Emphasis on exams draws fire

Finals would count for 30% of grade in standardization plan

Parents, teachers object

Board considers eliminating `D' as passing mark

October 26, 2001|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

A plan to standardize grades in Anne Arundel County's 117 public schools - to ensure that an A in one classroom means an A in another - has drawn fire from students, parents and teachers for its heavy emphasis on final exams.

The plan would require high school teachers to count final exams as 30 percent of a student's overall grade, up from 20 percent. Some students and parents say the change would put too much weight on a two-hour exam.

"It takes a lot of emphasis off of time in the classroom, and that's where the majority of learning goes on," said Lauren Hall, a junior at Broadneck High School in Annapolis.

Hall and two other students testified before the school board Wednesday night. The board plans to take a final vote on the proposed grading policy - two years in the making - in January. If approved, it would go into effect for the next school year.

The board added a new wrinkle this week. Several members said they want to consider eliminating the D grade and asked the school system staff to research that idea.

"It's been acceptable for all too long in American education to get by with a D and get a diploma, and now students will not fare very well in the outside world with those low standards," said school board President Carlesa Finney of Glen Burnie. "I want ... to raise the standards and push the envelope for students so they can graduate with some real competencies."

Some board members expressed shock that a score of 60 percent on an assignment counts as a D and thus as passing. Others said the D should be maintained but should be considered a failing grade.

"I think, psychologically, if a kid gets a D, then he knows there's some hope," said board member Janet Bury of Brooklyn Park. "You don't want to drop off the cliff at C."

The most contentious issue remained how much weight to give final exams. A committee suggested that the exams count for 30 percent of final grades so that students would be prepared for the gravity of the high school assessment tests, statewide subject tests that are expected to become graduation requirements with the Class of 2007.

Students in certain courses now take the assessment tests, but passing them is not a graduation requirement.

"We're soon going to have very serious, high-stakes accountability for high school students, and I think for their sake we need to prepare them for the seriousness of that testing," said board member Vaughn Brown of Hanover.

A teacher who appeared before the board Wednesday night said the 30 percent proposal "trivializes" the research papers and projects to which students and teachers devote many hours.

"To me, this [proposal] says that kids that are going to be penalized are the kids who are working hard day-to-day, and the kids who will be rewarded are those students who cram at the last moment," said Marty Pehrson, an English teacher at North County High School.

She also pointed out that seniors take one-hour final exams. "For one hour to be 30 percent of your grade, to me that's incredible," she said.

Pehrson said teachers also take issue with setting guidelines for homework that are laid out in the proposed grading policy. The policy says children in elementary school should spend 20 to 40 minutes on homework per night; middle school pupils, 60 minutes a night; and high school students, 120 minutes a night.

The policy also would require that middle school teachers count homework as 10 percent to 15 percent of each semester's grade, and that high school teachers count homework as 15 percent to 20 percent of the grade.

"Homework can be dealt with by individual teachers," Pehrson said. "To mandate a certain amount of homework - it's too restrictive."

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