The pace of student achievement and the effect it has had on attracting businesses and residents played a major role in County Executive Rushern L. Baker III’s decision to try to take over the school system last year. State legislation was ultimately approved that changed the school system’s governance structure and gave Baker (D) more input into the leadership of the county’s educational system.
School board members had a lively discussion at their meeting Thursday of the ramifications of altering grading policies, including the effects of potentially inflating achievement scores and social promotion of students who are not performing at grade level.
Member Verjeana M. Jacobs (District 5) said she was concerned that any policy change that results in better student grades could make it appear as though the county made improvements in student achievement, while masking a lack of mastery of the subject matter.
“If we change the grading policy . . . mathematically it’s going to be higher,” Jacobs said. “It’s not a magic bullet, but it’s a way to demonstrate kids are doing better. I’m not saying it’s bad. But I don’t know if it is good.”
Board member Daniel A. Kaufman cautioned that making changes based on behavioral conduct or improvement could result in social promotion or allowing students to advance simply because “they tried hard.” He said those types of changes would not help students compete nationally or internationally.
“If we pass them because they behave well in class or because they tried hard, that does a disservice to the child,” Kaufman said. “That does not help them to become college- and career-ready.”
Under the county’s current policy, grades are calculated by weighing classwork, homework and tests. Second graders through eighth graders receive grades on an A (excellent progress) to E (unsatisfactory progress) scale. High school students are graded throughout the year on a numeric scale from zero to 100, and final grades are converted to letter grades.
Chief Academic Officer A. Duane Arbogast said behavior and continuous improvement are not codified in the policy, leaving such measures subjective. “Grading is one of those things that teachers have to find an equilibrium with their own integrity,” Arbogast said.
Board member Edward Burroughs III (District 8) said he has concerns about the numeric scale starting at zero. Other districts’ numeric scales typically range from 50 to 100.
Burroughs argued that when a student receives a score of 30 on homework assignments early in the class, “mathematically, they are probably not going to pass the class, so they check out.”
Arbogast said that although the current policy does not address grade recovery — allowing students to improve their grades through makeup work or extra credit — teachers do allow it.
Board Chairman Segun C. Eubanks said he would like to know whether students drop out of classes or give up and end up failing because they struggle early with low grades. He said he worries that students might not be graded consistently if their grades are based on continuous improvement.
Board member Curtis Valentine asked school officials to consider a hypothetical question related to the social-promotion issue: Should an employee who shows up late every day, dresses inappropriately, fails at his work and disrespects others receive a promotion?
Schools Chief Executive Officer Kevin M. Maxwell responded: “I think your point is, are we grading to standards or are we grading to conduct, which has been the centerpiece of the discussion today. . . . I think we have to have a conversation around those pieces.”