Here’s an update on the grading-scale issue I posted about a few weeks ago. This story in today’s Washington Post even quotes a classmate of one of my daughters; both of my teenagers attend James Madison High School in Vienna, VA (part of the Fairfax County Public Schools system):
Sydney Sampson, 16, was getting ready for school at 5:30 a.m. yesterday when her father told her that the Fairfax County School Board had voted to abandon the tough grading policy that thousands of parents and students had rallied against.
“I started doing a little happy dance around my room,” the Madison High School sophomore said.
Sydney, who gets mostly A’s and takes two Advanced Placement courses, said the school system’s current grading scale does not show what Fairfax students “are capable of.” She hopes the new policy will better showcase her academic achievements when she applies for college. Her dream since age 4 has been to go to the University of Virginia, she said.
Her enthusiasm for the change in policy was shared around the county. Students and parents have been lobbying for years for the change, citing intense competition for spots at select colleges. On Thursday night, the board relented.
The decades-old policy set the bar for earning an A at 94 and the bar for passing at 64. Most school systems use what is called a 10-point scale, under which scores between 90 and 100 earn an A. At those schools, 60 often is a passing score…
A day after their decision, School Board members were considering how to implement the policy while maintaining the district’s high academic standards.
Thursday’s vote did make some things clear: There will be a new grading system in place by September, and it will be based on a 10-point scale, which means that 90 to 100 percent will result in an A. The scale also will include pluses and minuses.
What remains undecided is whether A-minus would start at 92 or 93, for example, and whether the score required to pass a class will change. This question is likely to inspire more debate. Many board members are uncomfortable with lowering the bar for a passing score.
The School Board asked Superintendent Jack D. Dale to study variations on a 10-point scale and report back by the end of March.
Many students will see an immediate change: an extra GPA point for Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes. Currently, the increase is a half-point. Their recalculated GPAs will be included in transcripts that schools send to colleges every February.
The board also approved a half-point boost for honors classes, but that change will not take effect immediately. School officials plan to review courses offered throughout the county to uniformly define honors classes…
The question mark I place after the title of this post reflects the opinion of my oldest and over-achieving daughter, who because she’s been able to get A’s on the tougher grading scale, feels that the mandated grade inflation now cheapens or devalues her academic currency–i.e., those A’s already on her transcript. Personally, I think this better levels the academic playing field between Fairfax County schools and the rest of the country, making comparisons across the school districts easier for college admissions committees (and boosting the relative ranking of Fairfax County students). What my daughter’s really complaining about is that the grading scale in the A range will no longer be refined enough to pick up the fact that as someone who was able to get A’s when the bar was set at 94, she’s better than the students who will move into the A range with the bar lowered to 90. I think distinguishing between the lower A’s (the new 90-94 range) and higher A’s (the old 94+) using an A- grade might provide some comfort to the already-A students. And A+’s anyone? (If that would even work on a 4-point GPA scale.)