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New Grading System Draws Ire from Concerned Parents

Fourth and fifth graders will now receive a number-based report card rather than the traditional letter-based grade

A crowd of parents, concerned citizens and teachers attended Monday's Wyckoff Board of Education meeting at Eisenhower Middle School where several parents voiced concers over changes made to report cards for fourth and fifth graders at Wyckoff Public Schools. 

Following changes this summer, the report cards now bear one of four numerical grades — 1 through 4 — rather than the traditional A through F grades. The changes had already been implemented, but parents said they were unaware until they received a letter and word of the changes on "Back to School Night" on Sept. 11-12.  

According to Wyckoff Public Schools Director of Curriculum and Instruction Jessica Anspach, an overall grade is a composite that wasn’t consistent and didn’t accurately reflect the child’s progress. 

“The reason why the report card has been slowly changing over time is because just as our curriculum is moving toward a common core and standard based format, so too are our report cards to reflect our instruction,” said Anspach.

“We have to adhere to and review New Jersey State Standards and common core standards, and then determine what’s appropriate for that grade level,” she said.

Some parents claimed that the new grading system leveled the playing field for all children and was merely an attempt to try to make every child feel better.

“I heard some rumors last year that the fourth and fifth grade report cards were being changed,” said Kelly Cahill, a Wyckoff resident. “Typically, fourth and fifth graders have always gotten the letter grades.”

“Now this year, it’s changing and there’s no more letter grades, it’s on a number-based system," said Cahill. “So, I was just curious why that change was being made and what was wrong with the old system. What’s the rationale, the positives?”

“We look at end of year indicators and progress over the course of the year, instead of an overall grade for the core subject areas, because it’s not particularly telling of where students are over the continuum,” said Anspach. “Our goal over the course of this year is to include teacher communication and teacher resources and support, as well as communication with parents.”

“The language of this report card is much more detailed and refined,” said Anspach. “The language is much more specific compared to previous report cards which were much vaguer, with open-ended indicators.”

Wyckoff Public Schools Superintendent Richard Kuder disagreed with the representation of the situation and told parents they were being encouraged to be part of the conversation.

“We will explain to parents a number of times over the school year," Kuder said. "It’s not about leveling the playing field and making kids feel good about themselves.”

Over the course of next month, there will be parent information sessions on report cards, with the exact dates still to be determined.

Have a question or news tip? Contact editor Joseph M. Gerace at Joseph.Gerace@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter.

John A. Unglert September 26, 2012 at 07:05 PM
I find this statement interesting - “We look at end of year indicators and progress over the course of the year, instead of an overall grade for the core subject areas, because it’s not particularly telling of where students are over the continuum,” said Anspach. “Our goal over the course of this year is to include teacher communication and teacher resources and support, as well as communication with parents.” I would like to know one quantifies "communication with parents" AND "teacher resources and support" AND "teacher communication" ? Then what is the formula used to determine the end result ? Sound to me that the school system is doing a CYA in order to muddy waters for teacher evaluation and once again have the NEA impose some bizzare reason they want more money. When I was in the Wyckoff Public School system we had letter grades, ONE teacher per class, no aides, no "Director of Curriculum and Instruction " and so on. We had Mr Muller as the Superintendent, maybe not PC any longer. Seem this is just a load of hooey in order to get more money. I DO need to job where I can have 3 months, PAID days off for "coursesand conventions" and so on. AND to work 36 hours a wekk rather than the 60-70 I work now.
John A. Unglert September 26, 2012 at 07:05 PM
OH, WAIT, we're doin it for the children - correct ?
Gary Rabinowitz September 26, 2012 at 08:43 PM
@ John A. Unglert - thanks for this heads up. Good news, bad news.... On the one hand, Mr Anspach's sentence is as scary as it is incomprehensible when you consider this man is a leader of the schools entrusted to teach our children to write and think clearly: “We look at end of year indicators and progress over the course of the year, instead of an overall grade for the core subject areas, because it’s not particularly telling of where students are over the continuum,” said Anspach. “Our goal over the course of this year is to include teacher communication and teacher resources and support, as well as communication with parents.” Huh?!?...... On the other hand, this mealy-mouthed, ambiguous double speak is a good example for any Wyckoff kid with corporate or political aspirations! (; cheers! GXR
Matt Jackson September 26, 2012 at 10:52 PM
Ms. Anspach, English please?
Lisa Ciolino Ambrose September 26, 2012 at 11:33 PM
@Gary: I'm fairly confident that Jessica Anspach not only holds a doctorate, but is also a woman.
John A. Unglert September 26, 2012 at 11:58 PM
I was wondering, when yu say "continuum" do you mean a Linear Continnium ? a cardinality of the continuum ? or a topological continuum ? Since this has to be formulated into one single math to reach a number grade, what, pray tell, is the formula ? I would also like a definition of "teacher resources and support". Since I am a tax payer and PAY YOUR SALARY I believe I should have the ability to ask you to define your terms. And holding a doctorate is not something golden. I have helped a lot of doctoral candidates with the math for their thesis and I weep for our Universities. In my day in a technological business we had a saying - "Those who can't do, teach".
John A. Unglert September 27, 2012 at 12:02 AM
Thanks GXR ! I am SO tired of these so called educators who do not speak or use a PC speak in order to muddy the waters. I am also tired of NEA types since they have no, real, concept of a job. They mooch off the taxpayers and can't figure out we cannot be taxed to oblivion so they can have a 200K a year retirement where they do not share and responsibility in contributing to it. AND NOW one of them wants to be on the Township Committee ? What can that bring but disaster to a budget and the Town.
Kelly C September 27, 2012 at 02:16 AM
I respect the opinions of those who have written above, but since I apparently opened this discussion with my question at the board meeting, I feel obligated to say the following. I am fully aware that great teachers work way beyond 9-3, 5 days per week and these teachers work very hard for our children. It is an exhausting job when done well. As someone who holds an undergraduate degree in education, I do find it insulting when people suggest that I sought a teaching degree because I couldn't do anything else. I chose it because I knew it was a profession I would enjoy, although I do not currently teach (besides the point!). Please, while it is necessary to question and stay informed and provide input, it is also less than productive to slam our teachers as a whole. We need more parents involved to provide input in a positive manner in order to effect change if needed. If you have a question or criticism of something going on in our schools, voice your opinion! Speak to administration, show up at a board meeting, do something productive. The system is not perfect, but cannot continue to improve if we sit back and complain amongst ourselves.
Q September 27, 2012 at 02:23 AM
Most teachers are hard working, caring, intelligent people who put in many hours beyond the school day. Great public school teachers are especially important because they are required to teach ALL students, not just the cream of the crop. These teachers need a salary that allows them to live in Bergen County, or at least a county somewhat nearby. I have no problem contributing to teachers' salaries through my taxes and salaries should be competitive to attract and keep good people in Wyckoff. The administration could cut some "fat" but let's not bash our teachers as a whole. Also, I believe a teacher on the Township Committee would be a fabulous addition; a breath of fresh air.
John A. Unglert September 27, 2012 at 02:42 AM
If all that you say was so true, WHY do teachers refuse merit pay rather than a pay system that says all teachers are equal and therefore must be paid on an inflexibile scale ? WHY doesn't the NEA realize that there is only so much money in the public sector and we cannot keep paying for everything ? Why can't a teacher pay an equal amount to their retirment and health care than the rest of us ? and WHY is it that the BOE deceided that we should vote for new members in November and take away my ability to vote on the school budget ? Further Q and Kelly C. how come you cannot provide me with a way of quantifing the bull which was presneted above on how to grade 4th and 5th graders ?
Kelly C September 27, 2012 at 02:52 AM
John, I hear what you are saying and as I said I am well aware that there are serious problems with the system on many levels. And I have yet to see how this whole grading system will turn out...I don't understand it yet but plan to stay on top if it. For now I am telling my 5th grader that I will be calculating his scores on a traditional letter based system A-F even if the school does not. :)
John A. Unglert September 27, 2012 at 03:12 AM
I just want some answers on what "end of year indicators" are ? And then how do you assign a "value" to it ? And then how do you caculate a students end score ? AND what is the statiscal basis for this system. This system as presented is worthless and completely stupid. It is more of someones thesis than of a means determined grading system. AND, to myself, it seems more a dodge to make all teachers and students seem "great" and thus the teachers and then follows that we earn our keep. Grading on subjectives is crazy and can never determine a students progress. Say, I KNOW, we give them all a trophy ! Students AND teachers, then we can sing. This is nothing more than liberal-progressive clap-trap.
Kelly C September 27, 2012 at 03:30 AM
That is my fear, that we are headed down that road...
Gary Rabinowitz September 27, 2012 at 02:07 PM
@ Lisa Ciolino Ambrose -- you are right -- apologies for getting that wrong.
Gary Rabinowitz September 27, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Good questions and issues -- @ Kelly C: agree with you that teachers deserve our respect and appreciation. The issue of whether we as a society can afford to pay teachers (and I'd add police, firemen, other gov't positions) defined benefit pensions and generous (relative to private sector) health benefits and job security is a bone of contention, however. What's your 2 cents on this? With all due respect to Ms. Anspach, I do question what her position is and whether or not it is truly needed. Interestingly, she held a similar position in Ridgewood and was let go because of budget cutbacks. I believe her salary is a matter of public record and is in the 6 digits. @ John A. Unglert -- I respectfully disagree with you (and many Republicans') position on "merit pay." THis is a big issue in Chicago -- fact is, teachers try to educate difficult to impossible segments of the population. This issue is too sprawling & complex for a patch comments forum (needless to say). Areas where this merit and testing has been tried seems to fail b/c 1) students are taught for the test, or 2) outright fraud (like in Houston, TX or Philadelphia). I tend to agree with you that many of the new methods are "thesis" and our kids tend to be lab rats for the latest teaching innovation or fad. Oh well, a topic for another time. Cheers. -GXR
John A. Unglert September 27, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Mr. Rabinowitz - I cannot disagree with your comment. I am really for almost any pay system than we have now. I will never believe that all teachers are equal and thus deserve equal pay for time in grade. In the military I can understand this, as a teacher I cannot. I will also disagree on teaching for a test. A really good teacher would be confident in their methods that they would have no reason to. As a business person, if I had a less than adeqaute employee he would out on his butt, rapidly, and the converse is true, a great employee would be suitably rewarded. As we do now. And I have a foreign staff which is great to work with as a result. I am also against the payments we must make for health care and retirement. In the words of Mr. Obama, teachers should pay their fair share, just as I must. And yes I will hold the police is a seperate catagory, for they work under many hazardous conditions, swing shifts, and basically a constant threat of injury in a patrol car. So police, fire and DPW are different and require different scales. I think, for me, it all this crap we get from the "staff" with these dunderheaded concepts of teaching. Someone does a thesis and there ya go an "new" method, with no statisical back up of qaulity of true efficacy (sp). And Wyckoff seems to be smack in the middle of this once again. You cannot quanify "teacher support", at least the math universe I live it.
Ed September 28, 2012 at 03:27 AM
I am so happy that John Unglert does not teach English and/or writing composition to our children!!! The word "and" is a conjunction which means that it CONNECTS two parts(thoughts) of a sentence; as a conjunction, it can NEVER be used to START a sentence. In comment #1, John used it incorrectly once; in comments #3, #4 and #5, also once. In comment #6, he incorrectly used "and" to start a sentence 4 times! As if those mistakes weren't enough, in comment #2, He wrote "...we're DOIN it..." What the heck is doin???? In comment #3, he started a NEW PARAGRAPH with the word "and." In paragraph #4, he states that he has helped a lot of doctoral candidates with their thesis. That would be correct if all of the students he helped worked together on the same thesis; if, however, they each did their own then he helped them with their THESES, which happens to be the plural form of the word. In comment #7, he stated that "A really good teacher would be confident in their methods..." Wrong! A good teacher (singular) would be confident in his or her (singular) methods Good teachers (plural) would be confident in their (plural) methods. It is also not correct to end a sentence with a preposition (to) as he ended his ffirst paragraph. Kelly C., I agree with what you said about slamming the whole profession; every industry has rotten apples. What I disagree with is that you also, in comment #2, started a sentence with the infamous "and."
John A. Unglert September 28, 2012 at 05:52 AM
Just my point. I am a product of the Wyckoff School System and Ramapo.
John A. Unglert September 28, 2012 at 05:54 AM
Ed must be a liberal/progressive. Attack the person not the problem. The typical way it is done - :)
Ed September 29, 2012 at 12:05 AM
As usual, wrong again John! I am definitely not liberal and do not think that all progress is good. I was just pointing out errors that I was taught in 3rd & 4th grades back in elementary school back in the 1950s and find it incredulous that some teachers, whose responsibility it is to educate, haven't even mastered basic English themselves. I have no doubt that you are a qualified and good math teacher because of Ramapo's reputation for academics; I just wish that while learning math, young students listen to the spoken words and could possibly pick up bad speaking habits. As for the changing of the grading system, I don't shiv a git! It doesn't concern me either way. It is interesting to see though how many people are complaining but it will be more interesting to see how the BOE reacts to the concerns of the "employers." Have a good and productive school year!!!!!
John A. Unglert September 29, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Actually Mr. Ed. I am not a teacher.
Ed September 29, 2012 at 10:06 AM
Oops!!!!!!
Q September 29, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Hope I'm not too late to chime in...Merit pay, based on test scores, is a very bad idea. Even the best teachers may succumb to "cheating" when their bread and butter relies upon Joey, with the crackhead mother, to make the proficiency level on the test and continue to make gains year after year. Standardized test scores are directly related to socio economic factors. Take our teachers and put them in inner city Newark and the Newark test results won't be any better. Bring the Newark teachers to Wyckoff and the scores will be the same. Our standardized test scores will have some minor ups and downs, but for the most part, they will always be as good as our poverty level is low. It's extremely rare to have a school outperform it's educational reference group (towns with similar socio economic status). Let's not encourage the teachers to teach to the test more than they already do by insisting upon merit pay related to standardized test scores. Regarding letter grades versus a number system at the local level: It doesn't matter. A number system style report card is fine to determine if a student is learning the material; actually, the style is more detailed than a letter grade. Written comments are especially helpful as well as conferences with the teacher(s) to understand how a student is performing.
Kelly C September 29, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Ed, this is, at least for me, more of an informal type discussion forum. I am well aware that sentences do not start with "and." In situations such as these, I write more as if I am speaking, you know, having a conversation. That is why I did and will continue to have some of these types of "errors" when I add comments to articles and such. I think many people would agree. I try to focus on the content of the message and I think most people get the point. However, if you want to judge my writing skills based on this small sample, you are free to do so. Glad to hear you are on board with me about not slamming all of our teachers.
Randall B October 01, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Sure sounds like somebody is trying to figure our how to make our kids feel better about themselves. The convoluted answer to why we are doing this is pure spin. I still don't see how 1,2,3,4 is better than A, B, C, D, F. By the way shouldn't the new system be 1, 2, 3, 4, 5? What number is the equivalent of F? I also wonder why parents found out about a major change like this at back to school night. The board and administration say they want open dialog with parents but this came down as an edict not a discussion. Wyckoff residents pay a lot of taxes and they deserve to be heard before decisions are made not after. I am also curious about the overall direction of our strategic initiatives regarding education. Is Wyckoff trying to become the great experimenter in school reform? I seem to remember last year that the PTO wasted ten thousand dollars on a quack who recommended that we drop homework. What is next?

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