GROTON -- According to Florence Roche interim Principal Liz Garden, initial opposition to a new system for report cards that abandons the traditional A, B, C grading system for one that breaks up student performance into finer and finer slices has dwindled to nothing.
The news came at the Wednesday meeting of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee in which Garden reported to members on the rollout of the second year of the program.
Garden said complaints were greatest at the start of the program last year but grew fewer as 2013 wore on.
Although still not based on the simpler A, B, C system, Garden told the School Committee that changes had been made to the new report cards since last year in response to concerns raised by teachers and parents, who thought some of the descriptions of work covered and achieved were not specific enough.
As a result, said Garden, wording for benchmarks measuring student achievement were simplified and made to be "more user-friendly."
In keeping with the digitalization of the district's technology initiative, the new report cards would be issue in 2014 in electronic format with hardcopies only provided to those parents who request them.
Garden's briefing to the School Committee previewed the year's first of three report cards to be issued.
"I think this is a huge step forward," said committee member John Sjoberg of the new grading system. "Now parents have the opportunity to be more engaged. It's really neat."
"This is really cutting-edge," said interim Superintendent of Schools Anthony Bent. "It's where the field is going."
Scoring on a scale of 0 to 100 upon which the A, B, C, system had traditionally been based was determined by developers of the new system to be too literal, not allowing room for teachers to detail the full range of a student's progress.
Geared to the state's common-core standards for education which the district has already adopted, the new report cards measure how well a student is doing in relation to the grade level standards rather than the work of other students.
Also Wednesday, members:
* Heard from assistant superintendent Kerry Clery that the latest results of MCAS testing for mathematics and science among third to eighth graders again placed the district in the top percentile of students across the state, performing "well above" the average. Overall, student achievement displayed "moderate growth" over the year before, something Clery characterized as "good." But there would be no time for the district to rest on its laurels as it must next complete an ongoing transition to new educational standards while strengthening students' reading comprehension skills.
* Discussed disposition of its administrative offices currently located in the former Prescott Elementary School building in downtown Groton. With the district's lease due to expire in 2015, school officials have been under pressure by the town to make up its mind if it was going to remain in the building or move out. The town needs the information in order to prepare an offering for potential developers of the property. When asked by local officials about the situation last month, the School Committee had not been able to provide an immediate answer but promised to work on it. That work began at the committee's meeting Wednesday when members discussed the possibility of remaining at Prescott. One of the top concerns was the cost of a move which would likely be to one of the district's school buildings that would include security issues in addition to retro-fitting whatever space was chosen to office use.
Neither choice, whether staying at Prescott or moving, was "appealing" said committee Chairwoman Allison Manugian. Member John Giger said a decision needed to be made so the town could make its own plans. The most members would commit to was extending the lease by a couple of months to September 2015. With that, the issue was left in the hands of Bent to research the alternatives discussed including a cost analysis of each.
* Heard a report from Bent on a recent trip to Finland with a group of state and local education officials to learn more about how that small country has managed to score near the top of a global educational survey. A socialist country with a small and homogeneous population in comparison to the United States made it easier for Finland to implement sweeping changes to its educational system back in the 1970s. Today, there are no teacher evaluations, no honor rolls, valedictorians, or major testing to challenge students' self esteem. In addition, public schools have no competition with private schools being nonexistent in the country. Bent did not mention if any parents home-schooled their children. Bent concluded that schools in the United States had their own advantages including a more student centered curriculum and more local control. Although it seemed he learned little that could be applied to Groton-Dunstable, Bent concluded that "Visiting other countries is a golden opportunity...to reflect on our own system of education."