Common Core standards explained

Parents hear about new grading system

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Oct 13, 2013
Photo by: Sarah E. Reynolds Parents and community members listen to Principal Paul Russo explain the new system of standards-based grading at Lincolnville Central School Wednesday, Oct. 9.

Lincolnville — Principal Paul Russo explained the new system of performance-based assessment to parents of students in third- through eighth-grade at Lincolnville Central School Oct. 9.

The system, implemented last year for students in kindergarten through second-grade, is based on Common Core State Standards already adopted by 45 states and mandated by Maine law.

Russo made a detailed, two-hour presentation of the new approach, explaining the rationale behind it and the intended results. Some of the main differences under the new system are that students will be expected to apply what they have learned more than in the past, and grading will be used to show students and their parents more specifically where the student should focus or might need extra help.

"The standards present a much clearer understanding of what students need to know and be able to do," Russo said.

He added assessments, via tests and other means, will specifically measure what students know and can do, and grades will show how well students are meeting the standards, rather than comparing students’ performance to their peers’.

The new standards are intended, Russo told parents and community members, to improve student achievement and help students gain the skills they need for success in college, careers and life.

Working together, school officials in Appleton, Hope and Lincolnville agreed on certain Common Core standards they believed were essential. They reviewed all the standards, asking which ones had lasting value, were useful in many disciplines and were required for learning at the next level. Those that were deemed to meet all three criteria were considered essential, Russo explained.

He passed out sample progress reports for different grades showing the standards by which students will be graded. For example, in seventh-grade language arts, students will receive a mark on 25 standards divided into four sub-categories: reading, writing, speaking and listening and language.

Similarly, seventh-grade mathematics has 24 standards divided into five sub-categories: numbers and operations: the number system, ratios and proportional relationships, geometry, statistics and probability and expressions and equations.

For each standard, students will receive a numerical assessment from 1 to 4. A 1 means that with help, the student of some of the simple and complex details and processes taught in class. A 2 means the student makes no major errors or omissions regarding the simpler details and processes, but does make major errors or omissions regarding the complex details and processes. A 3 means the student makes no major errors or omissions regarding any of the information or processes explicitly taught in class. A 4 means the student's performance exceeds level 3, adding in-depth inferences and applications that go beyond what was taught in class.

Russo said level 3 indicates proficiency with a given standard, and that is the level the school is aiming for with all students. Learning will be measured, not just at the end of a trimester, but along the way, so that students, teachers and parents know where to focus their efforts.

The new standards also call for increasing the rigor of instruction, requiring students to think more deeply and demonstrate the ability to apply what they have learned in class to real-world problems, Russo said.

During his presentation, he gave an example of increasing rigor: Instead of a test requiring simple "true" or "false" answers, the teacher might give a test asking students to mark as true those statements they believed were true, and re-write the ones they believed were false so the statements were true.

Measurements of student achievement are made using rubrics, tools that specify the criteria to be used in determining whether a student has met a particular standard. Rubrics do not dictate how testing or assessment should occur, but they ensure that grades are consistent, accurate, meaningful and supportive of learning, Russo explained.

One topic on the minds of those in attendance was how students would move up to the next grade.

"Is there ever a point where a kid fails a grade?" asked one woman.

Russo said rather than failing a student, teachers should "teach and re-teach, chunk [class material] down into smaller parts until they get it. If failure's an option, people will use it."

Replying to a similar question from another parent, he said, "I'll be honest with you about retention. There isn't a bit of evidence that supports it."

In closing, Russo acknowledged that the new system, "is a work in progress for us," with rubrics and standards subject to revision based on experience.

He added his staff has worked hard to understand the theory behind the new system, and to implement it well, even instituting a program last year to improve writing instruction in all grades.

"I couldn't be prouder of our staff. I'm amazed at how much they've done and how much they're willing to do."

Courier Publications reporter Sarah Reynolds can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at

Comments (7)
Posted by: Lisa Cooley | Oct 18, 2013 14:12

Yes, kids do have to do stuff they don't care about sometimes. I do it, you do it, we all do. But is that a good enough reason to build an entire education system around making sure kids are learning stuff they don't care about? Stuff and nonsense. It's a well-established fact that all humans learn best the stuff that they are really interested in. So let's start there: what what kids are intrinsically, even passionately, interested in. Along the way, OF COURSE they will do stuff that's more tiresome, even more boring. I make glass beads, I love it, I design jewelry, and my least favorite part of the process is cleaning the beads after I make them. Boring and tedious. I do it because it's part of a process that I love and I CHOSE TO DO IT. When we do boring stuff as adults, we do it because there's some payoff; there's something we get out of it. Independence. A sense of autonomy. A paycheck. But we don't seem to feel like kids have the same motivations or need satisfaction in what they are doing. They do! They are just like you and me. When we are unhappy, we try to make changes in our lives so that we can be more happy. Unfortunately, kids don't have that kind of power over their lives, and too many grownups are too happy to say, "You're a kid, do what your told, we know better than you do."

I don't know about you, but I want schools to be full of kids who are happily learning. And I'm willing to take a look at the system and make the changes necessary to make that happen.

Posted by: KERYN LAITE | Oct 17, 2013 07:32

As a parent of a child in this school system, I attended the informational meeting a year ago, but not this most recent one, my concerns still stand that at what point will these children be taught how to study so they can progress in this new system successfully at their own to speak. it just seems that there will be less individual attention for development which I think is a risk.  JMO

Posted by: wendy c kasten | Oct 16, 2013 16:29

The individual who said the stats on retention are poor is correct! Students who have been retained once only are 50% likely to graduate. Students who have been retained twice, have almost NO chance of graduating. Anything we can do to unravel the traditional industrialized model of education, around which most of our schools are structures are based, will go a long way to treat our children like the valuable individuals they are.

Dr. Wendy C. Kasten


Professor Emerita, Kent State University

Posted by: Susan Sinclair | Oct 15, 2013 10:57

Kids are going to have to learn things they "don't care about" for the rest of their lives. Even people who own their own businesses have to learn boring things. Welcome to life. It's dangerous to teach kids that they can goof off just because they're not passionate about something.

Posted by: Lisa Cooley | Oct 15, 2013 08:14

If failure to learn something kids don't care about is an option, yes, kids will use it. I used it. That's one thing about the traditional system: it lets kids say, "I don't care. I'd rather have an F than care." It's power of sorts and now it's taken away.

If a teacher forces a kid to continue trying to learn something they don't care about, that's educational malpractice. What about helping kids develop their interests and passions? Seems a simple expedient to induce kids not to "fail."

Standards-based grading without a sincere and thorough system of developing children's passions and interests is just plain torture.

Posted by: GAIL HAWES | Oct 14, 2013 20:53

I heard a comment from a teacher: If this new grading system is so great, then why did the Dept. of Education give all our schools and grade from A to F?

Posted by: April Small | Oct 14, 2013 06:20

Do not be fooled parents... We in RSU 3 have been "Transitioning" to the Common Core for 4 years now and it is NOT as straight forward as they make it sound. And the grades themselves are a joke. Students tend to get to the level of 3 or what is deemed "proficient" or learning at teacher pace and if they are the kind of student that would normally be a B and C student they don't even try to go that extra to receive the 4. And students that would normally be an A and occasional B student have to work in many cases twice as hard. And you will learn that many students in that position will almost become resentful that they must do so. So make sure that you stay informed this is a deceiving system... not like the 1 through 4 system that you would generally associate with college grading.

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Sarah Reynolds
Sarah E. Reynolds is copy editor for the Courier Gazette and Camden Herald.
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Sarah E. Reynolds has been a reporter and writer for more than 20 years, winning awards from the Maine Press Association and other professional organizations. She loves to read, ride her ATV and play word games.

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