CCPS seeking input on proposed grading policy changes
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/.