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Board pushes letter grades

March 01, 2001

Board pushes letter grades



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Changing the grading system in middle and high schools from percentages to letters would help Washington County students prepare for the upcoming statewide high school assessment exams and allow students to recover from one poor grade per semester, according to the Washington County Board of Education.

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The proposed grading system also includes establishing three marking periods per semester, for a total of six a year. Currently, there are two marking periods per semester and four a year.

Boyd Michael, the board's director of secondary education, and Linda Fernandez, director of curriculum, presented the proposed changes to about 30 parents, teachers and students Wednesday night.

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Michael said the changes would align course assessment methods with the standards of the state's high school assessments.

"As we prepare for high school assessments, our students have to reach certain standards," Michael said. "If they don't pass the high school assessments, they will not graduate."

But 10 of the 11 audience members who spoke at the meeting expressed concerns about the proposed changes. Some felt percentage grades would lose value in the conversion to letter grades. The letter grades would be based on a matrix that would determine final grades based on the three-marking-period system.

Under percentages, if a student were receive a 96 percent for the first marking period and an 88 for the second and third, the final grade would equal a 90 percent, or an "A."

Under the proposed system, the same percentages would equal an "A" in the first marking period and a "B" in the second and the third, but the student would receive a "B" for the final grade instead of an "A."

Molly Schweinhart, a sixth-grader at Smithsburg Middle School, said letter grades don't show an exact achievement level. With percentages, parents and students can see whether a student jumped from a 93 percent one marking period to a 97 percent another or vice versa.

"I like to see my improvements on my grades," Molly said. "Why should I put forth the extra effort when it's still going to be an 'A?'"

Others said the matrix was unfair.

For example, if a student were to receive a "B" in a course for the first marking period, a "C" the second marking period and an "F" the third, that student would receive an "F" for a final grade.

There is no "D" grade on the matrix.

On the other hand, if another student were to get a "C" the first marking period, a "B" in the second and an "F" the third, the student would receive a "C" for a final grade.

"It doesn't make sense to me," said Salem Avenue Elementary teacher Alan Zube. "They should either both be F's or they should both be C's."

The School Board will hold another public meeting on the proposed changes tonight at 7:30 at the central office on Commonwealth Avenue.

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