School Administrators and Board get a failing grade when it comes to putting students first.

Guest Editorial By Peter DeLorme

Why would an entire county throw out it’s grading system to mimic a singular, Alternative, Year-Round Pilot School that DOES NOT USE GRADES? Good question. The answer is somewhat fuzzy, but needless to say a substantial amount of misleading and incorrect information was provided to get our school board to approve it. I guess if we graded the administrators pushing this agenda and some members of the School Board , they might receive a ‘P’, but in their definition, that could be the equivalent of an ‘A’ or a ‘D’. Confused? You should be.

In case you did not know, we don’t have grades for students anymore until the 5th grade. This new system lists out specific skills for each child and gives them a rating. Either they have (M) mastered a skill, (P) are progressing toward the ‘standard’ or (N) are not progressing and needs help. A good evaluation ‘tool’, but not a grading system it is not. More on that in a bit…

Last Thursday (12/10), in a six to four vote, the school board decided AGAINST reinstituting the standard A through F letter grading system, even as a complimentary step to work in conjunction with the newly introduced M/P/N skills evaluation. The primary reason for this rejection: Too much work to have teachers assign an overall grade. Yes, you read that right. While no teacher I have spoken to feels this is a valid concern, I contend that if a teacher cannot very easily assign an overall A through F letter grade using all of the information this new wonderful skills evaluation system offers, then the system obviously is not doing a good job at identifying achievement or failures and the system itself is severely flawed!

In truth, this evaluation system is great for specifying progress at certain skills, but still fails to answer the simple question of how a child is doing in a subject or school in general. A through F does this and would have worked perfectly in conjunction with this skills evaluation. But no, common sense did not prevail. Bad information, ego, not wanting to rock the boat, excuse-making, whatever the real reason, six members of the School Board voted no. (Van Shaver, Scott Newman, Lisa Russell and Craig Simon voted in favor of reinstituting the A through F grading along with the new evaluation system, while Bill Marcus, Bobby Johnson, Larry Proaps, Leroy Tate, Steve Harrelson and Gary Ubben voted against it.)

A second reason for rejecting the use of the A through F grading standard was because a few board members and administrators did not want to put the kids through too much ‘change’. I wonder why the change of heart because this certainly wasn’t a concern when implementing this sweeping change and it’s apparently not a concern for 4th graders who will be going back to standard grading next year. After all, Heaven forbid a child get to see an ‘A’ on their report card, this drastic change might cause irreparable damage! (Or it might actually excite a child and reward them for their efforts, -or- conversely, hold them accountable for a lack thereof).

The overall impact of this decision is quite straightforward:
1. The schools have stopped identifying or recognizing achievement (honor roll is gone, no achievement certificates for excellent overall work, etc…),
2. Most students are lumped together with a rating of ‘P’, meaning they are progressing towards meeting the standards,
3. The schools are now hiding failures in learning and teaching by eliminating an overall grade rating and using a system that is so highly subjective it becomes impossible to determine any true school progress.

Let me clarify what I mean by the last two statements: If a student gets a 95 on a test, they might receive a ‘P’, meaning they are progressing toward meeting a standard. Another student might get a 70 on a test and guess what…they get the same ‘rating’. Kathy Greene, the K-5 Supervisor confirmed for me that this can occur simply because it might be early in a lesson plan so the student probably hasn’t ‘mastered’ a skill, even if they score 90 or 100 on a test! Objective? No. Specific? No. Fair to students? No. Fair for teachers? No. If no one can truly know where the students are, well, I guess you can’t say we’re doing a bad job can we? (Let me be clear in saying that I don’t necessarily think we are).

Here’s the background of how politics are negatively affecting the education of our kids: Kathy Greene, the K-5 Supervisor recommended this system be implemented County-wide to the School Board prior to this year. What the board was told was that the Maryville ‘system’ was using it and some schools in Oak Ridge were using a similar system as well as progressive schools around the country were trying it. The problem with this recommendation is the supporting information was patently false and intentionally misleading. I have not found one other school nationally using the same system other than Ft. Craig Elementary in Maryville. There are a few scattered ‘Alternative’ schools around the Nation trying different things, but I have not identified ONE SINGLE ‘NON-ALTERNATIVE’ SCHOOL OR SCHOOL SYSTEM using this anywhere in the country!

The straight truth behind her recommendation was based on the fact that her predecessor and friend, Dr. Ramona Best moved to Ft. Craig Elementary in Maryville and implemented a similar system. Here’s the problem: As described by their own Assistant Principal, Ft. Craig is a K-4 ‘Pilot’ Alternative, Year-Round School with NO GRADES. In other words, it is nothing like what we have in Loudon County. If this doesn’t sound like it fits, then you’re right.

The reason this is such an issue is that this new ‘alternative’ grading system, is not a grading system (as evidenced by Ft. Craig’s Assistant Principal’s own definition). It is a good skills evaluation tool, but it is NOT a grading system. Grading systems set ‘standards’ for performance. Maybe our administrators and educators involved in bringing about this change need to look up the word ‘standard’ in the dictionary. Standard is defined as being “a basis for comparison, a reference point by which all others things can be evaluated”, ( When two students have vastly different performance, but receive the same ‘P’ rating, it is a problem. This new system does not provide any type of standard grade for determining overall performance. And if it doesn’t do this and grades can be entirely subjective, then what is the true purpose? If I had to guess, it would be that if schools aren’t performing well (and we have a few of those), someone decided to change the standard so no one can tell and you can’t compare performance to others. Not very ‘kid-first’ of them.

If this is the type of system you want in your community, please do nothing and watch our best and brightest flounder or simply move out of our county schools to schools that promote achievement. If you don’t want our children being evaluated in a system designed for Alternative, Pilot Schools with NO GRADING, no reward for achievement or consequences for failure, then please call or email your school board members now! (If you’re not sure which one represents you, just pick one, they’ll help). This needs to end now!

Peter DeLorme
Lenoir City

District 1: Scott Newman (865) 458-1479, Bill Marcus (865) 458-8581
District 2: Bobby Johnson (865) 988-0008, Larry Proaps (865) 986-8694
District 3: Lisa Russell (865) 988-7939,
District 4: Leroy Tate (865) 458-4834,
District 5: Van Shaver (865) 986-6984,, Gary Ubben
District 6: Steve Harrelson (865) 988-5211,
District 7: Craig Simon,