Update: The state Board of Education on Thursday approved the switch to a 10-point grading scale at North Carolina high schools. The change will go into effect with next year's freshmen.
The original story is below
The way North Carolina high schools assign A’s and B’s could soon change as the state Board of Education examines the standard grading scale.
The board, meeting in Charlotte this week, is expected to vote Thursday to move the state’s high schools to a 10-point grading scale from the seven-point scale that has long been used.
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The move has been pushed by the state’s largest school districts as a way to simplify the system and level the playing field in college applications. But it also opens up questions about whether the state is lowering the bar for its students.
The grading scale works like this: Before, a score in a class between 93 and 100 was an A, 85 to 92 was a B and so on. Under the new policy, a 90 would become the lowest A, and 80 the lowest B
Schools also had the option to include pluses and minuses in the grades. That would go away in the new policy. The changes would go into effect for the freshman class entering high school in 2015. That means, for example, that a sophomore in 2015 would be on the old scale.
“There’s an ongoing concern that any time we’re fiddling with standards, anytime we’re fiddling with accountability, that we’re not tweaking it to lower standards,” said John Tate, a former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board member who now sits on the state Board of Education.
“I think if we build sufficient rigor in the curriculum, that moving to the 10-point sale, if done right, will not relax standards.”
Advocates for the change say the reasoning is simple. A student in Atlanta who earned a grade of 91 in all of his classes would have a 4.0 average. In North Carolina, that same student would have a 3.0.
State by state
Most states don’t have a blanket policy on grading scales, instead leaving it up to local school boards to decide. That makes it difficult to determine how widespread the 10-point scale is.
Florida and Arkansas have statewide mandates for a 10-point scale, according to data compiled and presented to the state board last month. South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia require a seven-point scale.
But it appears there is momentum in a number of other large states to adopt a 10-point scale. Several school districts in Virginia have recently made the switch, and it’s already common in large states such as California and New York.
Private schools in North Carolina have also been adopting the broader grading scale.
Charlotte Catholic High, one of the city’s largest private schools, made the change to a 10-point scale last year.
“Our kids apply to colleges all over the country,” said Director of Counseling Services Karen Grauman, noting that 40 percent of seniors go on to out-of-state schools. “We wanted it to be a level playing field.”
Ravenscroft School in Raleigh made the change last year, as well. Charlotte Latin has long used the 10-point scale.
Public school superintendents and a vocal group of parents have also been in favor of the proposed policy.
CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison wrote a letter to his counterparts in other districts saying the seven-point scale put North Carolina students at a “distinct disadvantage” in applying to colleges. District leaders met with state Superintendent June Atkinson to advocate for a change.
Morrison said the 10-point scale would lead to more students on the honor roll, higher graduation rates and more students taking Advanced Placement classes.
In a district such as Atlanta, a student who earns a 68 in freshman English would be promoted to the next level. In CMS, the student would have to repeat the class, Morrison wrote, making the student more likely to drop out.
Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for school performance in the Wake County Public School System, said both the district staff and the school board are in favor of the change.
“I think what you want to focus on is student learning and students being ready for the next level, whatever it might be,” she said, noting that most colleges use the 10-point scale.
The state’s superintendents voted to support the change at their June meeting.
“Support from the field has been very positive and strong for this move to a consistent 10-point grading scale across North Carolina,” Deputy State Superintendent Rebecca Garland said.
Justin Stoehr, a Cary parent, has been lobbying state officials to change the system for more than a year. He said he thinks the change will make the process more fair for his kids applying to college. He said large public universities in Texas, for example, aren’t looking at applicants’ GPAs and figuring out whether their high school was on a seven- or 10-point scale.
“Let’s evolve as a state and try to keep up with the rest,” he said.
Testing it out
Tate, the state Board of Education member, said he plans to take a look at grade distributions after the change is implemented to make sure it hasn’t sparked grade inflation. In theory, he said, there shouldn’t be a large increase in the number of A’s handed out.
“I hope it doesn’t change significantly,” he said. “If it does, then we have essentially lowered the bar.”
Elementary and middle schools would still be able to use grading scales set by their district school boards under the new policy. It does, however, recommend that all levels use the 10-point scale.
The state board has already tweaked grading policies for 2015’s freshmen this year. In August, the board voted to reduce the weighting Advanced Placement and honors classes count toward a student’s GPA. Before, AP classes were worth an extra two quality points, and honors one.
That meant that an A in an AP class would contribute a 6.0 on the standard 4.0 scale. Under the new policy, AP classes are worth one quality point, and honors count for half a point.