Parent on Sumter`s new grading policy: "I don`t understand, and - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Parent on Sumter`s new grading policy: "I don`t understand, and I`m a teacher."

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This example of the new Sumter report cards have some parents up in arms. This example of the new Sumter report cards have some parents up in arms.
Sumter Superintendent Randolph Bynum Sumter Superintendent Randolph Bynum

A new grading policy a Sumter superintendent says is created to help parents know where their child stands is instead leaving parents wondering if their child is on schedule or behind in their studies.

This year, more than 4,000 Sumter School District elementary students in kindergarten through second grade are no longer receiving a letter grade. Instead, they are receiving a number between one and five, identifying whether the student is consistently exceeding standards or not meeting standards at all. However, parents who contacted WIS said their children are getting three’s, which is meeting standards, when their child normally makes straight A’s.

“The grading policy is confusing to everyone involved,”said Heather Bass, a parent of a Sumter elementary student. “I had to explain to my child why he is getting three’s when he knows it goes up to five.”

In addition, typical honor roll students have not received recognition for their hard work so far this year because parents are saying teachers are told not to give out four’s and five’s to students until the end of the year.

“We were told by our school that teachers will hold coursework through the year to justify giving four’s and five’s,” Bass said.“To me, that keeps me in the dark on how my child is doing.”

Bass’ child’s principal sent a letter home about the new grading policy Oct. 30, explaining to parents that the numbers used cannot be compared to a letter grade and only students who “consistently demonstrate mastery of grade level standards” will receive a four or a five. The letter also stated that “it will be necessary for your child’s teacher to collect and keep his/her work to ensure standards are being met. Therefore, a lot of work may not be sent home as in the past.”

But the standards based report card information is conflicting between what Sumter School District Superintendent Randolph Bynum and his district office staff share with parents and then what principals and teachers tell parents regarding their child’s grade. 

When Bass emailed Sumter School District Chief Academic Officer Dr. Lisa Norman about teachers holding on to a child’s work, Norman replied, “Teachers were instructed to keep samples of student work for parental conferences. Not once have they been told not to return any student work.”

A Sumter elementary teacher and parent of a first-grade child, who wanted to remain anonymous, told WIS that the grading policy is difficult to comprehend and is causing mass confusion.

“My daughter brought home sets of papers, and she got a three on that one and she didn’t miss any,” the teacher said. “(On another paper) she missed three on that one and got a three. Wait a minute. She didn’t miss any here and she got a three. She missed three on this one and she got a three. I don’t understand, and I’m a teacher.”

With Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, many military parents have also expressed concern for the grading policy since they will likely not live in Sumter until their child graduates high school. Bynum said school districts “have to make conversions” when students come in from other states or districts, which he said is nothing new and said military families have no reason for concern.

Bynum told WIS the new grading policy was implemented in the three elementary grades because those students are going to be the first ones affected by the recent state-approved Common Core Standards. Bynum’s “proactive” approach is meant to show “progression” and nothing more, he explained.

“There is no conspiracy or plot to show kids are getting better,” Bynum said.

Another parent Robbie Bohn asks who benefits from the new grading policy by changing from letter grades to numbers.

“Parents haven’t been given enough information,” Bohn said. “… I have heard this district is here for the parents and students. I haven’t seen it. I have not seen where they have helped parents. … Furthermore, they aren’t helping the teachers out.”

Bynum said with change comes an “adjustment period.” Even though he said teachers and principals were trained before the school year started and a three-member team was formed to help in the grading policy at elementary schools, he said his staff and himself did not hear from parents until interims came out.

“I, as a parent … I would rather know specifically what my student is good at, what they need improvement on and how I can work in partnership with my school and teacher to help my student reach maximum achievement,” Bynum said.

Bynum said the school district will organize an online survey in May to get information on how to improve the new standards-based report card system. At the end of June, a committee of teachers, administrators, parents and district employees will review the feedback and offer ways to make improvements.

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