Listecki at John Paul II Academy

Archbishop Jerome Listecki of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee visits in May with students eating lunch at John Paul II Academy, 2023 Northwestern Ave. The archbishop announced on May 24 the formation of the Siena Catholic Schools of Racine system, which is to involve all Racine-area parishes and Catholic schools. 

RACINE — The Siena Catholic Schools of Racine group is making some final adjustments before it becomes fully implemented in July. Recently, grading and assessment have been put under the microscope.

Teachers and administrators have been participating in multiday professional development sessions in order to learn better practices and techniques to help with student growth.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has distributed assessment and grading “guidelines” to teachers and principals in an effort to improve student achievement.

Brenda White, president of Siena Catholic Schools, said an archdiocesan task force was created to evaluate the best grading and assessment practices for teachers, and has been involving local schools in the discussion.

According to the “Assessment and Grading” document obtained by The Journal Times, the archdiocese has a series of guiding principles, best practices and discontinued practices that it hopes will help teachers in the classroom.

“It’s a set of guiding beliefs about what the Archdiocese of Milwaukee believes is best to facilitate student learning,” White said. “They’re not a specific set of policies.”

Some of the bullet points under “best practices” are fairly benign, stating “Teachers will allow students to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways” or “Teachers will provide opportunities for practice, retakes and revisions.”

However there are some points under “Discontinued practices” that may surprise some parents.

Those points include “Teachers will not determine grades based on the mathematical average of scores earned over time” or “Teachers will not consider behavior, effort attendance, class participation, missing work or extra credit when determining academic grades.”

‘National discussion’

Todd Willems, director of schools for Siena Catholic Schools, said this document is “not a mandate” on teachers.

“This is not something the Archdiocese has come out and said ‘Every school must do this in this exact way.’ It’s guidance for principals to help work with their teachers,” Willems said. “As we bring our schools together, we’re definitely continuing to talk about our assessment practices and understanding and learning where each of our schools are at.”

Willems said changing assessment practices is “truly a national discussion in the field of education.”

“We’re going to be spending more time in professional development next year,” Willems said. “Focusing on really understanding the data that our assessment gives us and how to use that to drive student learning. This will be a piece of our continued guide or policy set as much as it is just things we believe about grading.”

Earlier this month, White said, teachers spent two “in-service” days discussing various practices in regards to grading.

“I see our teachers across our six schools in Racine very engaged in this discussion, and very collaborative in the dialogue with each other, and I think that’s a good thing,” White said. “If you’ve been a teacher for 20 years and assessing and grading in a certain way, changing that takes work and it takes discussion and it takes learning from each other.”

This school year, White said, is an “on-boarding” year before Siena Catholic Schools goes into effect and the archdiocese is making sure the teachers and administration are ready for the new change.

“Any time you implement a change in practice, it has to be an incremental way of helping bring people along,” White said.

Both White and Willems said they are finalizing details about Siena Catholic Schools that will be shared with the public in the future.

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Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.

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