Parents were upset at a public forum at Wootton on the proposed changes to the schools grading system, but most of their frustration was directed at the people who weren’t there — members of the Board of Education.
Although the comments made by the 50 or so who came to the meeting will be forwarded to the board members, only one, Charles Haughey, was present. The forum was designed to elicit feedback on major changes to the grading policy for Montgomery County Public Schools.
“They seem to be implying that the train has left the station,” said Dan Shepherdson of Bethesda. Shepherdson had the impression that, since he had not commented at the previous three meetings, his voice would not be heard.
“I think it would be nice for more of the Board members to be here,” said Laura Siegal of Potomac.
During the comment and question phase of the evening, many comments were referred to the board. Betsy Brown, supervisor of secondary English for MCPS was leading the discussion, but she deflected some interaction, saying she is not a decision maker.
“Since we are not the people to make the decisions, we are not the ones to be convinced,” Brown said.
Some parents were frustrated that they couldn’t get their questions answered.
“Every single question we’re going to ask she’s going to say ‘send it to the board,’” said Linda Tabach of Potomac. Tabach was among several parents who left the forum early, frustrated at the perceived lack of concern from the school board.
Brown repeatedly assured the audience that their voices will be heard by the school board.
“This board and this superintendent are very interested in what the public has to say,” Brown said. “We’ve received over 100 comments and we have two weeks to go.”
“This is the same process that we follow on all of our policies. If people don’t have experience with the process, they may not have faith in it yet,” said Sharon Cox, school Board Vice-president. Cox was not present, but has been keeping up with the comments as they are submitted.
Brown was optimistic about the meeting’s results. “The vehicle, here, is the public comment. It isn’t to come here and make decisions. I found this to be very productive,” she said.
“People are taking the changes very seriously. There’s a great range of views to consider,” said Haughey, the one school board member who was there.
“There are some significant shifts,” said Lori-Christina Webb, coordinator of policies and procedures for MCPS.
The most controversial element of the grading changes appears to be the increase of the final exam weight in high school to 30 percent of the grade. Of the comments which have been submitted, “at least half of those have been on the final exam, and not one single person was in favor of the 30 percent,” Brown said.
The current system for high school students weights each of a semester’s two marking periods as 37.5 percent and the final exam as 25 percent of the semester grade. The new proposal will shift that to 35 percent for each marking period and 30 percent for the final exam. The final semester grade is the only one which appears on high school transcripts.
“Really, it’s just trying to align grading and reporting with the high stakes assessments. We want to acknowledge the rigor of our exams,” Brown said. She gave examples such as the High School Assessment test as a “high-stakes” exam — students will have only one opportunity to pass.
Parents are upset because students who do not test well may have their grades negatively impacted by the increased weight of the final.
“You make it sound like you’re trying to reward the students. The perception of a lot of parents have is that this isn’t to reward the students, but to punish them for not taking the exams seriously,” said Maureen Austen of North Potomac.
“I do not want the increase. I don’t think its that great of a representation,” said Whitman sophomore Jason Malashevich.
The other major issue is the revision of the attendance policy.
“It was pretty immediately agreed upon that a grade should reflect academic performance,” Brown said. It was determined that attendance is a behavior.
The current policy is that a student will lose credit if they have five unexcused absences — The state defines what is or is not excused — in a semester. The new policy would remove attendance from the grading policy.
“The recommendation is to write an attendance policy,” Brown said. She said several options are being discussed, including leaving the current policy in place until a new one is developed.