Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is exploring changing its standard grading system, including switching to a 50-100 scale for tests, raising concerns from parents and teachers.
Here’s how it would work: Instead of using a 0 to 100 scale, the lowest grade would be a 50 for coursework and individual courses. The new system is already in place at Mallard Creek High.
Proponents of the change say it would let struggling students still pass a class if they improve later in the semester. That’s because a 50 score, instead of a zero, would keep students within “striking distance” of passing.
But critics say the change is deceptive and complain about how the district is introducing it.
“We are now teaching the lesson that refusal to do work receives 50 percent credit. This flies in the face of the life lessons many would like their children to learn,” said one teacher at Mallard Creek, who asked not to be named.
Mallard Creek Principal Nancy Brightwell denies that students who did not take a test will get a 50. In such cases, she said, they will need to take the test.
“Basically, this only applies where a student has made a good-faith effort to complete an assignment and has showed continued effort,” Brightwell said. “Kids have bad days. We have students who have terribly disturbing things happen in their home life. That means on any given day, they’re sitting in a chair not prepared to focus on learning.”
According to a three-page draft of a district policy obtained by the Observer: “Teachers … shall not assign a score lower than fifty percent to any assignment or assessment on which a student made a concerted attempt.”
Brightwell says the grading practice has been in place since last fall at her high school and some others. Parents should have seen the new grade scale explained in a packet given to them at the start of the year, she said.
Current concerns being raised may result from recent monitoring of teacher grade books, which revealed some were not following the new approach appropriately, Brightwell said.
Steps were taken to make sure it was being uniformly enforced, she said.
Brightwell says the school is serving as a test case for the district to find how the practice is most appropriately used. “Mallard Creek likes to be in the forefront,” she said.
The school highlighted the change in an April 29 weekly newsletter to teachers, which Brightwell said was intended to be a reminder to teachers not following the policy.
It states: “This quarter we are eliminating zeros. … Fifty should be the lowest F grade given and distinguish or recognize student effort/growth above this,” the newsletter states.
It was this directive to change grades on past tests in the quarter that alarmed some teachers.
Currently, 70 percent of a student’s final grade in CMS is based on formal test scores and 30 percent on informal activities such as class assignments, quizzes and participation. The latter has been graded by some on a 50 to 100 scale in the past, officials say.
Ann Clark, CMS deputy superintendent, says the district is in the midst of a yearlong review of grading practices, including gathering feedback from teachers, principals and parents.
She adds that no final recommendations have advanced to Superintendent Heath Morrison.
The goal, Clark says, is to have grading practices that are “more uniform across schools and levels” for the 2013-14 school year.
Whatever the result, she says, it will not change the existing state grading scale of A to F, with an F being anything below a 70.
As for how Clark feels about the approach, she says she understands “both sides of the discussion.”
Bill Anderson of the nonprofit MeckEd sees the 50-100 scale as a way some schools might be trying to help students who got “whammied” by teachers who were heavy-handed in their grading policy.
“When you hand out a lot of zeros, it creates a situation where students have no mathematical hope of passing,” Anderson said. “That’s not to say that students don’t deserve an F, but anytime a student gives up hope, that’s not a good thing.”
Critics say an unintended consequence is that some students will be less motivated, because they know a safety net is waiting for them.
Concerns have also been raised about whether colleges will see the district’s GPAs as inflated, prompting students to lose out on scholarships.
“As grade averages become inflated in our school and across the district, top grade earning students are harmed as their accomplishments are diminished,” a Mallard Creek teacher told some parents in an open letter.