By Emily Younker
All Joplin eighth-graders will have a tablet computer in their hands by next year, the Board of Education decided Tuesday night.
On a unanimous vote, board members accepted a $174,744 bid from Apple for iPad tablets, with the goal of implementing a one-to-one technology initiative at the eighth-grade level by the 2013-14 academic year.
To bring the initiative to Joplin, the district is one of 20 nationwide that will partner with Project RED, a national, nonprofit organization, for collaboration and training. A one-to-one technology initiative already exists at the high school level, where each student has a laptop computer.
Board members also learned about standards-based grading, a system being piloted in a few Joplin elementary and middle schools that does away with traditional letter grades in broad subjects, and instead assesses students with terms such as “Met,” “Not Met,” or “Emerging” in a variety of skills.
Proponents of the grading system say it provides parents a more accurate picture of student learning and allows both teachers and parents to pinpoint where students need improvement.
“Grades are supposed to be our responsibility to share with parents and students and teachers what learning is taking place,” Jason Weaver, assistant principal at East Middle School, told the board. “(Asking that question) caused us to take a look at the kinds of grades that we give.”
Two parents opposed to the grading system addressed the board during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Melissa Braun said her son, a student at East Middle School, is more motivated and is more likely to set academic goals when he is assessed letter grades. She said the disappearance of a traditional grade point average does not motivate her son to do better in school.
She also said she disagreed with the fact that the system would allow students to redo work until the material is learned, as opposed to simply giving the student an “F” or a score of “0” for failing to do the work the first time. That, she said, is not representative of “the real world” or the work force.
“I do not feel like our current administration is making a good decision when it comes to standard-based grading,” she said.
Parent Tim Steele said he worries that allowing students to be flexible with deadlines or due dates could cripple them or desensitize them to such issues later in life.
“It’s not setting them up for the real world,” he said.
It was a point that concerned board member Phil Willcoxon, too, during a discussion by the board after the presentation.
“In the business world, if you don’t do an assignment, you don’t get to a board meeting, you don’t have a job,” he said.
Board member Jim Kimbrough said he would want to see individual standards assessed on a grade card, which the grading system does. But he also said the assessments of standards-based grading, to his mind, were comparable on the surface to the system of letter grades, with “Met” on par with the letter grade of “A” or “B” and “Not Met” on par with “D.”
“I like what I see,” he said of the grading system. “I guess I don’t understand why a letter grade can’t be in there.”
Board member Dawn Sticklen echoed similar sentiments, particularly questioning whether getting rid of GPAs would be beneficial to students.
“I think the theory is good,” she said. “The reality is when you get to middle school, there’s a ranking there, and there is a percentage of the student body that is motivated by that ranking, and it matters to them. Your class rankings, your grades, your GPA matter.”
Board President Randy Steele said the board is “still in the learning process” regarding the grading system. The board has neither approved nor disapproved its use in Joplin schools.
IN OTHER BUSINESS TUESDAY NIGHT, the board approved more than a dozen bid packages, including precast concrete, glass, drywall and ceilings, athletic and food-service equipment, and painting for Irving Elementary School; precast concrete, concrete footings and structural steel for Joplin High School and Franklin Technology Center; and masonry for East Middle School.