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Board to review high school grading policy; major changes unlikely

The Board of Education will have three options next week when it reviews the grading policy for county high school students.

It could forgo letter grades and issue only percentage-point grades until computing a letter grade at the end of the year.

It could opt into a plus-minus grading system, which would include grades like A-minus and B-plus and affect students grade point averages

Or, the board could choose to do nothing and retain the 10-point scale on which the system has operated for years.

The board will address the issue at its work session Thursday, Sept. 13, at 7:30 p.m. at the Department of Education in Ellicott City.

Currently, county high schools operate on a 10-point grading scale, as do the majority of Maryland school systems. On that scale, grades in the 90-100 percent range constitute an "A" and a 4.0 grade-point average; 80-89 grades constitute a "B" and a 3.0; 70-79 grades are a "C" and a 2.0; and, 60-69 grades are a "D" and a 1.0. Anything lower is a failing grade.

That's the system staff is recommending the board stays with, said Lisa Boarman, coordinator of school counseling and related services, and co-chair of the policy committee reviewing high school grading. But the other two options are on the table.

One is to move to a variation of the 10-point scale that includes plus- and minus-grades.

Under that system, letter grades correlate more directly to the students' GPA. If a student receives a 93 percent — an A- as opposed to an A — that would translate to a 3.67 GPA, as opposed to the 4.0 in the current system.

"It's certainly a more precise reflection of student performance," Boarman said. However, she said, it puts more pressure on the students, which is one of the reasons the school system is recommending keeping with the current policy. Another reason, Boarman said, is to present students "in the best light possible."

Furthermore, Boarman said, the plus-minus system could dramatically affect students who are already struggling academically. For example, she said, the current GPA cut-off for sports eligibility is 2.0 GPA, or a C average. If the system moves to a plus/minus system, a 70 percent, or low C in the current system, would become a C- and carry with it a 1.67 GPA, making the student ineligible to play sports.

Code criticism

The existing grading policy is still garnering some criticism over codes that factor into student grades — letters indicating if a student withdrew from a class, entered a class too late in the term, or missed so many lessons or tests to warrant a failing grade.

"The codes have nothing to do with academic achievement, and they should be removed from the policy," said Chris Wertman, who represented the Community Action Council on the committee appointed to review high school grading. "To me, it's an untenable position of creating codes that have nothing to do with the performance of the student."

He issued a minority opinion he hopes the board takes into consideration, which urges the removal of codes from the grading policy, even if they provide incentives for students to attend class.

For example, Wertman said, if two B-average students have to take a final, and one doesn't show up while the other only signs her name to the test, only the student who did not show up fails the class. Because of the weight of the code for missing a final is so strong, the student who only signed her name fails the test but passes the class, even though she didn't show she had mastered the class material.

"Is the importance not actually taking the test, but the physical presence of the students for the 15-20 seconds it take to sign their names?" Wertman said. "It's a tool the schools want, and they can have those tools, but there are policies for absenteeism, for discipline. Why clutter up the grading policy?"

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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