Grading Bar Too High, Loudoun Parents Say

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 19, 2008

A parent-led campaign to overhaul Fairfax County's grading scale has sparked a similar effort in neighboring Loudoun County.

The Fairgrade group is seeking to lower the Fairfax school system's cutoff for an A from 94 points to 90 on a 100-point scale, arguing that the higher bar hurts competitiveness in college admissions and scholarships. Now the effort has traveled up the Potomac River as Fairgrade Loudoun tries to make a similar change to the Loudoun school system's 93-point A.

"We're really concerned about all of our students," said Kathy Lague, the group's co-founder. "If you have an 84 in Loudoun County, you have a C. We're one of the few counties that has that." Under the system both Fairgrade groups are advocating, 90 points and above would earn an A, 80 and above a B.

After a petition gathered more than 6,000 signatures of support and a Facebook group attracted 1,500 members, the Fairfax group persuaded its school system to study whether students are being hurt by the grading policies. That report will be completed by the end of November, Fairfax schools spokesman Paul Regnier said.

Although many universities say that they take grading scales' differences into account when making admissions decisions and that they also look at such factors as class rank, which would be unaffected by the changes Fairgrade advocates, there are financial benefits, beyond scholarships, to having higher grade-point averages. Student discounts on car insurance, for example, are often determined by GPAs, and the savings can be significant. In Virginia, Geico offers students who maintain a 3.0-or-above GPA discounts of up to 15 percent, company spokeswoman Chris Tasher said.

The issue is drawing more attention in Loudoun. The school board's curriculum and instruction committee met Wednesday with representatives from both Fairgrade groups, and the Loudoun Education Alliance of Parents plans to devote its November meeting to the topic.

"We're trying to make sure that we do what's right by students," said K. Anne Lewis, director of student services for Loudoun schools. She said the school system is studying the matter.

Loudoun County School Board members have adopted a wait-and-see attitude, figuring that the Fairfax report will be just as applicable to them, although some board members who initially opposed the change are starting to soften their positions.

Board member Tom Marshall (Leesburg), who was a guidance counselor at a Fairfax high school until he retired, said he wasn't convinced of the need to change the grading scale when he was first approached in May.

In Virginia, "schools that many of our students go to . . . have a feeling for the students that come out of our county," Marshall said. Those schools know that Loudoun has a stricter scale than Falls Church and the Maryland suburbs, he said, and will adjust accordingly. But he said he was worried about large schools beyond the mid-Atlantic region that might base their admissions decisions heavily on numerical factors without considering the relative difficulty of achieving an A.

One of the arguments against the change is grade inflation, Marshall said, "but I can't see why the grade-inflation argument is any better than the level-the-playing-field argument, and I'd rather err on the side of leveling the playing field."

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