Revised grading policy and training draw criticism

March 31, 2004, midnight | By Samir Paul | 20 years, 3 months ago

Principals and teachers object to training, controversial provisions

Staff training and implementation of MCPS' revised grading plan, which began last month, have drawn criticism from the vast majority of high-school principals and teachers. The objections are largely due to costs involved with implementation and a provision that would grant 50 percent credit to a student who turns in no work.

At an April 13 principals' meeting, Principal Phillip Gainous said, 22 of 24 principals"all those present"affirmed the necessity for the grading policy but raised objections with the wording of the current document. "We basically said, 'We can't get on board with this,'" Gainous said.

The principals will push to have more teachers on MCPS grading and reporting committees and to postpone full implementation until the teachers and principals understand the policy's "intent" more clearly, Gainous said.

Earlier this year, the principals were unable to come to a consensus on how to respond to the Board's grading policy. "Because we didn't take a stand"and that's our fault"the train has left the station," Gainous said.

Additional objections have arisen regarding the implementation expenses. MCPS sent resource materials to all administrators and teachers"including an estimated 13,000 three-ring binders"that cost $25,000. In addition, each school received four instructional videos ($2687) and 620 copies of the book How to Grade for Learning by Ken O'Connor ($16,547). The total cost of materials for staff training is $44,234, according to Betty Collins of the Office of Staff Development.

Teacher training began on March 15 with the first of four meetings that will take place by the end of this school year. The meeting introduced the policy to teachers with videos and information on how to grade.

Some teachers feel that a good deal of the expenditures for training are unnecessary. "An incredible amount of money has been spent on sending out things, from videos to binders. Why do we really need those binders?" Math Resource Teacher Barbara Hofman asked.

Many who attended the first meeting were unsatisfied with what English teacher Phyllis Fleischaker said amounted to "maybe five minutes of information."

But MCPS Grading and Reporting Implementation Committee Member Mark Kelsch said that even though most high-school teachers would already generally meet the standards of the grading policy, the county must make sure that all teachers are aware of how they should grade. "We need to make sure everyone is on the same page," he said.

Teachers and administrators have also expressed concern over some of the provisions of the revised plan. For example, an as-of-yet unapproved part of the policy, which would have students who do not turn in assignments automatically receive 50 percent credit rather than a zero, has received fierce opposition. Teachers said that this plan would eliminate the incentive for students to turn in late work.

The provision could be viewed as unfair, said Gainous. "Say I'm in class, and I'm working hard. But I'm not up to snuff, so I get a 60 percent; that's failing," he said. "But Jimmy Jack over here does nothing. Zero. He gets a 50. Is that fair for those who did work and made effort?"

However, that provision is far from being approved, said Carol Blum, the director of High School Instruction and Achievement. MCPS is still gathering input from students, teachers and principals to determine whether the policy would be beneficial. Blum said that the issue was only raised because students who receive a zero for a 100-point assignment are "in a very deep hole." "We're trying to figure it out so that it's fair and so that it provides incentive to achieve success," she said.

The revised grading policy may cause trouble in subjects such as foreign languages, where participation is often highly stressed, said foreign language resource teacher Joseph Lynch. "Participation is essential for demonstration of academic attainment," he said. "Society expects a little more than just passing a test. It requires involvement, participation, engagement."

ESOL students also may be among those hurt by the policy because, although they learn in a secondary language, MCPS holds them to essentially the same standards, said Gainous. "Say a student was illiterate in his own country. He comes here and makes miles of progress, but because he doesn't meet some objective, the student fails?" he asked.

The policy was first approved last March, and partial implementation will begin during the 2004-2005 school year with report cards that provide grades as well as evaluation of effort, behavior, progress, attitude and participation.

The plan comes as the stringent federal standards of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) seek to increase schools' accountability for their students' academic achievement. The MCPS web site encouraged presenters to stress changes after NCLB, new standards, accountability and school accreditation.

Still, some say the policy's goals, which attempt to meet NCLB's standards, are unrealistic. "I really think this is tied to federal standards," said Implementation Committee member Suzanne Costilo. "What they're trying to do is something that I think is impossible. They're trying to have a standardized grading system throughout the county, whether you're at Potomac Elementary School or in East Silver Spring."

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 »

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