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Grading Policy Gets Detention

New grading policy to be held back.

Pat O’Neill knew there would be problems after her daughter came home from Pyle Middle School on the first day of school. “My 8th-grader came home to me and said, ‘Mommy, what have you done?’” said O’Neill, Montgomery County Board of Education president.

O’Neill’s daughter was one of many students and parents across the county who were confused and upset in the first days of schools as teachers talked about the new grading policy which the board adopted last March.

As a result of major outcry, the board voted unanimously on Sept. 9 to delay implementation of the new policy, set to be implemented now, until the 2004-05 school year.

“There are serious and fundamental problems in the implementation,” said Sharon Cox, vice-president of the Board of Education.

“We will not implement until we get a better plan to implement, but we will get a better plan,” said School Superintendent Jerry Weast.

In the meantime, county schools will continue to use the previous policy.

Additionally, the policy will be phased in over several years, instead of all at once. Board of Education staff will spend the next several months developing an implementation schedule which will be presented to the board at its January meeting.

THE NEW SYSTEM, adopted last fall, was designed to make the grading system the same across the county, and to make grades based upon measurable performance — no more ‘A’ for effort.

Additionally, some non-academic extra credit options, such as getting an extra point for bringing in food to a food drive, will be eliminated.

“We should never have been doing that kind of stuff,” said Whitman Principal Jerome Marco.

Churchill Principal Joan Benz did not return the Almanac’s calls for comment.

Homework may have caused the most discussion.

“What [the teachers] are saying is that they can no longer grade on homework or class participation,” said Sharon Bourke, president of the Churchill PTA.

Previously, some teachers would give students credit for doing the homework, not necessarily for how well they did on the work. Teachers often would check that homework was done, but without collecting or grading it specifically. Now students will only be graded on their performance.

Parents and students are upset about this practice, arguing that homework should be where students are allowed to make mistakes.

“The whole point of homework is practice,” Bourke said.

Whitman junior Viki Economides said that the net effect would result in less understanding of the material. “Now they’re thinking, ‘I have to do well. I have to do well,’” she said. “They’re making sure it’s correct rather than just learn the stuff.”

Some teachers, in lieu of grading homework and counting it as part of the grade, are electing not to count it at all. “I have a child who loves this policy … he doesn’t have to do a lick of homework,” Bourke said.

Marco sees removing homework differently. “One of the things we are trying to do is to get away from busy work,” he said.

He believes that students who don’t do their homework will have difficulty succeeding. “If you are interested in passing the course, you will do the homework,” he said.

Marco says the policy is a way of forcing students to invest more in the learning process. “Students need to take some more responsibility,” he said.

STUDENTS AND PARENTS also fear that by focusing solely on quantitative measures, teachers no longer have the flexibility to adjust students’ grades for extenuating circumstances. “Apparently, curving is not allowed anymore,” Economides said.

Curving is the practice of adjusting test scores based on the performance of the class as a whole.

Economides is concerned that without curving, the students may end up being penalized. For example, if all or almost all students give an incorrect answer to the same question, then it is likely that the teacher explained the question inadequately, she said.

She is afraid that without curving, the question will not be eliminated from the exam. “Students should not be penalized for something the teacher does,” Economides said.