CCPS seek­ing in­put on pro­posed grad­ing pol­icy changes

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES jclinkscales@somd­news.com

In an ef­fort to cre­ate a pol­icy that is uni­form and equal for all sec­ondary schools, the Charles County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion is con­sid­er­ing a pro­posal to change the school sys­tem’s grad­ing scale which would stan­dard­ize the scale mid­dle and high school teach­ers use to de­ter­mine an “F” grade.

Some board mem­bers ex­pressed con­cerns over cre­at­ing a pol­icy for a small num­ber of stu­dents, di­lut­ing grades and low­er­ing ex­pec­ta­tions. Other mem­bers, however, sup­port the grade change pol­icy and in­sist that the school sys­tem needs to give eq­uity and meet the needs of chil­dren by pro­vid­ing an ad­di­tional layer of hope, ac­cord­ing to a Charles County Pub­lic Schools (CCPS) press re­lease.

“The rec­om­men­da­tion that we’re mak­ing is from a lot of work that a com­mit­tee met for over a year,” CCPS deputy su­per­in­ten­dent Amy Holl­stein told the Mary­land In­de­pen­dent on Wednesday. “The rea­son why we put the com­mit­tee to­gether was be­cause we did have in­con­sis­ten­cies among schools where some folks were fol­low­ing a pol­icy that they im­ple­mented at the

school. Oth­ers are do­ing dif­fer­ent things. We know that that’s not in the best in­ter­est of our stu­dents who need to have one con­sis­tent grad­ing pol­icy.”

The CCPS Sec­ondary Grad­ing Com­mit­tee, which is com­posed of 17 mid­dle and high school teach­ers, prin­ci­pals, vice prin­ci­pals, con­tent spe­cial­ists and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion of Charles County, met six times be­tween Septem­ber 2017 to Feb. 8. The group is charged with re­fin­ing the phi­los­o­phy of grad­ing, the pur­pose of grades and what grades should not be used for such as dis­ci­pline.

The com­mit­tee rec­om­mends that school board mem­bers con­sider a 10-point grad­ing scale of 50 to 59 per­cent, which is the univer­sal scale for a fail­ing grade at sec­ondary schools, and that a fail­ing grade in the fourth quar­ter be based on a 0 to 59 per­cent scale. The com­mit­tee also rec­om­mends that if a stu­dent re­ceived an over­all per­cent­age lower than 50 per­cent at the end of the quar­ter, it would be con­verted to 50 per­cent.

“That’s why we put this com­mit­tee to­gether; to get a rec­om­men­da­tion that we can bring for­ward to bring con­sis­tency to the county,” Holl­stein said.

“It started in 2010 at Lackey High School. The prin­ci­pal there had come from Mont­gomery County Pub­lic Schools, which fol­lows the idea that the low­est grade [a stu­dent] can get is a 50 per­cent,” said Joan With­ers, act­ing di­rec­tor of sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion for CCPS. “At the re­quest of our high school prin­ci­pals, we put to­gether a grad­ing com­mit­tee to look at this is­sue.”

La Plata, Mau­rice J. McDonough and North Point high schools base an “F” on a nu­mer­i­cal value of 0 to 59 per­cent, as do all mid­dle schools. Although Henry E. Lackey High School ad­dresses fail­ing grades on a caseby-case ba­sis, the teach­ers there ad­here to the 0 to 59 per­cent scale, the press re­lease noted.

At St. Charles, Thomas Stone and West­lake high schools, fail­ure is in­di­cated by an “F” for stu­dents who re­ceive a 50 to 59 per­cent in the first three quar­ters, and 0 to 59 per­cent in the fourth quar­ter, a prac­tice which the sec­ondary grad­ing com­mit­tee sup­ports.

“In 2016, St. Charles High School got on board with a 50 be­ing the low­est ‘F’ and then in 2017, we went back and cre­ated an­other sec­ondary grad­ing com­mit­tee,” With­ers said. “After lots and lots of re­search, [the com­mit­tee made a rec­om­men­da­tion] that we de­fine an ‘F’ as 50 to 59 per­cent [for the] first three quar­ters. The idea be­hind that is that a stu­dent has an op­por­tu­nity to turn him- or her­self around and even­tu­ally earn a pass­ing grade.”

“The com­mit­tee de­cided that the fourth quar­ter would re­main a 0 to 59 per­cent,” With­ers con­tin­ued. “At that point, it would be dif­fi­cult [for stu­dents] to earn a pass­ing grade.”

School board mem­bers who op­pose the 50 to 59 per­cent scale, ac­cord­ing to the press re­lease, claim it could lead to grade in­fla­tion, lower aca­demic stan­dards and give stu­dents a sense of en­ti­tle­ment. In ad­di­tion, of­fi­cials ques­tion if it di­lutes ac­count­abil­ity, re­moves mo­ti­va­tion for stu­dents to work hard and cre­ates a false pic­ture of their abil­i­ties.

Holl­stein said stu­dents should never reach a place where there is no point in do­ing any more work as fail­ure is in­evitable.

“With Joan’s lead­er­ship, this com­mit­tee looked at lots of re­search stud­ies across the coun­try, what we’re cur­rently do­ing, what other coun­ties in Mary­land are do­ing and di­vided up into work groups,” said Holl­stein. “There were a lot of strong opin­ions among these com­mit­tee mem­bers. But they fi­nally came to a con­sen­sus that this is the rec­om­men­da­tion they wanted us to move for­ward to the board of ed­u­ca­tion.”

Pro­po­nents ar­gue that an “F” in one marking pe­riod should not doom a stu­dent to fail­ure for the se­mes­ter or year, as a 0 to 59 per­cent scale de­fies logic and math­e­mat­i­cal ac­cu­racy which cre­ates an aca­demic death penalty. Pro­po­nents also ques­tion why the range for a fail­ing grade should be 60 points in­stead of 10 points, ac­cord­ing to the CCPS press re­lease.

Us­ing a 50 to 59 per­cent scale, Holl­stein said, “cre­ates a cli­mate of hope” — if stu­dents can make a change, then they get a se­cond chance to suc­ceed.

“We do need peo­ple to un­der­stand that some of the com­po­nents that are be­ing dis­cussed are not part of the rec­om­men­da­tion. We are not rec­om­mend­ing that no stu­dent can get less than a 50 per­cent on an in­di­vid­ual as­sign­ment,” said Holl­stein. “Some school dis­tricts do that but it is not part of our rec­om­men­da­tion.”

“The 50 per­cent is there to give stu­dents a cush­ion and some hope that with hard work and de­ter­mi­na­tion, they can see a way out,” CCPS stu­dent en­gage­ment of­fi­cer Chrys­tal Ben­son said in the press re­lease. “They don’t see them­selves in a hole where they can’t get out of that hole.”

West­lake High School Prin­ci­pal Diane Roberts agrees, cit­ing tragedies like ac­ci­dents and fires that can knock a stu­dent off track emo­tion­ally and men­tally.

When teach­ers see a stu­dent who is strug­gling, Roberts said they look beyond the grades and in­stead focus on what is hap­pen­ing in that stu­dent’s life.

“Some­times, there is a hic­cup in the first three quar­ters. If we can’t work for the end goal of pass­ing that class, that stu­dent will give up and prob­a­bly drop out,” Roberts said. “They’re think­ing about sur­vival and not about their grades. To say it is not math­e­mat­i­cally pos­si­ble for you to pass that class … that just de­stroys the hope of that stu­dent.”

Grades of A, B, C and D are all based on in­cre­ments of a 10-point grad­ing scale. The an­swer as to whether the “F” grade should range from a scale of 0 to 59 per­cent, or 50 to 59 per­cent, de­pends on which Charles County high school a stu­dent at­tends, ac­cord­ing to CCPS Su­per­in­ten­dent Kim­berly Hill who sup­ports a uni­form grad­ing scale for all sec­ondary schools.

“In Par­en­tVUE, par­ents will see ex­actly what stu­dents are earn­ing on every as­sign­ment and also what they would earn at the end of the quar­ter,” Holl­stein said. “The only thing that the com­mit­tee is rec­om­mend­ing is that for the first three quar­ters, there’s a math­e­mat­i­cal change. If you earn an ‘F,’ you get an ‘F.’ We’re not rec­om­mend­ing in­flat­ing grades. In­stead of that ‘F’ be­ing based on a wide scale of 0 to 59, the [pro­posed grad­ing pol­icy] would be 50 to 59. If a stu­dent is not go­ing to take ad­van­tage of op­por­tu­ni­ties to work with their coun­selors or teach­ers to turn in as­sign­ments and do a bet­ter job, un­for­tu­nately, they will fail.”

“Kids that have no hope of pass­ing math­e­mat­i­cally, even if they got an ‘A,’ then they give up,” Holl­stein added. “That’s what the whole rec­om­men­da­tion is based upon. Folks feel dif­fer­ently about it and that’s why the board mem­bers are ask­ing for the com­mu­nity to weigh in, so that they can make an in­formed de­ci­sion based on how the com­mu­nity feels as well.”

CCPS de­vel­oped an on­line sur­vey, avail­able at https://tinyurl.com/ y9wm5p68, to so­licit the com­mu­nity’s feed­back on the grad­ing change pro­posal. Sur­vey re­sponses are anony­mous and can be sub­mit­ted be­tween now and Oct. 15.

The board of ed­u­ca­tion will also hold a town hall meet­ing on Oct. 22 at the Jesse L. Starkey Ad­min­is­tra­tion Build­ing in La Plata, prior to its grad­ing pol­icy work ses­sion. Staff will pro­vide a brief overview start­ing at 6 p.m., fol­lowed by ques­tions/ com­ments and the work ses­sion at 7 p.m.

“We want to hear from par­ents. We want to hear from teach­ers. The board wants to make an in­formed de­ci­sion based on what the com­mu­nity feels,” Holl­stein re­it­er­ated. “This pol­icy is not ask­ing a teacher to change or in­flate any grade. The com­mit­tee did not rec­om­mend that. The ma­jor­ity of the folks that we talked to, who are fol­low­ing the 50 to 59 grad­ing scale, feel that it’s fair and that it’s in the best in­ter­est of the kids. It gives them the op­por­tu­nity to be able to pass a class, if they put the work in – that’s the key. The new grad­ing pol­icy will not au­to­mat­i­cally give them a free ride.”

For more in­for­ma­tion about the pro­posed grad­ing changes, go to https:// www.ccboe.com/pr/ board-con­sid­ers-pro­posal-to-change-grad­ing-pol­icy/.

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