MCPS plans to enforce its new grading policy for all county high schools next year. A committee is still writing regulations for the implementation of the new policy and hopes to have a final version drafted before the end of the school year.
According to Principal Phillip Gainous, who is part of the drafting committee currently working to complete implementation regulations, beginning next year, Blair will enact the revised grading policy. Depending on when the policy is completed by the committee, the new grading system will either be implemented to its fullest extent or in parts at the start of the 2005-2006 school year, he said.
Implementation of the policy in county high schools was supposed to begin last fall, but was pushed back a year because of resistance the changes faced. "Huge philosophical issues had to be resolved," said staff development teacher Jennifer Craft.
Back to the drawing board
To respond to criticism, the county formed the committee last November to revise the three main areas of the proposed policy that drew the most concerns from teachers, parents and students: reteaching and reassessment, the grading scale and homework.
The committee — which includes faculty members, parents, administrators and students — has completed the first part and is currently working on generating homework guidelines and a grading scale.
The new policy would allow students to retake tests and quizzes they have failed. The committee made revisions to ensure that students meet certain criteria before being allowed to retake an assessment, such as attending academic support, explained Gainous. Furthermore, if students continue to fail retests, teachers must reteach the material and reassess the students' progress.
The committee is also discussing various options for incorporating homework into a student's grade. Currently, to comply with MCPS revisions, homework that is graded only for completion and is not directly related to the curriculum may not be factored into the grade. Teachers and parents have raised concerns over this policy because they say that students may be reluctant to complete homework if it is not graded.
Gainous explained that the committee is considering making homework that is assigned only for practice worth about 10 percent of a student's overall grade as a possible solution. "The effort is to make sure that homework for completion does count," said Shirley Brandman, vice president for educational issues at the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations (MCCPTA).
The committee is reviewing a grading scale to determine what score should constitute an A, B, C, D or E. It is also debating an appropriate scale that will be narrower than the zero-to-100 scale that high schools currently use, but wider than the one-to-four scale that was initially proposed, according to MCPS Director of Curriculum Development Betsy Brown.
Teachers and parents also protested the 50 percent policy, under which the lowest grade a student can receive is a 50 percent instead of a zero. Gainous expressed doubts that the committee will approve the policy and stated that teachers are unlikely to accept half credit as the lowest possible grade. "I don't think it's going to go," he said. "[Teachers] can't live with 50 percent for no effort."
To ensure that the perspectives of those affected by the new grading system are considered, the committee temporarily releases its proposals to get feedback from the community, said Brandman. Through open grading and reporting meetings, Brandman hopes to ensure that the committee receives "a lot more parent input before it's fully finalized." But the MCCPTA believes that proposals should be available to local schools as well, said Brandman.
Teachers and parents have approved of changes that the committee made to address their concerns, according to Brown. "Nobody will say it's perfect, but we're hearing that this is so much better," she said.
Gainous also believes that, even though the policy is "still a work in progress," Blair teachers will accept the revisions, which give them more flexibility than the first interpretations of the new policy did. "We have all convinced the people in central office that there must be teacher discretion, or it just wouldn't work," he said.
To begin transitioning into the new system, Gainous left each department responsible for generating a grading policy this year to create grading consistency within each subject.
"Out of the loop"
Before the new policy can be instituted next year, all Blair staff members must be trained in implementing the system, so the committee hopes to finish revising the policy as soon as possible. Staff training has been completed for half of the eight training modules created by MCPS to prepare teachers to employ the policy, said Craft. However, the training cannot be clearly determined until the committee finishes writing the regulations, according to Gainous.
Social studies teacher Kevin Moose explained that Blair staff has been given almost no information since the training they received at the end of last year. At that time, teachers received more extensive material on the new grading policies, even though implementation is scheduled to begin in September of 2005. The gap in communication has raised concerns for teachers who have not been properly notified of the mechanics behind the changes they must adopt next year. "I feel out of the loop. There are still questions that haven't been resolved," said Moose.
Preparing teachers depends heavily on the outcome of the committee and its ability to create definitive plans for implementation in time for proper training to occur. "I think they're unable to communicate because all the regulations are not set in stone so they don't have a clear message to send yet," she said.
Members of the committee are confident that they will reach a consensus by the end of the school year, so that schools can begin to communicate the new measures to parents and students.
When the time comes to apply the changes, all staff members may not be ready if current procedures remain the same, according to Craft. "If they don't change regulations, I don't think we'll have full implementation," she said. However, every teacher will be held accountable by both the Blair administration and the county to begin the new grading policies.
Moose explained that the majority of his personal grading practices will probably remain unchanged, even in the new system. Even though Moose is pleased that the county is moving towards a grading system that is similar to those found in many colleges, he is unsure if he agrees with regulations that disregard class participation. "I'm not sure that's where we want to go with this," he said.
Many students have also been concerned that a new grading scale will cause their grades to suffer, but Kathi Yu, vice president of academic achievement for the Blair PTSA, is confident that it will not have a significant impact on students' grades. "Students shouldn't get anxiety. I don't think anyone will not be getting into the college of their choice based on the change in the policy," she said.
The majority of students will be unaffected by the changes because they will continue to receive the same grades regardless of the grading scheme, according to Moose. However, he does believe that two group of students will be affected: Students who pass a class without learning the actual material will be hurt because they may no longer be able to earn points for class participation or homework, and students who know the material but do poorly in class simply because they refuse to do other work will benefit.
The Board of Education decided to revise the established grading system in an effort to create a more consistent scale throughout county schools, said Brown.
To create more uniform standards, the current policy, which was approved in 2003, states that under the new system, "grades represent accurate reflection of achievement as outlined in the curriculum." The Board's purpose in creating a new grading policy was to align a student's grades strictly with his or her mastery of the subject instead of participation or extra credit. "Grades will reflect academic achievement only," said Brown.
To voice concerns about the implementation of the new grading policy, e-mail MCPS Director of Curriculum Development Betsy Brown at email@example.com.
Kristi Chakrabarti. Kristi Chakrabarti is finally a Magnet senior who is obsessed with basketball and is a die-hard Wizards fan. When she is not religiously following the NBA, she enjoys playing tennis and reading. Her favorite TV shows are Friends and ER and her favorite food is … More »