of these questions were ever answered because the administration refused to answer anyone's questions publicly," she said. "What are the administrators trying to hide?"

Superintendent Michael Kuzniewski said on Friday the school had nothing to hide and was committed to continuing the new system.

"We're not trying to hide anything," he said. "They say we're not answering the questions. Yes, we are answering the questions," Kuzniewski said. "You may not like the answer, but that doesn't mean we aren't answering the questions."

Kuzniewski said a meeting was held last month in association with the school's Parent Teacher Organization to walk parents through the grading system to help them better understand how it works. Alexander saw it as a public forum to engage in a debate with the administration, Kuzniewski said.

"That's not what we agreed upon with the PTO," Kuzniewski said. "We had 23 administrators there, so if any parent had a question about their kid we could show them how to figure their grade out."

Kuzniewski added that things that are new are often misunderstood.

"It's like any new implementation; there's going to be bumps in the road that have to be fixed. You can't expect change to occur without making any change," Kuzniewski said. "This system is out there to first of all, to help kids, it doesn't lower the standards."

Alexander, he said, may have another goal altogether.

"Her goal is to make sure there is a wide range between the A's and the F's," Kuzniewski speculated. "She wants an A to mean more for her child because he gets A's. If a kid gets a zero on the test, goes home and studies, learns all the material and gets an A, 100 percent on the test, under the old grading method, he'd get a 50 which is still a failing grade. This is all about making sure kids get fair grades."

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