Howard Board of Education revises grading policy

The grading system for high schools in Howard County may not be changing, but students, parents, teachers and administrators will be seeing changes in the reporting of weighted grades and how exams — and late transfer students — are scored.

The decision was made at the Board of Education meeting Thursday, March 21, as members voted 7-1 to approve the revised high school grading policy, which has been in the works for more than a year and a half.

The changes will take effect for the 2013-14 school year.

The co-chairs of the committee, Lisa Boarman, coordinator of school counseling, and Ronnie Bohn, project support specialist, said the high schools will stay with a letter grading system with 10-percent increments (90-100, for example, is an A).

But changes will happen for “codes” in the grading policy, specifically the “Z” and “X” codes.

Previously, Bohn said, the “Z” code meant a student who missed the mid-term or final exam would not get credit for the entire class. But now, a student who does not make up those exams within a set time will fail the test but still get credit for the course.

Board members also asked that the “X” code be changed. Previously, Bohn said, the “X” code kicked in after halfway through the first quarter for students who transferred into a class. It meant they would not receive credit, even if they were caught up on all their work. Now, the “X” code will be implemented after the halfway point in the second quarter, giving transfer students a longer grace period.

Another change is to how weighted grades — for gifted and talented, honors and Advanced Placement courses — are reported, and what they count toward.

Weighted grades had previously only been reported at the end of a student's high school career, and were only used for the college admission process and scholarship applications. But now, weighted grades will be presented alongside its un-weighted equivalent on all report cards and interim progress reports, and they will count for academic eligibility for sports and clubs like the National Honor Society.

Malerie Gamblin, a junior at Howard High School and founder of Student Alliance for Change, considered this to be a good thing. She and her group surveyed and collected the signatures of 2,253 high school students, parents, teachers and community members, the majority of whom supported the changes to how weighted grades reported and used.

"(The board) wanted to hear student voices, and we gave them student voices," she said. "This is a victory."

Board member Cindy Vaillancourt voted against the revisions, citing one of the letter codes that determines how many days a student can miss before he or she is in danger of losing credit for the class.

The “N” code — which was not changed in the revised policy — dictates that a student can have nine absences, or five percent of a course, before they will be considered for a denial of credit. Last school year, Bohn said, 6,406 students were in danger of losing credit, but only five did, because a decision on credit denial is left to the school’s principal, and credit is rarely denied.

“Having the ‘N’ code allows principals to open up very powerful conversations with parents,” Bohn said, and those parents and students typically share personal circumstances that prevent better attendance, and credit is granted while the student and family are directed to appropriate resources for help.

But after the meeting, Vaillancourt said she disagreed with the way ‘n’ — which translates to a zero for the course — impacts a student’s GPA.

“It’s a behavioral issue, not an academic one,” she said. “I don’t have a problem for denying credit for behavior, but that shouldn’t be reflected with a GPA.”

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