Grading discussion continues at Rocklin Academy

Parent collects signatures in support of traditional system
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Placer Herald and Press Tribune editor
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The conversation about eliminating letter grades at Rocklin Academy’s elementary schools continued Monday, with parents and teachers speaking out on both sides of the issue.

In October, school board trustees voted to do away with letter grades for fourth- through sixth-grade students. Board Chair Doug Johnson emphasized in October that this was not a reversal of the grading system, but rather the culmination of a system put into place several years ago. Kindergarten through third grades use only standards-based grading.

The school had been issuing report cards with both the traditional A, B, C system and the standards-based system, which assigns a number, 1-4, based on students’ mastery of the subject, the number indicating a student’s proficiency in the each standard of the subject.

Rocklin Academy parent and former board member Mark Klang has been outspoken about the change, saying parents had been largely left out of the decision. He spoke during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting, armed with a petition bearing 42 signatures of parents opposed to the change.

Klang said he had collected the signatures on campus, and later received a letter from Rocklin Academy’s legal counsel advising him that “RA ha a legal obligation to provide a safe and secure learning environment, free from unnecessary disruption. To that end, RA policy requires that all visitors register with the front office prior to entering the campus for purposes other than picking up and dropping off their children.”

The letter, from the Law Offices of young, Minney & Corr, LLP, goes on to say that the academy received numerous complains from staff and parents regarding the signature collection during school hours, describing Klang’s actions as “disruptive and amounted to harassment/intimidation” and noting that any further disruptive conduct on school grounds will lead to Klang being ordered to leave school grounds.

“I feel bad, I guess, for some of the parents who signed this,” Klang said, “because who knows if they received a letter from the attorney?”

Issues that have been raised regarding standards-based grading include reward for study effort, the level of detail on report cards and the ease with which students could move from standard-based grading to traditional letter grades.

Johnson informed the parents at the meeting that a committee has been formed regarding implementation of standards-based grading, including addressing a previously raised issue of how to recognize children’s academic successes absent a GPA-based honor roll.

“It’s too bad you didn’t have this in place at the beginning of the year,” Klang’s wife, Ilene, a teacher in Folsom Cordova, told the board.

“Students lose interest in their school because they are not recognized for their achievements, either by their teacher or by their school,” she added.

Parent Debbie Dettner brought up the issue of students earning a 4, which she said has been coined “the unicorn” because of its perceived impossibility.

“It’s impossible to get, and nobody knows how to get it,” she said. “It’s the one piece that if we could work on in the immediacy … it’s unobtainable.”

Teacher Heidi Little pointed out that a 4 is indeed obtainable, if the student shows that he or she is performing beyond their grade level.

Little also spoke about the parent communication at Rocklin Academy, saying that parents there are given “astronomical” amounts of information in regard to their students’ education.

“I would be one that who would be more than willing to have some kind of forum to re-explain how things work, because I’ve been here through the thick and thin,” she said. “I put my children here, I’ve made the commitment here for 12 years because I believe in this academy and it breaks my heart to hear this opinion change.”

Miken Dayton, fine and performing arts teacher at Western Sierra Collegiate Academy, echoed Little’s sentiments, tears in her eyes as she expressed her willingness to help educate parents about the teacher-supported grading change.

“I don’t walk into a doctor’s office and presume to tell him how to do his job. … You know your children, you know what they think and feel, you can help us out, plus please know that we don’t make these decisions lightly,” she said.

Parent Julia Pooler was quick to point out that it was never the parents’ intent to criticize Rocklin Academy’s teachers.

“We’re not going anywhere,” she said. “You guys have given us an opportunity to come and voice our opinion – that’s what we’re here for, is to say, “Hey, we have some ideas.’”

“We’re not by any stretch, or at least I’m not, here to say the teachers are a problem,” she added. “Otherwise we would have gone away.”

Johnson reiterated that parent-teacher communication is part of the academy’s backbone.

“I do believe strongly in parents providing feedback to teachers through the real classroom interaction, the meetings with teachers, conferences and that sort of thing,” he said. “It was from that communication, frankly, that this was brought to us. This was a teacher-driven change in terms of dropping letter grades.”

Parent Lynsey Fabel expressed her support of Rocklin Academy and the board’s ability to make such decisions.

“You guys are the professionals, so I’m going to take your word and trust that you know what you’re doing,” she said. “I just want to say that you guys are great and you guys teach our kids and love our kids, and my kindergartener is so excited about school.”