Modesto City Schools elementaries could shift to number-based grades

naustin@modbee.comJune 18, 2014 

  • Proposed grading system: What the numbers mean

    Each number lines up with a listed skill. For example, one of the language arts skills in second grade is to identify main topics and supporting details. The corresponding fourth-grade skill is to determine a main idea, cite evidence and summarize.

    4: Under the Modesto system, a 4 translates roughly to an A+, above and beyond meeting the standard.

    3: Covers sort of a B- to A- range, where the student can do what’s asked, but not as assuredly as a 4.

    2: Shows the student is learning, but may need a prompt to complete a task.

    1: Means the student just does not get it yet.

    Blacked out squares: Areas the students have not been taught.

Modesto parents of incoming kindergartners through sixth-graders, listen up. Next school year’s elementary report cards would have no As and also no Fs under a number grading plan up for approval later this summer by the Modesto City Schools board.

“I think this is a wonderful step in the right direction,” said board Vice President Amy Neumann at the policy’s first reading Monday. “It’s not going to look like all As, it’s going to be all 4s.”

The policy will get a second airing and then return a third time for a thumbs up or down on adopting it. Junior high and high schools will stick to traditional grades.

“I have no problem with the number grades, 1-4. A lot of districts are doing it,” noted board member Jordan Dickson.

But not all board members were sold on it. “As an old time teacher, I loved the A-B-C-D,” said trustee Steve Grenbeaux.

“I did have a hard time with the numbering changes,” said board President Cindy Marks. “But just because I hadn’t experienced it, doesn’t mean it isn’t a good thing.”

District experts hope parents will give the new system that chance as well.

“It is a change. Traditional grades are what we know,” said Kimberly Newton, the senior director who spearheaded the project. The switch to numbers is meant to make grading more consistent across schools. Teachers can use all work to evaluate a child’s progress, not just test scores, she said.

The new system lines up key Common Core standards and lays out how close the child is to mastering each one. Teachers representing every grade and all schools worked together to pick which standards to list, she said. They all took the Common Core tests to see what their students will be facing, she added.

“They identified some pretty meaty standards,” Newton said. The new way of checking progress gives more specific information to parents. For example, a traditional B in social science might include low test scores masked by extra credit assignments. A speedy reader might have comprehension errors, but the parent just sees a “B.”

“They chose what was best. Teachers know they have to teach all the standards,” said Marla Mack, the senior director leading the elementary switch to Common Core math.

There will be explanations at elementary orientation “round-ups,” new this year for Modesto. Back to School Nights will include information on the new system and the first of the year’s three report cards will be handed out at parent conferences.

“We really are stressing that teachers go over the report card with (parents) and explain it to them,” Newton said.

Variety of reactions

Responses to a Bee Facebook query brought back a range of reactions.

“The school I worked at gave numbers for several years, not letter grades. Most students want to know if they passed or not, others want to excel and be at the top so they strive for it. One system is no better than the other, just different,” posted Garry Rupe.

“My son goes to a charter school that does this. He will be in the first grade and he loves it. It helps out with their self-esteem and gives you a chance to improve,” wrote LisaMarie Brayden.

Modesto teacher and parent Miriam Caro said, “It’s also less subjective and more indicative of what the student actually knows and where she/he is and where she/he needs to be. It actually provides parents more information.”

But others thought the change a waste of time and effort.

“I think that it’s ridiculous to change a system that we’ve had forever. Kids look forward to showing off A’s and B’s,” put in Elizabeth Arnold.

“I’m all for change and progression, but there are just so many other issues involving our education system that need to be addressed. It boggles my mind why they just keep coming up with new things to focus on,” posted Lesley McLaughlin.

The so-called standards-based report cards give number grades and were used in kindergarten and first grade throughout the district last year. Schools in Turlock, Ceres, Riverbank and elsewhere have had them for years.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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