Plan to objectify student grades
In a 7-0 vote last Tuesday, the Montgomery County Board of Education (BOE) ratified a five-year implementation plan for its controversial new grading policy, which will base students' academic grades solely on "mastery of objectives" established by the county.
The plan, Policy IKA: Grading and Reporting, was first approved last March to give more objective feedback regarding accomplishment of set course objectives. Partial implementation will start during the 2004-2005 school year when all public school students will receive report cards that provide grades in academic subjects as well as information about effort and behavior. However, this information, along with progress, attitude, and participation, must not be considered in academic grades.
Beginning in 2005-2006, students will be graded on how well they meet course and grade-level standards of achievement. The county will develop new report cards for first and second grades that year, third through fifth grades in 2006-2007, sixth through eighth grades in 2007-2008, and ninth through twelfth grades in 2008-2009.
The plan also takes into account ESOL and Special Education students. ESOL students' English proficiency level—defined as beginning, intermediate, and advanced—will be taken into account in grades for academic subjects. Special Education students will also face a slightly different version of the plan and will be graded on standards set by committees that supervise individual education plans.
The policy and its secondary documents eliminate forced curves, as well as sliding and altered scales, in an effort to make grades representative of attainment of countywide objectives. "Accurate reflection of student achievement compared to grade level or course expectations outlined in the curriculum as demonstrated on assessments and teacher designed tasks," reads the policy.
Students and parents, according to the policy, will be informed at the beginning of a course or marking period of the specific expectations to ensure accurate evaluation of student performance.
Student Member of the BOE Sagar Sanghvi, a junior at Col. Zadok Magruder High School, has expressed concern about changing a system to which high school students are so accustomed. "I think transcripts will be more accurate because they will show achievement, but I don't think students will perform as well," he said. "[Students and teachers] have had one system drilled into their minds and it will be hard to change."
The policy has met criticism among students. "As I told the Board at our last meeting, I don't want to be the guinea pig for a new grading system, especially when it will directly impact my future," Sanghvi said. But he also noted that the official policy has not changed significantly since 1993. "The practice of teachers has not followed the policy," Sanghvi wrote in an e-mail.
However, he feels that if teachers and students will be flexible, they have been allotted enough time for the philosophical changes that they will be forced to undergo. "This new policy will be one of the biggest ideological shifts in teacher, student, parent and administrative thinking," he said. "They will need to work with the policy."
PTSA Vice President Kathy Yu agreed, noting that "people are afraid that their kids are going to be reduced to multiple choice tests or that homework won't count, and that's not true. There are a lot of misconceptions, and it's going to take a lot of teacher training to get that right."
The district has hired a private consultant, Dr. Ken O'Connor, to provide advice on how to proceed with implementation. O'Connor is the author of the book How to Grade for Learning.
According to Yu, the policy will require schools to reevaluate several different procedures, including those dealing with homework. "You can take an 'A' student and give him two zeroes [for homework] and he's down to a 'C,' but that doesn't really reflect what they know. Grades are supposed to reflect what a student knows," she said. "Giving a zero really skews the grade point average."
Still, she said, that leaves the question of how to deal with students who fail to complete homework or submit it in a timely fashion. "The school, when policy is implemented, is going to have to sit down and figure out what they're going to do about their late [homework] policy," she said. "And with some 350 staff members, that's going to be a lot of fun."
To see the official policy, click here.
Samir Paul. <b>Samir Paul</b>, a Magnet senior, spent the better part of his junior year at Blair brooding over everyone's favorite high-school publication and wooing Room 165's menopausal printer. He prides himself in being <i>THE</i> largest member of Blair Cross Country and looks forward to one more … More »