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Votes

A or B? Changes Coming

Across the board changes are in store

Some Potomac parents and students are worried about changes coming to the way grades are calculated and reported.

“I think it’s good that they’re trying to get everybody on the same level, but I think it needs work,” said Sharon Bourke, president of the Churchill PTSA.

The school board tentatively approved new policy that will change the way grades are calculated and reported to parents. Three public meetings are scheduled and the final vote is set for March 24.

According to Sharon Cox, vice president of the School Board and Chair of the Policy Committee, the revision was prompted by a study done a couple of years ago.

“We had a review by an outside organization,” Cox said. The review concluded that there were inconsistencies in grading from school to school. “We need to have alignment in our grading,” Cox said. “We are looking to improve our ability to provide quality instruction.”

THE POLICY will cause interim reports to be sent out with more regularity, increase the weight of the final exam from 25 percent of the semester grade to 30 percent, remove attendance’s direct effect on grades, change the components of a grade, and set a countywide 10-point scale (90 for an “A,” 80 for a “B,” etc.) for grading symbols, among other things.

“The perspective I have is that this will ensure consistency,” Cox said.

According to Bourke, more interim reports are not necessarily going to be positive.

“You get a note home saying your child is not doing well, but not what to do about it,” Bourke said. “A lot of the changes are putting things back on the parents.”

However, help may be on the way for worried parents. “We’ve asked staff to work with parents,” Cox said.

Under the current system interim reports — sent halfway through a grading period but not a “report card” — are sent to students in danger of failing or dropping more than one letter grade. The new system states there “should” be reports for all students, but there must be reports for those in danger of failing or dropping more than one letter grade.

The change of grading components and scale could have a major effect on some students’ grades. Under the current system, schools and, to an extent, individual classroom teachers, have leeway to create what amounts to an individualized standard for each student. So even though a particular student may not have the test scores to merit a particular grade, he or she can receive that grade as a result of hard work – an “A” for effort.

THE NEW system will remove that option. If a student has an 89 average they get a “B,” 90 is an “A.” The idea is that grades will mean the same across the county – an “A” at Einstein would mean the same thing as an “A” at Churchill.

Test scores will not be the only criteria, Cox pointed out, “Students’ performance will be measured in a variety of ways over time.” She also noted that during the process of developing the new policy other options, such as a numerical grade, were discarded. “One reason is that it was hurting students at the lower end of a particular grading symbol,” Cox said.

There are parents who prefer the current system. “Now, there’s a bit more room for getting credit for effort,” Bourke said.

One student saw the increased weight of final exams as a potential positive. “If you get two ‘Bs’ there’s no way you could get an ‘A’ for the semester,” Churchill sophomore Robert Sorbello said of the current system. He believes that under the new system, it will be possible for borderline students to pull themselves up to the next letter grade.

“HOPEFULLY, it will bring my grades up more,” Sorbello said.

Some parents don’t see it as rosily. “There are some concerns about increasing the weight of the final exam,” Bourke said. She cited a study completed by the PTSA, “in 11 cases out of 13, the grade will drop.”

Attendance will be dealt with as a separate policy, according to Cox. “We will review and come up with a separate policy,” she said. Under the current system, if a high school student has more than five unexcused absences, that student will lose credit for the class. The new policy will make a clear statement of the importance of attendance, but will remove it as a direct effect on grades.

“Parents are all over the map on this one,” Bourke said. According to Bourke, while some parents want the “babysitting” effect of knowing where their child is at any given time, others wonder why a student should have to show up if they don’t need to.

“I don’t think that kids should be punished if they can do the work,” Bourke said.

Although Sorbello conceded that there are students who would abuse the more lenient policy, he was in favor of it. He believed that absenteeism might end up as its own punishment. “They might not learn the material,” Sorbello said.