Principal David Steward began an evaluation of the school's grading system in January 2009 by having the faculty study Ken O'Connor's book, "Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades." Revisiting the subject in February 2010, Steward found teachers generally agreed grades had become an evaluation of learning, attendance and behavior.
"The faculty came to believe grades should be academics only," Steward said.
A committee set about drafting a new policy thatwas subsequently reviewed by the entire faculty. Having reached general consensus, the changes were presented to a committee made of six parents, eight students and two school board members.
"The parents and students had questions," Steward said. "The students surprisingly said, 'Yes, we need to do this.'"
The undertaking became a multi-layered effort. Steward said taking the consequences for cheating, now called academic dishonesty, out of grading required changes in other policies. Once the policy was fine tuned, the changes went to the school board for approval.
New formula for grades
Student performance has traditionally been evaluated through tests, written papers, projects, presentations and reports. Under the new policy, every teacher will give a minimum of seven academic assessments per semester per class. Each assessment will count toward 75 percent of the semester grade. In some performance-based classes like band and physical education, assessments will add up to 60 percent of the semester grade.
Other student efforts such as homework and rough drafts are viewed as academic practice, Steward said. Such tasks will be viewed as "part of the learning process" and count as a maximum of 15 percent of the total grade, or 30 percent in performance-based classes.
The semester grade will be the only assessment to count. Quarter grades will be a mid-semester progress report, but the two quarter grades will not average together to make the semester grade.
The final 10 percent of all courses will be the semester final exam. Finals are separate from the end-of-course exams mandated by the state.
Steward said the teaching goal is impact comprehension, not stick a student with a bad grade. On each assessment, students will have an option of taking an alternate test a second time. A teacher last year tried this approach, after a required review session, and had significant success.
A student must take the second test before the next evaluation in the class. Also, if a student chooses to take a second test, the second grade is final, Steward said.
Students who cheat will be required to take a second test after school on a Friday. Details on the new Friday night school are still being developed.
New point system
Another different approach will be a point system for tabulating grades. In a traditional grading system out of 100 points, an A would be 90-100, a B 80-90, a C 70-80 or a D 60-70. Steward said a B student scoring a 40 would have to get two A scores to get back to a typical score.
To make a better system, Steward said teachers will record all grades on a 14-point scale, each over a range of three points. An A, for example, will be worth 12 to 14 points, and a B worth 9, 10 or 11 points. A student landing in failure range of 2 or less will have a better chance to recover.
Report cards will still show a letter grade, determined by the point range.
For non-academic evaluations, students will receive a mid-semester and semester employability skills report. Steward said employers consider the five categories selected as key to what they want to see in an employee: responsibility, work ethic, cooperation, trustworthiness and attitude.
If a student meets expectations, the report will be blank in the five categories. Students exceeding expectations will get a plus, and those below standards will get a minus.
The current attendance policy allows eight absences per semester without academic consequences. The only option that has been available for excessive absences has been cancellation of all credits for the quarter.
Under the new policy, students will be allowed five absences per semester. More absences will place a student in front of the newly established attendance committee, made up of four teachers and the assistant principal.
Those with attendance problems may be asked to enter into an attendance contract, spelling out consequences if goals are not met. The option of not issuing grades for the semester will remain.
"We're trying to make individual consequences for each case," Steward said. "Hopefully this will give more flexibility to the policy. Students will still have to make up the work missed."
Students with two absences or less in a course will have new options available. The final exam will still need to be taken, but the result will only help the student's grade.
Also, students with two absences or less and a B-minus grade or higher can choose not to take the final exam and be off campus during the testing time. The option will not apply to end-of-course exams.
"Finals scare students to death," Steward said. "Teachers look to data from finals to show how well students are learning. This is a compromise for both. Students are very much in favor of it."
In past years, the high school has had the Breakthrough Learning and Study Teams (BLAST) and Extended BLAST available after school to help students get their homework done. BLAST will now change into an after-school program focused instead on tutoring.
Steward expects the new policies will generate many questions from parents. He plans to mail a letter to every high school household as school approaches with details, inviting parents to question-and-answer sessions he plans to hold on the changes.
Honor grad system changes
By MURRAY BISHOFF
Changes in academic policy will change ending the past practice of having a valedictorian and salutatorian at Monett High School, beginning with the Class of 2014. The change was one of several policies adopted by the Monett R-1 Board of Education at the June meeting.
Principal David Steward said there are compelling reasons for the change.
"When you have classes the size we do and recognize a few students, we end up recognizing a few winners and many losers," Steward said. "Also, teachers have overheard students planning their course schedules talk about picking classes to get the best shot at becoming valedictorian or salutatorian, rather than choosing what would be best for their college career."
Students may choose to take advanced placement classes, used as tiebreakers in class rankings, for the credits rather than taking a class that could help them in college. Steward said by taking away the titles of valedictorian and salutatorian, students can focus on more meaningful coursework.
Monett High School will still recognize the top 10 percent of the class. Graduates will still be recognized as magna, summa or cum laude at graduation.
"This doesn't impact scholarships, which are based on class rankings," Steward said. "The class ranking will still be listed on the student's transcript."
Larger school districts in the area have already ceased using valedictorian and salutatorian distinctions, Steward said. Bolivar, for example, a district similar in size to Monett, stopped the practice about a decade ago. Graduation without a valedictorian and salutatorian is fairly common in other parts of the country.
There will still be two speakers at graduation. Steward said volunteers will be sought. If more than two are interested, the names will be placed in front of the graduating class for a vote.
"Those chosen truly will be representative of the class," Steward said.
Administrators in almost every school district have talked about making the change, Steward continued.
A different policy should allow recognition of more students, Steward said. To keep the practice fair, the change will be timed to not affect students already in high school, at the recommendation of the faculty.