Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) is asking the Board of Education to consider a grading change that would standardize the scale middle and high school teachers use to determine an “F” grade.

Should the F grade scale be 0 to 59 percent or 50 to 59 percent? Currently, the answer depends on which Charles County high school a student attends. CCPS Superintendent Kimberly Hill wants a uniform grading scale for all secondary schools.

The Board will hold a Town Hall on the grading policy prior to its Oct. 22 grading policy work session. Staff will provide a brief overview at 6 p.m. Questions and comments will be accepted starting at 6:10 p.m. and the work session will follow at 7 p.m. Board meetings are held at 5980 Radio Station Road, La Plata, MD 20646.

Under consideration is the CCPS grading committee’s recommendation that the Board consider a 10-point scale, 50 to 59 percent, as the universal scale for an “F” at secondary schools. La Plata, Maurice J. McDonough and North Point high schools base an F on a numerical value of 0 to 59 percent. So do all middle schools. Henry E. Lackey High School addresses the F scale on a case-by-case basis, but for the most part, adheres to the 0 to 59 percent scale. At St. Charles, Thomas Stone and Westlake high schools, failure is indicated by an F based on 50 to 59 percent in the first three quarters and 0 to 59 percent in the fourth quarter, a practice the committee supports.

“A student should never reach a place where there is no point in doing any more work because failure is inevitable,” Deputy Superintendent Amy Hollstein said.

Committee recommendation

An instructional team presented the grading report to the Board during its September meeting. It was the second presentation to the Board, which asked for more information on the CCPS grading committee recommendation.

The committee recommended that a failing grade at the end of three quarters be based on a numerical value of 50 to 59 percent. If a student received an overall percentage lower than 50 percent at the end of the quarter, it would be converted to 50 percent. However, the committee suggested that a failing grade in the fourth quarter be based on a 0 to 59 percent scale.

Composed of 17 middle and high school teachers, vice principals, principals, content specialists and Education Association of Charles County (EACC) representatives, the committee met six times between Sept. 28, 2017, and Feb. 8, 2018. Hollstein’s charge to the committee was to recommend consistent grading guidelines across all middle and high schools. Committee members also refined the philosophy of grading, the purpose of grades and things grades should not be used for, like discipline. 

The pros and cons

Board members also asked presenters for pros and cons of changing the numerical value of an F. Opponents of the 50 to 59 percent scale say it can lead to grade inflation, lower academic standards and give students a sense of entitlement. Additionally, some Board members questioned if it dilutes accountability, removes motivation for students to work hard and creates a false picture of student abilities.

Proponents argue an F in one marking period should not doom a student to failure for the semester or year.  Basing an F on a 0-59 scale defies logic and mathematical accuracy, creating an “academic death penalty.” Grades of A, B, C and D are all based on a 10-point spread. Proponents question why the range for an F should be 60-points, instead of 10-points.

Staff members provided examples of struggling learners who, with hard work and with determination, have been able to recover their grade with the 50-59 percent rule. Chrystal Benson, CCPS student engagement officer, cited the success of using the rule at the Robert D. Stethem Educational Center. “… the 50 percent is there to give students a cushion and some hope that with hard work and determination, they can see a way out. They don’t see themselves in a hole where they can’t get out of that hole,” Benson said.

Westlake Principal Diane Roberts agreed. When teachers see a student who is struggling, she said, they look beyond the grades and to what is going on in their life. “Sometimes there is a hiccup in the first three quarters… If we can’t work for the end goal of passing that class, that student will give up and probably drop out,” Roberts said. She cited tragedies like accidents and fires that can knock a student off track emotionally and mentally. “They’re thinking about survival and not about their grades,” she said.  “When they are ready to do something, to say it is not mathematically possible for you to pass that class… that just destroys the hope of that student.”

“Using 50-59 creates a climate of hope,” Hollstein said. “If they can make a change, they get a second chance. We are all about hard work helping students to success.”

Board member response

Board members asked additional questions, requested more data and said they wanted feedback from the community before deciding. The Board directed Hill to develop a survey and a public forum opportunity to solicit public input. The school system is creating an electronic survey that will also be available in paper form at schools.

Some Board members expressed concern over creating a policy for a small number of students, diluting grades and lowering expectations. Other members said they felt the school system needs to provide equity, meet the needs of children and expressed support for adding another layer of hope through a grading policy change.

Board member Margaret Marshall acknowledged the hard work of the committee and staff, but said there is no consensus of the Board at this time. “This requires more discussion and a great deal more consideration,” she said.