Dear Extra Credit:

I look forward to reading your column each week, particularly for the forum you have provided concerning the new Montgomery County grading policy. Because of your column and different forums I have attended, I have learned more about this policy, and it has affected my opinions. I support the percentage grading policy more than I did originally, and don't really understand the advantage of the 1-5 system of grading, especially as it translates to colleges' interpretations of our kids' applications. And I still abhor the idea that, in high school, class participation and homework will not count much or at all.

However, as this year has moved on, with next fall looming as the time when this policy will be instituted, I almost frantically worry. I imagine that most parents in this area are saying, "Oh, well, Montgomery County is basically a very good school system" and therefore don't put much energy into investigating this policy. I do know that the teaching staff feels pretty powerless about the institution of this policy, even though every single staff member I have talked to about this policy does not like it and does not see a need for this change.

I had a discussion with a teacher from Great Britain who was observing the school system, especially as it relates to gifted students. He expressed astonishment at the number of parents he overheard who were in disagreement with the grading and reporting policy. He commented that, in Great Britain, there is no way that the school system would be able to institute a major change if the parents objected to that change, and he had assumed that it would be the same here. In fact, he continued, the parent population here is so astute and highly educated that he assumed there would be quite a positive partnership.

Additionally, he stated that in Great Britain, it's said that every parent who writes a letter or makes a phone call to the school system speaks for 10,000 other parents.

So, although I don't enjoy participating in the bureaucratic (political) process, I push myself to keep voicing my objections to this policy because I have had so many conversations with parents and staff who disagree with it and who may not act.

My daughter is new to the public school system this year, her freshman year in high school. However, I have two older children who graduated from Walt Whitman High in 2002 and 2003. My youngest's experience this year feels quite different to me, and this difference is very worrisome.

I feel as though the total focus is on performing on various evaluations -- tests and quizzes, for the most part. The amount that my youngest has per week is a lot more than when my others were in ninth grade; when is there time to discuss the theories and systems that they are learning about? And there is a frenetic feel to the pace. Kids are so stressed in this and many other areas, and this policy is adding to that stress. They are getting the message that it's the grade that matters, not the process.

Since my daughters were young, I have tried to emphasize the importance of learning rather than focusing on the grade. I have spoken with many teenagers who say that the message some get from their parents is to do well and get into a great college. Then the kids say to me that their parents didn't really say how to do that; they don't ask what the kids loved learning this semester. Rather, they ask, "What's your grade?" Well, the new policy certainly amplifies the message that grades are more important and the learning process is less so.

Bekki Sims


Walt Whitman

High School parent

Thank you for the kind words. When the Extra Credit column returns in August, I will welcome more letters on this and other issues. But don't blame the Montgomery County schools for that "frenetic feel." I have visited dozens of school districts around the country and have heard that complaint wherever there has been a large number of affluent and well-educated parents.

Dear Extra Credit:

As a recent graduate of Magruder High School, I find the new grading scale horribly disturbing. Instead of arguing over ratios and percentages, here is a simple solution: Weight different categories by importance. For example, tests count 50 percent, projects 25 percent and homework 25 percent. Then just drop the lowest score from each category. This would give an accurate view of overall performance and take into account difficulty with a particular subject, or simple negligence.

It may not be perfect and would need to vary from class to class, but it is something more sensible than awarding credit for not doing anything. If this is the message you want to send current high school students, then please send me information on jobs where I can get 50 percent of my salary without ever coming into work.

Patrick Ewing


Aerospace Engineering

North Carolina

State University