Parents call for keeping letter grades

January 20, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

Citing letter grades as motivators, guideposts and rewards, some Baltimore County parents lobbied to keep traditional marking systems in their schools during a small, but spirited public hearing last night.

"By doing away with letter grades, you would be penalizing the achievers," Micki MacCumbee, who has two children in county schools, told a committee studying the philosophy and future of letter grades.

"If you are worried about self-esteem of students who do not achieve, you are not going to improve their self-esteem or grades by protecting them from seeing their shortcomings and failures," she said. "Failures are sometimes the seed of future success."

Ms. MacCumbee was one of about two dozen parents who spoke in favor of traditional grades at the hearing, which drew about 135 people. About 10 others, many of them educators, supported alternatives.

Some county elementary schools are experimenting with alternatives this year, such as conducting extensive parent-teacher conferences in lieu of giving report cards and assessing children with checklists and portfolios rather than As and Bs.

The hearing was conducted by the committee of teachers, administrators, parents and students that has been working on the grading issue for several months. It will make recommendations to Superintendent Stuart Berger in March.

"No decision has been made; this is not a done deal," said committee chairwoman Carol Batoff.

Another parent, Diana Chetelat, said, "Taking away concrete grading takes away what is inevitable. In the real world, students can't say that they had good check marks."

But elementary teacher Karen Gronau defended the alternatives. "The elementary schools years are formative ones," she said. "We don't want to foster peer competition."

She said that with schools teaching critical thinking and related skills rather than just rote facts, old grading methods often do not reflect what is going on in the classroom.

Sue Pearl, who has children at Reisterstown Elementary, which has alternative grading, agreed.

"Using letter grades is inappropriate and often cruel," she said. "They don't tell you what a child knows . . . and they have taken the place of communication. I had a wonderful conference [with her child's teacher]. I have a much, much clearer picture of my child's progress than I ever did with a report card."

Many parents complained that they had not been included in the development of alternative grading methods and felt they did not know enough about what is being considered. Several criticized the haste with which the project is moving.

"What values are we teaching in our haste to implement this program?" asked Jerry Miskelly, who has two children at Joppa View Elementary in Perry Hall. "Please put a stop to this absurdity. Our children deserve more than a check mark."

Dr. Berger has repeatedly said he disapproves of letter grades for young children, and some educators say they expect a new grading system will be in place next school year.

The committee will conduct another hearing, for comments on high school grades, at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Parkville High School.

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