Teachers share stress, remain optimistic

Meher Hans and Emma Walz

Of the 20 percent of staff members who responded to an anonymous questionnaire in their mailboxes last month, just over a third were neutral on the new grading policy. Yet critics emerged.
“The policy is being piloted this year and, therefore, there are a lot of changes that are coming in on a weekly basis, which is extremely stressful,” one teacher wrote on a questionnaire. “It’s going to take a while before the policy is perfected and more stable.”
Following the first quarter, English teacher Cassie Eppers still cited concerns.
“There’s no uniformity on the subject of redos and resubmissions,” Eppers said. “There’s no common denominator.”
A letter to parents and teachers Nov. 10 attempted to clarify he policy, stating mastery grading would require schools to develop “more consistent procedures around redo assignments through teacher coordination.”
But BCPS’s quick implementation of mastery grading could be hampering its reception, business department chairman Pat Holt said.
“By demanding that teachers implement without understanding the impact on time has been frustrating and, at the end of the day interferes with what they do best: designing lessons and assessments that create a positive culture of learning,” Holt said. But Holt, who has employed mastery grading for three years, actually favors the policy itself.
“The stress it has brought on me has nothing to do with the intent of mastery grading,” Holt said. “The stress and frustration that it has brought on me is to see potentially the first real positive educational reform in decades be so misunderstood and likely fail.”
English department chairman Jason Bowman, who has clarified the evolving policy in department meetings, noted that redoing assignments should help students—if they approach them wisely.
“It’s incumbent upon the student to show new learning. It’s not a matter of just revising or making some cursory changes. It’s about showing substantial new learning,” Bowman said.
During a November discussion with his students, science teacher Marty Stranathan urged caution.
“As soon as we get hung up on grades, you lose perspective. The discussion should be how to make me a better instructor, not how to put numbers in the gradebook,” he said.
At press time, teacher union rep Maureen Burke was set to meet with principal Sam Wynkoop to discuss concerns, like the recent request that teachers create unit maps.