State Senator John Ruckelshaus Talks About Education in Indiana

State Senator John Ruckelshaus held a public phone call today (April 16th) to talk about the impact of the coronavirus on education and the schools in Indiana. The call included two others along with the senator, Jason Bearce the Indiana Chamber Education Policy Director and Joel Hand the Executive Director of Indiana Coalition of Public Schools. All three talked about the impact the virus and the shut down are having on education within the state of Indiana and upon the schools. I took a number of notes during the meeting, which I presented here.

Prior to Jumping into Education….

Prior to jumping into the core topic of education in Indiana, Senator Ruckelshaus mentioned a few of the things happening within Indiana related to Covid-19.

  • The governor’s office had announced that many Marion County and state companies were converting their production over to make ventilators and personal protection equipment (PPE).
  • He indicated that the discussions around the state are starting to pivot towards opening the state.
  • He mentioned that schools in Indiana had moved to virtual only – meaning they are not meeting in the buildings, but rather doing eLearning or providing packets for kids to do work at home.
  • About 20 executive orders have been issued by Gov Holcomb. Two of these are education related. The education related orders include a variety of things, some of which are a little more mundane such as focusing on bus inspections and other topics.

Jason Bearce is the Vice President of Education and Workforce Development at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, which is a role where he advocates for k-12 workforce issues among other things. The senator introduced Jason, who in turn talked about what he is seeing happening in the area of education in Indiana and the impact of the virus.

Focusing on Schools and Education….

  • The overall theme on the executive orders that impacted schools and education was to provide maximum flexibility to the districts and as much local control as possible.
  • Meeting the 180-day minimum requirement was a state regulation that was going to be hard to meet. For that reason, 20 days had been waived from the calendar. It was stated, however, that 20 instructional or eLearning days were still needed between the March announcement and the end of the year.  (Note: this is what I heard stated, but depending on individual schools, 160 days seems to be the new target for the year).
    • Some schools are well equipped and have things such as one-to-one devices. Even though these schools are well equipped, they weren’t necessarily prepared to do the level of eLearning or off-site school that the closing of the school buildings caused. Schools that didn’t have devices on hand are doing things such as handing out packets of learning materials or taking different approaches.
    • Many requirements for schools have been loosened or delayed. This includes teacher evaluations, testing, and more.
    • Impact on traditional experiences has been an issue. Things such as High School graduations, and other ‘school experiences’ have been impacted.
    • If seniors were on track when they March orders were given, then per the governor, they’ve pretty much met what they need to for High School – barring any local requirements.
    • Exit exams and such for college credit or dual credits are being worked on as well. The state is working with colleges to make sure that the credits are there and work. They are trying to make this as seamless as possible.
    • Schools are in all sorts of different places as to what schooling looks like. Schools are required to submit a continuous learning plan to the state, which is due tomorrow. These plans should be looking at what can be done between now and the end of the school year as well as looking at the summer and next fall. This information will be used by policy makers to make decisions.
  • Parents have been challenged including single parent families. To some degree, the education system is not designed for extended periods of remote learning. Except for virtual schools, eLearning was set up as a stopgap and a fill-in. It was to cover for a couple of days of bad weather, not long-term learning. The long-term use of eLearning has been a burden put on parents.


The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security act provided two sets of funding to the state.

The first part of the funding is being distributed across the states and to schools based on formulas. This is roughly a $215 million distributed to schools by formula grants. The formula uses things such as Title 1 and other programs to determine distribution.  ESL, Free and Reduce lunches, and other standard funding items are used in the formulas. As such, schools with more diverse and at-risk kids will get more of funds. 

There is information available on internet including an estimate of what districts will get. Some examples given include Indianapolis Public Schools, which are at the high-end and will get around $22 million. Washington Township should get around $2.4 million. Lawrence Township is getting about $3.4 million. Wayne Township is getting about $4.5 million.

Some of the suburban schools will get a lot less. For example, Carmel is getting about $224,000. Hamilton Southeastern will get about $334,000. Zionsville is slated for only about $64,000.  This is all driven almost exclusively by population and formulas.

A second set or pot of money is also being made available. Governors have funds for emergency support grants. Indiana is expected to get about $60 million to distribute between K-12 and higher education. State lawmakers will figure out the allocation of these funds. No further details were given on this at this meeting.

The Importance of Schools

The crisis has shown how important the public schools are across the state. Schools have stepped up to the plate to provide for the needs of their students

  • Most schools have some PPE equipment, which has been provided to them. Many schools are donating the supplies to their local hospitals. For example, Hamilton Southeastern has donated thousands of items to Community Hospitals.
  • Schools are helping to provide food to students in need of food. Many are doing this via pick-ups, drop offs, and even a few doing delivery.]

Distance Learning

  • There is a wide disparity across the state on what is available for distance learning. In rural areas where internet is not as prevalent or robust, packets are being sent home.
  • In some cases, schools are purchasing large quantities of computers to distribute to students.
  • A lot of concerns have been vocalized by parents and their ability to help the students. Some teachers and staff have stepped up to provide one-on-one help as well as coming up with other solutions.
  • In some cases, schools and libraries are extending their internet WiFi so that it reaches there parking lots. This allows parents and students to come to the school parking lot to get access to the internet.

Additional Comments

  • One of the important comments made was that currently, the government doesn’t expect any serious cuts in K-12 funding.
  • There is a Covid-19 page on the Indiana government site ( that has a great deal of information on how the Department of Education is responding to the Covid-19 situation. There is an FAQ page.
  • Dr. McCormick, Indiana state Superintendent of Public Instruction, is doing weekly webinars with school leaders. 
  • The Indiana State Board Association (ISBA) also has a resource page for parents, teachers, students and others at This includes links to frequently asked questions and other resources.

“The digital divide”

They are looking to try to track and document where the digital divide is prevalent within Indiana. This is not just in the rural areas, but also in urban areas where there are low income families.

Learning loss is a serious concern for this period of time, especially for those students that were already behind before the pandemic. This crisis has illuminated some of the educational inequities happening across the state. Some of this is a result of the challenges such as location (rural vs urban) and the ability to recruit teachers, and more. Geography, however, shouldn’t be the determining factor of what is available for students. Finding where gaps are will help in providing fixes going forward.

There are new opportunities for private / public learning opportunities. Innovation is happening in this area. While there is a lot of uncertainty, there is also a lot of creativity happening. There is opportunity for providing a more dynamic educational experience in the future.

How to Discuss and Do eLearning

The real power of education is a hybrid of eLearning and in-class

Online learning will never replace the quality of face-to-face education in the classrooms with teachers. During this time, we must make do and do the best with what we have.

State legislation and policies are working to drive more resources to do things such as driving more internet bandwidth to the urban and low-income areas. This will help us be better prepared in the future if such events like this happen again.

There needs to be meaningful teacher instruction and meaningful student learning. It will be interesting to see how the state responds to those students that might e falling behind. There will be some learning gaps due to the eLearning, so it will be interesting to see how the state steps up to help with the remediation.

Student Remediation

According to the Senator, remediation is not necessarily top at mind, but as we emerge out of this, remediation services will have to be a focal point. There are line items in the state budget to help with the cost of remediation.

There was a lot more state resource targeting remediation in the past (15 years ago or so). We are not likely to have summer schools this year, so that’s going to impact remediation services. There might be a need to provide these services remotely. Schools will have to figure out how to transition to the remote and online services for remediation over the summer.

About the Fall….

Only thing the senator is hearing is that schools are preparing a contingency plan in the case that the pandemic continues through summer months.  It is only contingency planning with the hope that schools will open.

It was emphasized that no decisions have been made at the state level to not start school at its normal time.

Things being discussed regarding opening schools include smaller class sizes, kids wearing masks, and more separation.

What is the new normal? Would kids need to have their temperatures taken when they come to school? Would they wear masks? These are being discussed, but nothing is decided. The focus is on protecting kids, teachers, and others and preventing the additional spread of the virus.

Marion County needs to be locked down until at least the end of the month. Other counties are behind on the curve and need longer. The state doesn’t have all the answers and likely not even all the questions at this time. They don’t have what is needed to be able to make a lot of decisions. Some of the areas in southern Indiana have had low-to-no cases, which is different from areas like Marion county.

There is a lot to be determined.

Q&A From the Phone Call

The meeting was opened to Q&A from those on the call. The following are my notes from the Q&A comments:

Question >> What is the point in time that decisions for the fall have to be made? 

Early to mid-June is likely the time point. Some schools start in July, and schools need time to ramp up. This is evolving and changing situation. Schools and state leaders have to be nimble in planning head. The data is being evaluated, and the governor has been good at not making any definitive statements because of the status of things.

Question >> How much time and money would Indiana save if they cut back on testing next year as well and only did what was federally mandated?  (Questioner commented that testing wasn’t happening so much when they were in school and asked about more project-based learning and such.)

Philosophically, there is a balance between testing, project-based instructions, and teaching. Indiana doesn’t really test any more than what the federal government requires. One annual assessment for English and Math is what the state and fed require. Additional testing is done at the local level and is not required by the state.

In regard to costs, about $30 million is development and administering testing. The state would lose about $750 million in Federal funding if we pulled out testing.

We need to have a system of consistent measures to be able to inform policy makers, teachers, and parents, but we also need flexibility for schools to be able innovate in flexible learning.

Joel responded that hundreds of millions are spent on testing on testing each year. The state used to spend more money on remediation than on testing. Now it appears more is spent on testing than on remediation. By necessity, we are going to have to spend more on remediation.

Because of tests being waived, teachers have been freed at this time to do more creative teaching.

Question>> Early and speculative information says that projections don’t look good. With a budget session is just around the corner, what is going to happen to school funding?

Some of the backfill federal money (?) should help with the k-12 education funding. The state doesn’t really know what revenue (“intake”) will be coming. Sales tax is the number one source of income to Indiana, so and they don’t know the impact that its decrease will be on overall revenue. Gaming was the fourth highest income stream for the state, and it has been basically shut down. It is likely to be third or fourth quarter before the leadership has an idea of what numbers are going to look like.

Joel commented that there is a real issue regarding state revenue. Most recent revenue numbers showed how much income the state was already expected to lose. With State shifting education funding towards sales tax with the cap having been placed on property taxes, there is going to be a hit to funds with a downturn of the economy.

Education never really recouped the dollars form the last recession, so people are concerned. The senator stated that the governor currently has no plans to cut k-12 funding next year. If k-12 education is a priority, then it should stay at or close to what it is; however, it is to be determined based on what revenue happens, so it is too early to know at this time.

The senator stated that the main goal is to keep the funding at the level it was recently set to. The state has a $2 billion + rainy day fund – and this seems to be a rainy day.

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Knocking It Out of the Park: 2019 HSE Foundation Fall Grants

One of the many things the Hamilton Southeastern Schools Foundation does for the HSE School district is provide grants to teacher and staff. This year has continued this service by funding 31 projects across 18 schools and the district. Specifically, the foundation funded 10 elementary school projects, 12 in the intermediate and junior high schools, 6 in the high schools, 1 in the academy and 2 for the district.

The themes for these projects range from areas of mental improvements such as mindfulness to technological areas such as Virtual Reality and to other areas such as culture, STEM, robotics, wellness, podcasting, and so much more.

The foundation presented a list of the projects to the school board that includes the teacher, school, topic, and number of students impacted. Because I couldn’t find an easy link to this document, I’m including what was posted on the School Board BoardDoc’s agenda below. It’s an impressive list of projects and a good reason to provide support to the Foundation!


Marcia Abraham (FCE) Mindful Music

Student Impact: 600

“Mindful Music” is a program to combine music and tactile manipulatives to create mindfulness. Mindfulness is a tool that can be used every day to reduce negative emotions and stress, help focus and tune out distractions, Music has a powerful impact on our moods and emotions. Tactile manipulatives decrease stress, increase focus and concentration, and improve fine motor skills. The goal of combining both of these into “Mindful Music” is to create tools for students to regulate their emotions, manage their stress more effectively and decrease anxiety.

Laurie Boykin (FCI): Innovative Sphero STEM Units

Student Impact: 900

The Sphero STEM challenge project will empower students to develop scientific thinking through creative problem solving and authentic collaboration. Spheros can be used to inspire creativity because they can be used in seemingly endless ways, and students develop critical 21st century skills. The Sphero project is innovative because it starts with specific engineering design challenges and progresses to student-created challenges.

Lindsey Bradshaw (HIJH): Birds Galore!

Student Impact: 12

This real-life experience will give our FAP students the knowledge of what birds are around them, what they eat, and how they interact with their environments. The key objective for this project is to provide our FAP kids with a way to connect to the outdoors even when it’s cold out, to participate in Citizen Science Projects with people all over the world, and get to dissect something like their peers in the general education program. This will enhance their student experience because we see how much they like to build, take apart, observe, document, and apply their learning.

Heather Butz (SCI): Let’s Go eVRywhere!

Student Impact: 50

Students will use Oculus Quest virtual reality devices to explore and interact with places throughout the world and history. From the Acropolis and Parthenon in Ancient Greece, to the Colosseum in Ancient Rome to the construction of Notre Dame in Medieval Europe to touring Anne Frank’s house during the Holocaust…the destinations and connections are endless!

Janet Chandler (HSEHS): Civics Education/We The People

Student Impact: 61

Student experiential learning would be enhanced by this grant as it goes to defray cost of programming in civic education. We the People is a co-curricular program to encourage civil discourse and civic engagement.

Lauren Doran (SCI): Connect Classroom to World

Student Impact: 110

This project leverages video conferencing technology to build global partnerships to help students to build empathy, understand and appreciate cultural diversity, and understand global issues. Global connections with other classrooms allows students to connect with others through shared literacy experiences and project-based learning. Students can build relationships and find their place in the world by traveling virtually anywhere on the globe without ever leaving our classroom.

Maria Dorsel (HIJH): Learning-To Infinity and Beyond

Student Impact: 1200

The project is directly related to the science standards as they relate to Space Science and STEM. Revolve around the sun and explore the planets! Discover space history and important STEM concepts. Bring the universe to students with this brightly colored map that illustrates the inner and outer planets, a portion of the sun, orbital paths and a timeline.

Erin Duros (DES): DES HUB

Student Impact: 375

A library should be the hub of a school where there are opportunities and tools available to meet the needs of our diverse learners. The space goes beyond checking out books and instead should be a place for innovative change. These seven design studios within the library becomes a gathering space for collaboration, innovation, and authentic learning opportunities.

Jeff Fronius (FHS): Engineering Class Modernization

Student Impact: 400

This project incorporates four current technology robot brains and associated controllers and sensors for teams of students to learn through robotics. The learning will include programming for machine control, control feedback loops, and kinematics. This new equipment will help keep up with changes in technology and increased interest in engineering classes at Fishers High School, which are at the highest enrollment in the school’s history.

Johanna Gianforte (FHS): Making an Imprint on Society

Student Impact: 65

Printmaking is an innovative artform dating back to 105 A.D. with modern applications used in many forms including amongst graphic design companies. This new class will be a valuable resource to students hoping to pursue a career in visual arts. These new gelli plates will help with the instruction of monotype printmaking, one of the first more introductory types of printmaking.

Madeline Hennessy (FJH/HIJH): A Natural Approach to French

Student Impact: 93

The CI classroom methods deepen student learning and open more doors for our learners down the road by making the classroom a more fun and engaging place. Through student voice and student choice, these students will be prepared to enter the world as global citizens, developing abilities that will prepare them to make connections with people around the world.

Kristin Hicks and Finae Rent (CRE): CRE Sharing Bookshelves

Student Impact: 570

Through a Global Goals project, students collaborated to set up a Little Free Library outside of CRE as well as some local neighborhoods. These Little Free Libraries will house books that can be borrowed, traded, owned or replaced by any children that want or need a new book to read.

John Hochstetler (RSI): Drone On

Student Impact: 500

Students will learn coding with drones by creating a safe enclosed environment using the 9 Square in the Air Game Equipment. Netting will be added to the frame of the game and obstacles will be added to increase the challenge level.

Jennifer Jacks (SCE): Get Your Mind Ready

Student Impact: 678

The Mind Yeti program is designed to help children practice mindfulness. Mindfulness, a subset of social-emotional skills currently being taught through the Second Steps program, helps improve student attention, perspective taking and empathy, increase sharing and including others, and helps decrease aggression and signs of depression. Utilizing Mind Yeti for all students K-4 at SCE will lead students and staff through sessions which are designed to help children practice mindfulness.

Johanna Kitchell (RJH): Going the Distance with Healthy Hawks

Student Impact: 85

This project will add a way for students who don’t otherwise have a phone or smartwatch app to actually track their running distance and empower them to take more control of their training. Adding these pedometers also provides opportunities for student equity and access in training.

Sara Larkins, Brittany Sugg, Erin Mohr (FES): You Belong Here Buddy Bench

Student Impact: 7,913

This project will create, design, and build buddy benches for any HSE elementary school that currently doesn’t have one. A buddy bench is a place you go when you need a friend at recess. If a peer sees someone on the buddy bench, they might come and ask that student to play. This will encourage everyone to feel welcome and like they belong!

Amy McDuffee (SCE): Microscopes for iPads

Student Impact: 650

These mini microscopes that attach to iPads will help students observe flowers and leaves in the SCE garden with a detailed viewpoint and take pictures of these observations. Students can learn a lot from being able to see the intricate details of a natural object when viewed under magnification. The microscopes will do much to influence their view of the world they cannot see with the naked eye and combine science and art with mindful observation.

Amy Murch (Conner Prairie Teacher-in-Residence): Classroom Connections for Adventures on the Prairie

Student Impact: 1,700

This project will help extend the learning experiences of all fourth grade HSE students created while at Conner Prairie travel back to the classrooms. These kits will encourage students to ignite a curiosity and wonder prior to visiting Conner Prairie and the outdoor classroom. Students from all over the district will be able to connect, reflect, challenge and spark a natural connection with fellow 4th grade students.

Todd Niswander (CRE): Rigamajig Workshop

Student Impact: 600

Rigamajig Workshop is a large-scale wooden building kit for open-ended cooperative play and exploration. Rigamajig encourages curiosity and cognitive thinking through play utilizing wooden planks, nuts and bolts. Students will be creators, using their imagination, to build structures and simple machines from the Rigamajig materials. Through collaboration, students will practice and develop problem solving, communication, teamwork, and adaptability.

Kayla Pippenger (FCI): Traveling the World to Create Cultural Awareness

Student Impact: 167

Humanities class interweaves reading, writing workshops, social emotional learning, and social studies. Virtual reality headsets will allow interactive movement and allow for students to view places and things all over the world in 3D, enhancing cultural understanding, global awareness, and historical awareness in our classrooms. These headsets also allow teachers new ways to present works of literature and related topics.

Jennifer Regelski (HSEHS): Integrated Chemistry and Physics on Mars-a PBL Approach

Student Impact: 140

Students will work in collaborative teams in a project-based learning environment. The students will be tasked with setting up a colony on Mars and will need to use problem-solving and critical thinking skills to complete various tasks and challenges centered around the physics and chemistry standards that are traditionally taught in Integrated Chemistry and Physics.

Bob Rice (HSE Energy Manager): Renewable Energy Interactive Display

Student Impact: 22,000

Kids and adults can light up a model of the electric grid using hydropower, wind, and solar generation. This interactive mobile power lab will potentially put renewable power generation into the hands of all 22,000 students of Hamilton Southeastern.

Allie Rogowski, Heather Skaggs, Carolyn Porzuczek (BSE): Imagineering an Animatronic Robot

Student Impact: 75

Students will rally together to build their own robots from scratch. The students will design, build with recycled materials, and completely wire and code their own unique robot. Using this inquiry driven process, students will develop real world skills, as well as deepen their understanding of academic content.

Amanda Scott (HFA): The Academy Wellness Education Program

Student Impact: 135

Substance and vaping use is a growing problem among students. Through this class, students will learn more about common substances being used, healthy coping mechanisms, and ways to help both themselves and those around them.

Leah Ann Self (HSEHS): Create, Enhance, and Innovate with Cricut

Student Impact: 150

Cricut use is limitless and will help enhance student learning by creating projects and posters for the classroom as well as for group assignments within Fashion and Textiles courses. Students will be able to see their innovations on the computer become reality as they learn how to manufacture and enhance their designs.

Kelly Steiner (FES): Building Community Through Sensory Opportunities

Student Impact: 416

This project promotes authentic play, inquiry, collaborative and problem-solving opportunities aligned with HSE21 through a sand exploration table. With the power of a child’s imagination the sand table can be an archeological dig, a bakery, an art studio, and an experiment on friction at the same time.

Robyn Stout (SCI): Robotics for ALL Students!

Student Impact: 945

The STEM curriculum provided by Vex-IQ can be weaved into many of the curriculum areas but not limited to language arts, math, science, and computer science. Robots and arenas will support whole class activities as well as the robotics team.

Emily Stout (RSI): RSI Podcasting Cart

Student Impact: 1,000

Podcasting stations will be available for students to script, create and record their own podcasts based on current curricular needs and eventually moving on to student created podcasts based on interests.

Jessica Sullivan (FCI): Finding Coherence: Connecting Heart, Mind, and Emotions

Student Impact: 30

Using the Smart Brain Wise Heart™ program in conjunction with the advanced emWave® technology, students will be able to actually see how their body is responding in both moments of stress and calm. This curriculum will allow staff members to provide a targeted intervention to students who have high needs in areas such as emotional dysregulation, impulse control, or anxiety.

Sarah Tappendorf (SES): Environment as a Third Teacher: Let Me Explore the World Outside

Student Impact: 56

This field study and provocation kit will allow students to use the environment outside the classroom walls as a third teacher, giving them an authentic opportunity to engage and explore nature. Students with all types of learning styles will be able to share their findings via note-taking, sketching, researching, and presentations.

Benjamin Wyss (FHS): Wireless Stylus

Student Impact: 1,500

The student experience will be enhanced through the efficiency of the teacher going through the lesson with this stylus. Due to the increase in efficiency, teachers will have more time during class to help students that may need extra attention at the conclusion of the lesson.

HSEF 2019 Grants

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Should HSE Flip Start Times?

The following are slides presented to the HSE School board on January 15, 2020 regarding the idea of flipping start times of the various schools in the district.

The data was collected via comments on the HSE website between November 20th, 2019 and December 20th. There were 1840 total comments, which were read and compiled by the HSE Administration team.











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Here is a link to the 3-tier busing proposal as well. The link on BoardDocs uses spaces, so it doesn’t always work. This is a temporary link from my site (here). At some point I might remove it.

Is There Equitable Grading in Our Schools?

What is the purpose of the grades that a child receives in a class at school? What do the grades on a child’s report card represent and what can you assume from that grade? What ramifications happen to a child as a result of the grades they receive? More importantly, are the grades received fair and equitable?

These are critically important questions for our schools.

Simply put, if grading is not equitable, then recognitions such as honor roll, valedictorians, and rankings within classes become erroneous at best. It is possible that a child could learn more yet earn a lower grade than other kids that learned less but ended up with a higher grade. In some situations, a child could fail or even be required to retake a class simply because their teacher graded more strictly than other teachers.

I’m in a somewhat unique position to look at the issue of equity in grading. I have twins that take a lot of the same classes but have had different teachers. This provides insights into many of the questions that I’ve listed above. In a few cases, what has been seen has been concerning, so much so that I’ve raised concerns with teachers, principals, and even the administration within our school district.

The Purpose of a Grade

It is interesting to discuss the purpose of a grade with people in the education profession. The perspective on topics such as grading scales can elicit strong opinions.

Ultimately grades are intended to assess a child’s understanding of a topic. Having said that, there are questions that arise. One of the core questions is whether a grade reflect the child’s understanding of the topic when they’ve completed a grading period, or should the grade reflect the child’s understanding of the topic throughout the learning of a topic.

While most people I talk to indicate that a grade should reflect whether the child learned a topic, in most cases, that is not what a grade is shows. Rather the grade shows the child’s understanding though the process of learning. This measuring of the learning instead of the measurement of the result can be impacted not only by the way a course is taught, but also by several other factors. These include how tough a teacher grades, when assessments are done, and the format used for assessments.

The “Timing Versus Performance” Factor

Let me use an example of a class with four children and ten grades to illustrate the impact of grading the via the processes of learning versus grading the results.

If a child requires repetitive actions to learn something, then they might score poorly at the beginning of a grading period, but then do better the longer they are in the class. By the end of a semester, once a topic “clicks”, this child might be preforming at an above average level. Because of the poor performance at the beginning of the semester, their grade could be weighted down as shown by child 1 in the table below.

There could be another student that is more consistent in their learning. This is shown as child 2 in the table below.  As such, they could score a fair grade consistently from the beginning to the end of the semester. In the end, this ‘fair and consistent’ learner could end up with a better grade than the child that was slower to learn at the beginning, even though they might have learned less by the time the semester was over.

A third child could be one that quickly learns the easier material at the beginning of the semester, but as the course progresses, has trouble and scores progressively worse. By the end of the semester, this child could have learned the least amount of the more relevant information and retain the least overall.  Because of their higher grades at the beginning of a semester, their grade could be skewed to appear they know more than they ultimately do at the end.

Child 1 Child 2 Child 3 Child 4
Grade 1 50 80 100 100
Grade 2 50 80 90 0
Grade 3 55 80 90 100
Grade 4 60 80 80 0
Grade 5 60 80 70 100
Grade 6 70 80 70 100
Grade 7 80 80 60 0
Grade 8 85 80 60 100
Grade 9 100 80 70 100
Grade 10 100 80 60 100
Average 71 80 75 70

Consider a fourth child. This is the child that is slow to turn in homework, or even fail to turn in homework. Since grades often reflect not only tests, but also homework, missing grades can be counted as zeros. Once these penalties are applied to a child’s grades, then the grade no longer reflects their understanding of a course’s material, but rather is more a reflection on their ability to turn things in on time. They might know the content from a class better than the teacher, but because they didn’t submit assignments at the correct times, they could be scored as if they didn’t know the material at all.

NOTE: Once a child is penalized on a score for not turning in an assignment on time, their grades no longer reflect learning. Similarly, once kids earn points for random activities such as winning a Bingo game, the grade no longer reflects learning, but rather is then based partially on luck.

The Teacher Factor

While the above table illustrates how different kids perform, the grades could also be impacted even more on how teachers assess a class. Across a school and even across a district, kids are taking classes that have the same objectives with an expectation of the kids learning the same things. For example, if kids are taking an eighth-grade honors foreign language class, then it is expected that each child will learn the same core information by the end of the course grading period. Thus, it is assumed that they would be assessed in a manner that allows the grades to be comparable regardless of which teacher they had within a school or within the district. In fact, for many classes, the consistency in teaching objectives is critical to ensure that the students are equally prepared for any subsequent classes that build on what was learned.

If one teacher is grading an eighth-grade honors class as if the kids were in high school because it is an honors class, yet another teacher is grading as if the kids a bit easier because they are at a junior high development level, then there would be a question of equivalence in the grades and grading. Similarly, if one teacher is giving tests in a class that are comprised of 100 questions each worth a point and another is giving test with 10 questions each worth 10 points, then it would be hard to consider the grades equitable since a child missing one question in one class would have an A and the child missing one question in the other class could have a B. As a third example specific to teaching a foreign language, if one teacher is grading kids only on how they say words, and a different teacher is testing on not only how they say words, but also grading spelling and punctuation, then the grades would not be fairly distributed.

Another teacher factor that causes disparity in grading is the concept of weighting grades. A recent example was brought to my attention where one teacher for a freshman high school course was weighting grades whereas another teacher was not. Because these are for the same class, the grades are no longer equitable.

Randomized Bonus Points

There are other areas that can impact equitable grading as well. Some teachers provide ways for students to get extra credit. Some teachers do not. If all students can earn the bonus points, then that is equitable. If, however, bonus points or grades can happen in a manner that not all kids can get them, then that leads to grades that are not comparable. Worse is when such bonus points come from activities that have nothing to do with learning or the materials being covered in a class.

There are three examples I can give that are unfair distribution of bonus points or grades that have happened within HSE schools. The first is the giving of bonus points as a prize for winning a game. Specifically, one of my kids has been in a class where the winners of a Bingo game received bonus points. These are points that improve a child’s grade out of sheer luck.

The second example is the use of ‘homework vouchers’ that allow a child to skip a homework assignment without penalty. If a homework assignment is being graded, then allowing one child to skip it as a prize means that there is a potential for that child to not be assessed in the same manner as others because they won’t have those points.

The third example I’ve mentioned before and comes from a world history class. In the case of teachers grading using similar questions and tests, the equity can be skewed if one teacher chooses to weight grades while another does not. This causes one class of students to potentially be graded with better scores, while the other is not.

Why Does All This Matter?

You cannot expect every teacher to teach and grade the exact same way. As such, it is easy to stick with tradition and state that it shouldn’t matter that things are not quite the same across classes. Having said that, because the grades that kids receive are ranked within most schools, and because grades are used for allocating scholarships and other recognitions, it becomes imperative that there is a high level of consistency.

In the case of some classes, if you don’t score high enough, you can’t proceed to the next class. This is the case in the eighth-grade honor’s foreign language class mentioned earlier. In the case of that course, there might be a student that would not have had to take the course over had they had a different teacher.

If the top 50 students receive a scholarship and your child is 51st, you should not have to wonder if you would have been one position higher if you had been in the class that weighted scores instead of the ones that didn’t.

Where to From Here?

If grades are expected to reflect an understanding on a topic, then they need to focus on that understanding. This means that they need to be adjusted to focus less on the process of learning and more on the process of measuring the end results. Things such as bonus points for random acts or grade penalties for late assignments need to go away. If the grade is focused on reflecting learning, then these don’t belong in the grades. That isn’t to say that accountability should be ignored within the schools, but rather it should be presented separately from the grades that should be indicating knowledge on a topic.

As schools move forward looking at measurements for preparing kids for the real world, more and more subjective factors are likely to creep into the mix of what teachers are teaching. It will be critical that the measurements that are presented – the grades – and grading system don’t get skewed as a result. In a math class within a school pushing a project-based environment, a child that excels at math should not be penalized in the course because they were not able to interact effectively with a group. Rather, they should have a grade in the class that reflects their math abilities. As school systems cycle to looking at the overall portrait of what they want kids to be able to do by the time they graduate, things like aptitude, leadership, grit, and other related characteristics should not dilute the core focus of grading for a class topic.

It is time to shake up and fix the grading system. To be a little redundant, let me say again that while the school systems are looking to measure such areas as decision making, information gathering, project management, grit, creativity, integrity, and leadership, they need to make sure the measurement and tasks associated to these is not impacting the core topics and expectations of the classes the kids are taking. A math class should have a grade reflecting math. These other core competencies are critically important to teach our kids, but they should be graded independently of the transference of knowledge that is expected in the current grading systems.

Tying This to HSE Schools

Within HSE, the disparity across similar classes has been noted by many parents, not just me. This past year it seems that the disparity was especially highlighted within the Honors Spanish classes at the eight-grade level. While this is a class offered to eight-graders, it is considered a freshman-level class. The inconsistency of how kids were graded across most of the year was reflected in the grades. As classes such as this become a part of a child’s GPA used for class rankings and future scholarships, these inconsistencies need to be reviewed and, while it might sound crazy, past grades need to be adjusted by the school district to make the grades not only more equitable, but to also better reflect what kids truly learned. In the chart presented earlier, Child 1 and Child 4 likely learned the most by the end of the grading period even though their grades were the lowest. That is extremely concerning to me as a parent and should be even more concerning to a school district.

HSE has made one move toward putting more weight on grades towards the end of the grading periods versus at the beginning. That is a start, but the inconsistencies in all the other areas mentioned in this article remain. Those need to be addressed. In the case of the Honors Spanish class, one teacher stated that they graded differently (and harder) than the other teachers, and indicated they graded in a different manner. This was clearly visible in the grades received by students. The district needs to address this.

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After Thoughts for This Article

In this article, I’ve identified a problem with grading in our school system. For example, I indicated that the grading of core competencies for students are separated from the grades given for a class on a given topic. This is how elementary school grades are often done. In higher grades, it is imperative for teachers to make sure their grades are reflecting a child’s understanding of the course topic and not other factors.

Additionally, penalties and rewards that impact grades, but have nothing to do with knowledge understanding should go away. A grade no longer reflects understanding of the material if it was reduced or inflated because the child won a random game or even because they were late submitting. To be clear, a child should still be accountable for turning in assignments, but the consequences should happen outside of the grading for a course topic.

To maintain consistency across a large district such as HSE, checks and balances should be put in place. Two teachers will never grade the same, nor should we expect them to teach the same. While there are objectives that must be met across the year, it might be time to make sure smaller, milestone objectives are set throughout the year for each course and then allow teachers time to connect to make sure they are all working arm-in-arm.

Similarly, the weight of grading for what is being taught should be applied to grading similarly.  The school district has the data on grades. It is all digital. This means that grades for “like classes” can be compared. It should be expected that if all things are similar, then the mean and median grades for each group of kids taking a class should be similar. If one class is off by more than a few points after removing outliers, then a deeper look should be done to insure that this is truly the kids that didn’t learn at the same level as the others versus a case where a teacher simply didn’t grade at the same level. In a case where a teacher graded at a different standard, grades might need to be adjusted.

The district has an analytics group. They have the data to help identify issues such as grading inequity. As such, hopefully we see changes in the near future! Based on what I’ve seen, it is my opinion that there at least one class where grades should be adjusted because the teacher stated they graded the kids at a different level than the other teachers.

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Happening in Your Town: Kids Locked in Rooms in Public Buildings

It is happening across America and people are not saying a word. Kids are being taken to public buildings and locked in rooms. Kids are taken from neighborhoods and shipped to public buildings at various locations within towns. Once there they are forced to follow rules that include separating them by their ages and marching them into rooms. In many cases the kids are forced to sit for upward of an hour with no access to electronics, food, or their parents.

The rooms where the kids are kept are often locked to prevent others from getting access to the kids. In addition to the locked rooms, the buildings are also often secured to the level that nobody without security clearance is allowed to get into the building and see the kids.

While kids are allowed a meal in the middle of each day, they are forced to follow rules while eating. This includes only having a limited time to get and eat their food before being forced back to the locked rooms.

The US Government is funding is funding this.

Do you believe kids should be locked up like this?

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Perspective is a wonderful thing; however, it is easy to twist….