The Anne Arundel County teachers union is criticizing the school system's decision to allow some schools to set their own minimum benchmarks for grades, saying that the practice may undermine countywide standards of excellence.
School officials said that some schools have implemented a grade minimum — in some cases, 50 percent — for students who complete assignments or exams and show effort. The changes come as the school system has moved away from letter grades at the end of marking periods.
Tim Mennuti, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said teachers are worried about a lack of consistency throughout the district, particularly if students transfer to another county school.
"This unfortunately has the appearance of a system of schools and not a school system," he said.
Anne Arundel schools spokesman Bob Mosier said that eight of the county's 12 high schools have some form of minimum grades schoolwide, and one has minimum grades by department.
"If a student doesn't turn in an assignment, they don't get a 50; they get a 0," said Mosier. "That is one thing that is consistent. If there is no effort, there is no 50."
Mosier added, "A 50 is still a failing score. The initiative doesn't take a student who would have received a failing score and give them a passing score. What it does is prevent, to a certain extent, a student from being in a hole from which he or she may find it difficult, if not impossible, to climb out of."
Mosier said principals and schools have the autonomy to craft initiatives, on variety of issues, that they believe suit their students. "At schools where this is being implemented, principals and their faculty councils have discussed these issues and decided to proceed in that manner," said Mosier.
Mennuti said the teachers union has not taken a position on the minimum-grade approach "because we have not had the chance to find out from our members what they really want to do."
But he added that at the next school board meeting, individual teachers will make presentations on the matter.
"There was a policy, and now teachers are being told [about it] individually and verbally, because we haven't seen anything in writing that says, 'This is what we're going to try now,'" Mennuti added. "You have a situation where a student can start the year in one high school, wind up in another and be under an entirely different grading policy still within the same county."
According to Mosier, the high schools that have the minimum-grade approach are Glen Burnie, Annapolis, Northeast, Arundel, Severna Park, Southern, Broadneck and Meade. Chesapeake High School has some form of minimum grades by department, he said.
Ray Leone, president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs, said he was not aware of the changes regarding minimum grades.
"It's certainly something we are going to have to discuss as a PTA going forward," said Leone. "There was no prior discussion at all. ... I certainly believe strongly that it needs to be discussed so there can be some parental input."
"There have been discussions with teachers and teachers union officials throughout the year on a variety of topics, this one included," said Mosier. "We'll continue to have those discussions. I think everyone wants the same thing, and that is [for] children to succeed. Schools have the autonomy in certain areas to put initiatives in place to help students succeed."
News of the minimum-grade policies comes during a school year when the system implemented a practice throughout the county of using percentages for marking period grades in middle and high schools.
In letters sent to parents in November, Superintendent Kevin Maxwell said those changes were made to more accurately reflect a student's progress and achievement in a course.
Maxwell added that the percentages correspond to letter grades, and the grading scale remains the same: An A ranges from 90 percent to 100 percent, a B ranges from 80 percent to 89 percent, and so on. Maxwell said the change was vetted through the school board's policy committee.
Annapolis Middle School PTA President Monica Lynch said that although there were initial concerns about calculating grades by percentage, the move has worked well.
"A lot of issues parents were having was that with the grade system, if you had two A's and one B for a semester, in the past, the final grade would be an A, and now maybe you might end up with a B," said Lynch. "But the way most of us feel is that by doing it with the numbers, you're taking the average, which is definitely the more correct way to do it."