Grading systems unified under electronic grade book
All secondary schools in Montgomery County implemented Pinnacle, a grading software, at the beginning of this school year. Along with Edline, Pinnacle makes up the Online Achievement and Reporting System (OARS), a consistent tool for collecting and distributing grades.
Blair was one of the last schools in the county to employ OARS. Last school year, the system was voluntarily piloted in 54 middle and high schools, according to the MCPS Public Information Office.
Pinnacle automatically calculates grades each night, according to the MCPS website. Edline retrieves these grades every Sunday and Thursday night so that students and parents may view them online. The system also generates interim reports and feeds grades to report cards whereas in the past, teachers had to fill in bubble sheets to report grades.
Pinnacle uses a variety of templates to calculate grades. These templates assign various percentages to determine the weight of three categories: formative, summative and homework for completion. Assignments in the formative category reveal immediate evidence of learning, while the summative category consists of assessments testing long term knowledge, according to the MCPS grading and reporting policy.
The county provides schools with different templates for teachers to weigh each category. According to magnet teacher Susan Ragan, one of Blair's eleven grade book advisors who train and support all school staff, only five templates are available to Blair teachers so far. Two of these were specially made for Magnet mathematics and one is used exclusively in physical education.
Nearly all other Blair teachers are using either the 50 percent summative, 40 percent formative and 10 percent homework for completion template or the 40-50-10 template, with 40 percent summative and 50 percent formative. The physical education template is 70-30-0 while the two magnet math templates are 70-20-10 and 80-20-0, all in the same summative-formative-homework order.
Last spring, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), along with many teachers, protested the lack of teacher input into the creation of templates. "Decision making was away from teachers," magnet math teacher Nannette Dyas said. "I feel that a teacher's experience should be worth something in our grading."
As a result, the 11 templates that the county had planned for Blair were delayed and the school received three templates, according to Ragan. Magnet math requested two separate templates to meet their needs.
Committees of teachers, students, parents and administration will meet during the fall to resolve these issues and recommend improvements in grade calculation, categories and weighting, according to Assistant Director of the MCPS Public Information Office Kate Harrison. These recommendations will be forwarded to MCPS leadership in time to communicate new decisions to schools for implementation by the 2008-2009 school year.
Until last week, Pinnacle was not uploading grades correctly to Edline, according to IT Systems Specialist Peter Hammond. Last school year, Pinnacle contained many bugs and crashed throughout the county on the final grading day of the first marking period.
Harrison says that although problems often arise in Pinnacle, these errors are addressed immediately. Relatively few teachers have had serious technical issues with Pinnacle this year. "So far, very few people have come running to me with problems," Ragan said.
Several teachers have voiced concern over parents who use Pinnacle to constantly check their children's grades and nag teachers. "It's the parent's right to see those grades … but there are those extremes. It really depends on real and unrealistic expectations," said English Resource Teacher Vickie Adamson. "This may put pressure on us to constantly post new grades."
Despite concerns, preliminary results of a survey by the MCPS Department of Shared Accountability of teachers, parents and students who used OARS during the 2006-2007 school year were generally positive, according to Harrison. A formal analysis of the survey will be published this fall.
David Zheng. David Zheng used to live in California but now he is trapped in Maryland. In his spare time, David likes to play sports in general, doze off in front of the computer, watch random movies, and eat ice cream. Although some may disagree, David is … More »