Panel calls for unity in grading

Draft report urges schools to adopt 100-point system

Anne Arundel

March 08, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

In an attempt to standardize a scattered approach to doling out grades in Anne Arundel County's schools, school board members moved closer yesterday to assuring that an A in one classroom is the same as an A in another.

As part of a yearlong effort to revise the school system's grading policy, members of a grading committee recommended moving to a numeric 100-point system to determine grades - later converting them to the basic four-point grade-point average.

The board also recommended making homework a bigger part of the school culture and giving final exams greater weight.`The single largest issue is that we weren't consistent," said Roy Skiles, a director of instruction who chairs the committee. "Things just sort of evolved over 10 or 15 years."

Board members saw one revision of the policy in August, and committee members since then have gathered comments - from hundreds of parents, teachers, administrators, students and businessmen. The second draft, reviewed yesterday, will go through a similar process. Any revisions will be incorporated into a third draft scheduled for a board vote in April.

Currently, some teachers grade assignments using a letter-grade system, such as A, B or C. Others use a 100-point system, where good work may earn a student a 90 or a 95, for example. The end result, Skiles explained, could mean equal work gets two different grades once transferred to the report card.

"An A is still not an A," lamented board member Carlesa Finney, who works in admissions at Anne Arundel Community College. "It depends on the course. It depends on the teacher.

"A student can get all A's in English classes and still need developmental coursework to prepare them for college. I see students with all A's that get 600 on their [verbal] SATs."

Homework was also a big issue, notably in middle and high school. The new policy reads: "Homework is a required component for student achievement. A teacher's evaluation of homework shall be reflected in each student's grades."

Some later wording points out that homework may not be required in every class; for example, Skiles said, it isn't feasible to require it for a keyboarding teacher. But board members and administrators indicated homework is a high priority.

"I know there are homework assignments," said board member Janet Bury. "My question is, they're not often graded in middle school, they don't have any weight. Is this changing that?"

Superintendent Carol S. Parham said that is her expectation. She said she worries about middle-school pupils who ease through nongraded homework assignments in eighth grade and suddenly find themselves in trouble in high school because what was once viewed as optional homework suddenly counts, and "they haven't had that experience in middle school."

Another part of the policy is related to choosing high school valedictorians and salutatorians. That issue caused headaches last year at Severna Park High School when a student missed being No. 1 in the class by a little more than one-hundredth of a point. Because of the fractional difference, the student's mother asked that the two top students be named co-valedictorians, but the principal refused.

The committee's proposal is to calculate grade-point averages to the thousandths and round them to the hundredths - a measure that could leave schools with co-valedictorians.

Now, GPAs are calculated until someone emerges as winner. Some of those surveyed suggested that those titles be eliminated, or teachers chose them, or the best speaker be named valedictorian. Such suggestions were rejected by the committee.

Parham said she would like to bring the full policy to a vote next month to leave enough time for teacher training and implementation for the 2001-2002 academic year, which begins in August.

"Certainly we'd like to adhere to that timeline, but as superintendent, I'm not wedded to that timeline," she said. "This is a very difficult topic."

Board member Joseph H. Foster said he wants to make sure a month is enough time to hear again from concerned parties.

"I don't want people coming next September and saying, `What have you done to us?'" he said.

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