Dear Extra Credit:

I have heard a lot of ridiculous interpretations of Montgomery County's new grading policies. I have heard that homework doesn't need to be turned in because it won't be graded. I have also heard that even if a student turns in a blank paper, the minimum grade will be 50 percent. I think that the basic idea, as I understand it, is that students will be graded on their mastery of the subject rather than on completion of busywork. Does the new policy make it unnecessary for students to do their homework? Will it show what students have learned better than the old policy?

Ellen Mika

Richard Montgomery

High School parent

Bethesda

I suspect this will be only the first of many times this column addresses the new homework policy, the hottest issue of the year. Karen Harvey, the county's director of curriculum and instruction, has bravely volunteered to explain it.

"Homework is vital to the academic success of students and has two distinct purposes," she said. "When homework is for practice, it is reported as a learning skill separate from the grade. Students who do not complete practice homework are at a disadvantage because they are not practicing the skills needed to be successful on assessments. Timely, specific feedback on practice assignments that are related to a criterion or goal motivates students to complete practice assignments. Homework that is assigned after instruction, practice and feedback can be graded and will become part of the body of evidence used to determine the grade reported."

Harvey said the new policy is designed to be fair and meaningful and support student achievement. But those of us who remember the days when a missed assignment got a zero are going to have to adjust ourselves to a new century.

Increments from one grade to the next have to be equal to be fair, Harvey said. On a four-point letter scale, "each grading symbol is one point apart from those on either side. In a percentage grading system, the revised grading and reporting policy uses 90-100 (A), 80-89 (B), 70-79 (C), 60-69 (D) and 50-59 (E) because a wider increment would skew a student's grade heavily toward failure." In the real world, if you miss a contract proposal deadline, you don't get the job, and it doesn't matter whether you missed it by a day or a week. An E is failure, and modern educators believe it does little good to calibrate failure along a 50-point scale.

Dear Extra Credit:

I would like to know where things stand with the drinking water problem in schools. I did receive a letter from Dr. [Jerry D.] Weast stating that the water was tested and that there are schools that are still flushing the water on a scheduled basis, but there was no listing as to which schools are doing better and which are still having problems. I would like to have that information. In addition, I am wondering what is being done to find out the cause of the problem and how to correct the problem.

Barbara Friedman

Walter Johnson

High School parent

Rockville

Montgomery County schools spokeswoman Kate Harrison said the preliminary sampling data for all schools should be available by early next month. After that, all non-exempt fixtures that exceed 20 parts per billion of lead in the water will be resampled. Exempt fixtures are those not associated with drinking water, such as science lab sinks.

"The goal of the resampling is to confirm the readings as well as to identify the cause of the problem," she said. "Resampling is expected to take until at least May to complete."

Each school is being evaluated. More school-by-school data can be found at www.mcps.k12.md.us/info/emergency/lead/ or by calling your principal.