Dear Parents and Guardians of SBPS Students:
A little over a year ago, we released our new school mission statement which was written in response to our decision to phase out the high school program and focus on PK-8 Catholic education excellence. A mission statement is to be lived out each day. It directs our decisions and informs our future. Our mission statement provides the framework for how we “do” Catholic education at St. Benedict Prep. Being mission driven is at our heart and spirit here at SBPS.
While the whole mission statement is important, there are some excerpts that have ruminating in my mind as of late: “rigorous challenge,” “innovative, and active learning,” and “learn fearlessly.” We are moving forward to strengthen these aspects of our school program, especially as we integrate the 7 C’s of Excellence: Catholic, Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Content and Confidence. However, traditional grading practices as we know it, at times, undermine these efforts. When we focus on students receiving the “A,” and not necessarily on learning and mastery, it is difficult to ask our children to take risks, attempt something new, or try the more challenging problems. In other words, it is hard to ask our children to “learn fearlessly.” Sometimes taking the risk to move beyond one’s comfort zone doesn’t always translate to the traditional letter grade “A.”
Over the next few years, SBPS will transition from traditional letter grades to a more effective model of standards-based grading. This is a major educational endeavor that will happen in stages. It cannot, or should not happen overnight. The end goal will be more effective teaching, meaningful student assessment, and increased student achievement. We will do this to help our children “learn fearlessly” as they develop in our mission-critical 7C’s.
Now it goes without saying that the grade “A” carries a lot of weight, especially when it comes to Chicago high school admissions – whether for Chicago Catholic or public high schools. Grades are high stakes and often add a terrible amount of pressure on our young people. Our current 7-point interval grading scale only adds to this unnecessary pressure, when CPS has a 10-point-interval grading scale. If a student receives a 92% at SBPS, he/she receives a B. If it were a CPS school, he/she would receive an A. It goes without saying that a grade A means everything when it comes to selective enrollment schools (Catholic or public). Because of the desire and perceived need to receive a grade “A,” I have seen some students, teachers and parents focusing more on percentage points instead of the process of learning. I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad – it is an understandable response to the high school admissions process we have in Chicago. While we can’t change the admissions process, we can level the playing field.
When the final report cards are issued in June 2019, SBPS will apply the more common 10-point-interval grading scale to final cumulative grades. We will use this grading scale moving forward while we transition to a standards-based assessment system:
90 -100% A
80 – 89% B
70 – 79% C
60 – 69% D
59% and lower – Failing/Unsatisfactory
Again, we are making this decision because we feel it is mission driven. We need to build confidence in our young people in order for them to be successful adults. This happens when our students learn to overcome challenges, make mistakes, figure out solutions and persevere. By leveling the proverbial playing field of Chicago high school admissions, we hope that we can once again truly focus on learning and growing, and not always be hypersensitive to the point-systems of the high school admissions processes. Stay tuned; there will be more information about how standards-based assessment works in the future.
We hope that this decision strengthens our partnership with parents as you trust us to educate and form your sons and daughters. Together, as a community of faith, we can focus on helping our young people discover their God-given gifts and support them as they use these gifts to becomes the creators and contributors of tomorrow.
Ms. Rachel Gemo, Head of Parish School