Haney said the school experienced a similar backlash when it debuted its year-round schedule. But Knighton said now, he's hard-pressed to find a parent who doesn't love the schedule.
"People are adverse to change," Haney said.
Plenty of other parents like the new system, though.
"They like knowing the specifics," Haney said.
Parents are informed
Larry Groce, host of West Virginia Public Radio's "Mountain Stage" and parent of two Piedmont students, said he approves of the new grading system.
"I think it's a good system," he said. "This gives you a little more detail. You obviously want to know what's going on."
Corina Whittington, mother of Piedmont fifth-grader Alison and third-grader A.J., said she likes the new system, too.
She said before, if Alison or A.J. would get a bad grade, she wouldn't know what happened.
"And that's all you get and you're like, 'What happened?' " she said.
Now she said her children know if they don't do well on an assignment, their teacher will explain why and Whittington can help them improve.
Shanequa Smith attended the conferences with her daughter, second-grader Heaven, her son, fourth-grader Jomo and her nephew, fellow fourth-grader Raphaiel Brycethurton.
Smith said she likes the additional information because it lets her know what to focus on at home.
"I can work as a parent to help," she said.
She said the change from grades to paragraphs was a little rough at first, though. Smith said it took her a while to get comfortable with the new system.
"I thought they were very informative," she said, but "change is always hard."
"They kept asking me, 'Mommy, is it a good report card?' and I said 'I don't know.' "
Knighton said he recently conducted an informal show-of-hands survey during lunchtime. Apparently, most of the children prefer the traditional letter-based grading system.
He suspects that's because children don't understand what their teachers are writing about - the information and language is aimed at parents.
"You're writing to an adult," he said.
Knighton said students' dislike of narratives might also stem from the very specific information teachers provide. If a teacher reports the child is misbehaving, frequently tardy and frequently asleep in class, "how do you let the dog eat that?" Knighton said.
Students' narratives are written using a special computer program Michael Knighton, principal Steve Knighton's brother, designed for the school.
"He's been very helpful," Haney said. "We're encouraging Michael to copyright it, because it's that good."
The program also allows teachers to view a list of skill students are supposed to learn - the state education department's "content standards and objectives" - and choose which ones each student needs to focus on, according to their abilities.
Haney said the program even allows teachers to add skills above or below students' current grade level if the child is lagging behind or outpacing her classmates.
The school is still adding to the software, too.
Haney said currently, she can only see students' personal education plans and narratives after teachers load the documents onto a portable flash drive, deliver them to Haney's office, and let her transfer the files onto her computer.
She said the program would eventually be hooked to a centralized server. That way, education specialists like Title 1 teachers could access the server and see any child's updated narrative as soon as teachers update it.
"Our ultimate goal is it being server-based," Haney said.
The Legislature passed the Innovation Zones Act hoping the chosen schools would share their ideas with other schools once they worked all the kinks out of their program.
Haney said Piedmont's tracking software easily could be shared with schools around the state.
Few bugs to work out
One problem Piedmont is facing, however, is how its students' lack of grades will affect them once they move beyond elementary school.
"We're still trying to determine what to do about that," Haney said.
Middle schools use letter grades and standardized test scores to place students in the correct classes - those with stronger math skills go to more advanced math classes, children with lagging reading abilities go to classrooms where they'll get more help with that.
She said the narratives could help Stonewall and Horace Mann, Piedmont's feeder middle schools, giving teachers and administrators there a clearer picture of students' academic performance and abilities.
Middle school administrators there might not want to deal with the lengthy narratives, though, since the schools have hundreds of students to deal with, Haney said.
"We don't want to assign the letter grade but we might not be able to get around it," Haney said.
Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.har...@dailymail.com.