Grade policy vote stalls

Jurisdictional discussion, wording of proposal at issue

Document called vague

Board members voice support for eliminating the D

January 10, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

After more than a year of haggling over a plan to overhaul the grading system used in Anne Arundel County schools, the school board tripped over technicalities yesterday and failed to approve the new grading proposal.

The plan spelled out how much homework teachers are to assign, how valedictorians are determined and how much weight to give final exams. On that last point - the most controversial - the board had agreed that final exams should count for 20 percent of the overall course grade in high school.

But yesterday, two of the eight board members voted against the proposed policy, saying it was not specific enough for them to support it. Two other board members were absent yesterday. The four remaining board members voted for the grading plan, but it needed five votes to be adopted.

"It's on hold," said Roy Skiles, a school system director of instruction who led the committee that drew up the plan.

Officials still hope to have the plan in place by the start of the next school year.

Yesterday's vote was a surprise because the board appeared to reach agreement on the plan last month after hearing from teachers, parents and students.

The vote was preceded by a discussion of parliamentary procedure - sparked by a proposed amendment to the plan. Board member Paul Rudolph's amendment would have limited the credits students at high schools that run on a four-period day can receive for courses that run two semesters.

But some board members said that specifics such as that were the prerogative of the superintendent and not under the board's jurisdiction. Rudolph withdrew his amendment when he saw there wasn't enough support for it; he then said he couldn't support the policy as it stood because it was too vague.

The details of the plan were spelled out in 19 pages of administrative regulations, which are under the control of the superintendent. The actual policy the board voted on - which would fall under board jurisdiction - was just a half-page long.

Board members Joseph Foster and Rudolph said they wanted the board to control the details of grading, not the superintendent.

"There was nothing in the policy," Rudolph said. "A lot of what was in the regulations will have to move into the policy for me to support it."

Foster had another problem: The plan defines a D grade as between 60 and 69 percent. He said that may be asking too little of students, and he wants the board to consider eliminating the D grade.

"When we talk about raising the bar, it's not because we want more students to fail or to increase the dropout rate," Foster said. "It's exactly the opposite. We want more students to graduate and be successful in the world."

Several other board members expressed interest in eliminating the D, and the school system plans to soon form of a committee to study the issue. Interim Superintendent Kenneth P. Lawson warned the board shouldn't rush into such an action. "It's going to be a change in philosophy, attitude and understanding for teachers, students and parents, and we thought that one deserved a little more time and consideration," he said.

The school system started work in the grading plan about a year and a half ago in an attempt to standardize a scattershot approach used to dole out grades in the county's 117 public schools.

Early drafts of the plan called for increasing the weight of final exams to 30 percent of the overall course grade, up from 20 percent. But after teachers and students strongly opposed putting so much weight on a two-hour exam, the school system backed down.

The plan, as proposed yesterday, said students in middle school should spend one hour per night on homework and that it should count for 10 to 15 percent of their final grade. High schoolers should spend two hours per night on homework, and it should count for 15 to 20 percent of the final grade.

The plan also said children in pre-kindergarten through second grade would not receive letter grades on their report cards. Instead, they would be rated as "consistently demonstrating" skills, "developing" skills or "needs improvement" in each subject.

And the plan called for grade-point averages to be calculated to the thousandth point and rounded to hundredths, which could leave some high schools with co-valedictorians.

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