Breathe a sigh of relief, Omaha Public Schools parents: Officials might be finished tinkering with the district's grading system.
After a few more changes last month — counting more assignments in the final grade and computerizing more grading functions — OPS officials plan to leave the system alone for the next few years.
No change would be a change for OPS: Some aspect of the standards-based grading system, either the grading scale or philosophies, has been adjusted every year since the system debuted three years ago.
“We're not hearing any strong voices that adjustments are needed,” said ReNae Kehrberg, OPS assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
That's encouraging news to teachers, who have had to implement the system, and to students, who have had to explain it to their parents.
Parents like Carol Kuzelka, whose youngest child graduates from Central High this spring.
“Every year they have something different,” she said. “It'd just be nice if they would stick with something or maybe give it a little bit more thought before they implement it.”
The system is intended to ensure that report cards accurately reflect students' knowledge. Grades are mostly based on projects and tests, with much less weight given to homework and “life skills” such as class behavior or participation.
In the past, OPS teachers in grades five through 12 generally used a traditional 0 to 100 percent scale averaging almost all work.
Under the standards-based system, teachers have been grading student work on a 0-to-4 scale while focusing on the big ideas.
For example, in a math class, instead of getting one overall grade, a student would get separate marks for individual concepts, such as factoring or linear equations, and those individual grades would be averaged.
Districts across the country, including Westside and Council Bluffs in the metro area, have switched to variations of the system in recent years and have adjusted them along the way. Last fall, a standards-based reporting system at Westside Middle School was dropped after one year, and the school returned to its traditional letter grades.
Teachers sought a change in the OPS system, said Kehrberg, the assistant superintendent.
Before this semester in OPS, grades earned at the end of the term or unit were weighted more heavily, and work done earlier in the semester sometimes didn't count at all.
But teachers had to calculate the grades manually because their software didn't support the weighted system. That added 10 to 12 hours of work every nine weeks for each teacher, said Chris Proulx, Omaha Education Association president.
This semester, the system has been simplified so the software can compute the grades.
Zaiid Liwaru, a senior at North High, welcomes the change because students now have more opportunities to be graded, easing the pressure on any single test or project.
The revised system also makes it more important for students to complete work throughout the semester. Kehrberg said some students did little work at the beginning of a course and then just enough to pass toward the end of the term.
Now students can immediately see how late work affects their grade, said Elizabeth Swedlund, a business teacher at Northwest High.
“It makes students more accountable,” she said, “and it improves the learning in the classroom.”
Because students do more of their assignments, she said, she spends less time reteaching and more time reviewing.
Kehrberg took on her current job after the OPS grading system was first changed in 2010. It was six months into the first school year before all teachers were trained on the philosophy behind the new system. Even then, she said, teachers weren't given instruction on how to use it at the classroom level.
The district has learned from those mistakes, Kehrberg said. In future years, OPS plans to try out any new programs with a few schools before launching anything districtwide.
That won't mean much for graduating seniors, who have been through four grading systems in four years. But some have tried to take a life lesson from it all.
“Life changes, and obviously grading does, too,” said Victoria DaSilva, a senior at North. “I just hope they're finally done.”
Contact the writer: 402-444-1074, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/jonathonbraden