Members of the Medford School Board shared concerns this week over the district's plan to switch to "proficiency-based grading" over the next year.

Members of the Medford School Board shared concerns this week over the district's plan to switch to "proficiency-based grading" over the next year.

The district said it will begin to make the switch in July of 2012 and have it ready for full implementation by fall of 2013.

Proficiency-based grading, or credit for proficiency, gives districts the option to offer graduation credits to students who are able to demonstrate what they know and can do at their own pace.

The plan is intended to give flexibility to teachers for students at different levels. But board members Monday slammed administration for failing to outline a clear plan for how they will implement the new system in secondary schools next year.

"This is a huge change for people, and it's a lot of angst for people," said board member Jeff Thomas, a parent of two students who will attend North Medford High School next year.

Thomas said he asked the administration for strong communication with parents about the switch in grading, and the district hasn't delivered.

When parents ask him about the credits for proficiency system, Thomas said he doesn't know how to answer.

Board members received a one-page timeline in their board packet Monday explaining that staff would work on parent communication and the district would work to redesign the grade book and report card for secondary schools in the fall.

The switch to proficiency-based grading was approved by the State Board of Education in 2007, when it voted to adopt new high school graduation requirements that will be phased in through 2014.

In addition to the opportunity to obtain credits for proficiency, students will be required to demonstrate their essential skills in the subjects of math, reading and writing, and successfully complete credit requirements.

Proficiency-based grading, first phased into a handful of schools outside Southern Oregon nearly 10 years ago, has received mixed reviews.

The system is billed as a way for struggling students to keep working at a concept until they prove their understanding, while allowing more advanced students to pull ahead and delve deeper into concepts. But some critics say the system isn't streamlined between different teachers and interferes with traditional classroom models.

During a work session earlier this month, secondary school principals discussed with the board their plans for implementing the new system next year.

North Medford Principal Ron Beick said the school planned to go full-force into proficiency-based grading next year, while South Medford Principal Kevin Campbell said the implementation there would be gradual, based on which teachers are ready.

Thomas said that during a meeting attended by 120 North Medford parents this past spring, the district told parents the program would be implemented "full force" at North, leaving Thomas concerned as to how college-bound students would be affected.

"This is the time in their lives when grades are everything," said Thomas.

Without a clear plan on paper during this week's meeting, Thomas questioned whether proficiency grading would really be coming in the fall.

Administrators tried to reassure Thomas and other concerned board members by saying proficiency grading would come as a soft transition to both schools over the next year, and more information would go out to parents later in the summer.

"There should be lots of questions," said Todd Bloomquist, district supervisor of curriculum and the incoming director of secondary education.

Bloomquist said Thomas was right to have questions about how proficiency grading would work.

"They're valid concerns, and they're things we've been wresting with," said Bloomquist.

Superintendent Phil Long said proficiency grading is already in effect in some select secondary school classes.

A computer literacy course offered to students takes some students a full semester to complete, while others need only nine weeks and spend the second half of the semester diving further into subject matter.

Board member Tricia Prendergast suggested the district put updates into school newsletters to help inform parents of college-bound students.

"It's a college entry game, and they need to know the rules," said Prendergast.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.