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Letter grades may help struggling students

January 01, 2001

Letter grades may help struggling students



By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer

see also: Students see pros and cons in proposed grading system

A proposed change to the grading system in Washington County middle and high schools would provide more opportunities for struggling students to rebound during the year and ease the transition from middle to high school, said Boyd Michael, the Board of Education's director of secondary education.

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The proposed changes, which school officials recently presented to the School Board, include using letters to determine grades rather than percentages and establishing three marking periods in each semester for a total of six a year. Currently there are two marking periods each semester and four a year.

Opponents believe percentages give a more precise representation of student grades.

Michael said percentages make it difficult for students who have trouble in a class early in the school year to pass, even if they improve their grades later on in the class.

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"If you get a 20 percent in the first marking period, you're pretty much done for the year," Michael said. "You have to have really high grades to bring that grade up."

With the combination of letter grades and more marking periods, struggling students would have the opportunity to pass a class, he said. For example, if a student received an F in the first and second marking period, a B in the third marking period would give them an overall passing grade of C.

Michael thinks the opportunity would prevent more students who struggle early from dropping out.

School board member Doris Nipps said that while letter grades will allow more leeway for students, some think percentages give a more accurate showing of how a student performs.

"It's a mixed bag for me," she said. "Percentages are a very true, precise way of giving grades. But I understand, though, that by giving letter grades a student would still be able to pass the course.

"It would be difficult, if not impossible ... with percentages."

Washington County is one of the few counties in the state that uses percentages to grade, Nipps said.

"We're so state-driven, that we have to respond to what the state level is," said Robert Meyers, principal at Hancock Middle-Senior High School.

"I don't know that there is one better way than the other," he said.

Sharon Chirgott, president of the Washington County Teachers Association, said she hasn't thoroughly read the proposed changes, but that she's never had any problems with using percentages to grade.

Grade point averages would not be affected by the proposed changes, because the point values would remain the same. An A would still equal a 4.0.

Advanced courses, or weighted courses, have slightly higher point values.

For schools that have year-long classes, grades would be given every 12 weeks. For semester-long courses, grades would be given every six weeks.

Michael said the changes would standardize the grading system for grades six through 12, which could help middle school students transition to high school.

Now, middle schools students need to earn a 60 percent grade to pass, whereas high schools require a 70 percent, which is the equivalent of a C.

"That's a difficult transition," Michael said. "With letter grades, they'll be able to understand that I need a C to pass or to earn a credit."

Michael expects final approval of the change by the School Board in about a month, with the changes to be in effect by next school year.

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