Students Cheering for Grading Change


Hundreds of T.C. Williams High School students have recently petitioned for of all things new grades. And, it appears many parents are supporting the movement.

The students formal request to the School Board comes at a time when nearly all of Alexandrias neighboring school systems have opted to change from a six-point grading scale to a 10-point grading scale for the upcoming school year.

For Alexandria City Public School students it means they need to achieve at least 94 percent for an A in a class while peers in nearby schools only need a 90.

The issue came up at the Boards May 7 meeting, when a T.C. student, parent and ACPS Superintendent Morton Sherman addressed the topic. In the time since, a student action group has embarked on research for a presentation to the student body and the faculty at the end of the month.

In the past two weeks, several students, including myself, went to collect over 450 signatures to petition to change the current six-point grading scale to a 10-point grading scale, said Ashley Grinberg, a T.C. junior, at the meeting where she circulated copies of the document.

The differences between the current six-point scale and its broader 10-point counterpart could have implications for students when it comes to things as diverse as discounts on car insurance, scholarship money, internship opportunities or merely staying in school, according to students and parents.

Letters to the Times have expressed concern about the current ACPS grading scale, its effects on student achievement, and have urged school leadership to reassess and hopefully change the six-point standard.

The grade scale affects almost every ACPS student, from the college-bound to the low-achievers who fuel the achievement gap and the dropout rate, said Karen Schwarz, the parent of a T.C sophomore, in an address to the Board.

An ACPS student gets a GPA of 3.7 under the six-point scale same courses, same grades in a 10-point school and he has a 4.2. In ACPS, the C+ student would be a B student if he moved to Arlington, she said, displaying a chart comparing the two different grading metrics.

The six-point system, employed by most northern Virginia schools for much of living memory, has been used at Alexandrias sole public high school for the last 15 years, if not longer, T.C. Williams Guidance Director Laura Newton-Cotto said.

The system has existed for much of living memory within Fairfax County Public Schools, FCPS spokesman Paul Regnier said. Fairfax is one of the school divisions adopting the 10-point scale for the 2009-2010 school year.

Regnier added that the change for Fairfax schools approved by that school board after a lengthy discussion and numerous meetings is not a total one as the schools maintained the standard failing grade of 64 percent. The move to the 10-point scale was meant to keep students grades competitive with students from other school districts by employing a more standard grading system.

Any potential move within ACPS has yet to take on a concrete shape.

We have not had that as a major objective in the school division because weve been looking at a few other items along the way, trying to find out how best to address some issues systematically, Sherman said.

Not taking the change lightly or committing too many of the schools resources to the task, Sherman said a student action group had been commissioned to look into the situation in more detail.

Ive asked them to look at two general issues, Sherman said. One of them is to see whether or not the A-B-C scale is the right question, and as Ive shared with several parents, maybe theres a different question to go on the table.

The second part of the equation, Sherman said, involves a deeper discussion about standards, competence and what we expect of students and how that is shown to families.

Maybe, if a 92 is a 92, we should put a 92 on the report card, he said.

While students are growing concerned about how their achievement appears on an educational landscape that is changing around them.

The reason why students believe this is so important is because students in neighboring districts have an advantage with the 10-point grading scale, Grinberg said. For example, students receiving the same grade will have a better GPA.

The 10-point grading system is more encouraging to students who are struggling academically and in jeopardy of dropping out, she said.

Newton-Cotto agreed that the two different grading scales have a clear impact on the bottom rungs of the scale, but said that the current six-point systems benefits are geared toward the top levels of achievement.

Im sure at some point in time it was meant to be a very rigorous scale, one where only students with the highest grades would get As and Bs, she said. With an A being 94 to 100, it makes it more selective for students to end up with the A that would be the benefit to it.

Many of the parents who have mobilized along with the students would beg to differ.

The parents who have gotten organized around this issue do not think that academic rigor lives in grading scale, Schwarz said. Rigor, we think, lives in a course syllabus. Are 10th graders reading Moby Dick or are they reading Sweet Valley High?

In terms of college admissions, Greg Roberts, dean of admissions at the University of Virginia, said that, while the 10-point scale is more common than the six-point scale, the school takes each high schools grading policy into consideration as it evaluates applicants.

When colleges receive ACPS student transcripts, Newton-Cotto said, they also receive a school profile that explains the grading system.

Schwarz emphasized to the Board the importance of GPA in things beyond college admission, things like scholarships, internships and even car insurance, which offers discounts for good students.
State Farms good student discount is available for students who have at least a 3.0 GPA a B average out of a possible four points or are in the top 20 percent of their class. Allstate, too, gives out its prime discount for full-time students carrying a 3.0 or better.

As the ACPS community works out the grading scale issue, Sherman said that placing any one system above the other is, in the end, not the bottom line.

Weve talked, whether its a six-point scale or a 10-point scale, we get away from some of the core issues that have been raised which is what does that grade mean? Sherman said. How do we truly reflect what these students are learning?