At the Anniston City Board of Education’s last meeting, members discussed changing the district’s current 10-point grading system, in which a 60 is a passing grade, to a more stringent regime. The board postponed discussion until next week so that Superintendent Joan Frazier could gather input from teachers and administrators about the change.
Frazier said Monday the school board is set to discuss the grading scale next week. She said she expects part of the discussion to include how a change in grading policy might affect student motivation or help raise standards and student achievement.
But those questions may not have any easy answers. Grading scales vary from state to state and district to district, with no clear overarching guidelines for those setting the scale. And school districts and states often find themselves considering moves like the one up for discussion in Anniston.
Michael Sibley, director of communications with the Alabama Department of Education, said there are no statewide policies or guidelines for local school districts.
“It’s 100 percent local discretion for a school system to adjust their grading scales as they see fit for their individual school system,” he said.
While this is the case in some states, others, such as Florida and Georgia, set state requirements for grading. Florida public schools use a 10-point grading scale, and Georgia state law sets the mark for passing at a 70 but does not specify an entire scale.
Anniston school board President Donna Ross said changing the grading scale could be a good thing if it leads to increased performance by students.
“You want your grades to represent mastery,” Ross said. “If changing the grading scale represents a higher level of mastery, that’s a good thing … When you have a higher level of mastery, you understand the skill, and in my opinion, that’s what we want, is a higher skill level.”
Making the grades
Jerry Owings is the program director for the National Center for Education Statistics’ High School Transcript Study, which analyzed transcripts of 37,700 high school graduates in 2009. The program attempted to determine the types of courses students took and how many credits and what grades they earned. Because there’s no standardized way to label a student’s performance, that can be complicated.
Owings said that during the study, which is updated periodically, staff encounter a number of grading scales they must standardize in order to compare the data across the nation. These include traditional A-F letter-grade systems, a 13-point scale ranging from A+ to F, and a 100-point numerical scale.
“We have to talk to people doing it and find out what they mean,” he said of certain scales.
Linda Mitchell is an associate professor of education at Jacksonville State University who previously taught history at Anniston High School. She said changes to grading scales can potentially impact students a great deal in the classroom. While Mitchell is unfamiliar with the motivations to reevaluate Anniston’s grading scale, she said most commonly school systems opt for a 7- or 8-point grading scale as a way to fight grade inflation.
“Everybody is expected to make an A, practically,” she said. “It’s not just statistically impossible, it’s realistically impossible.”
The theory behind such a change is to make students work harder and keep people who are doing the grading from fooling themselves about their students’ progress, she said.
Mitchell said that as with any change, altering the grading policy can help schools identify students who may no longer be making the grade and to create programs to help those students meet the new requirements.
“What you don’t want to have happen is do something like this that could be wonderful, and not have those supports in place and have backlash,” Mitchell said.
The view from college
One of the most common questions people ask about such policies, Mitchell said, is how they may affect students who want to move on to college. Colleges consider factors other than grades in admissions decisions, and if other standards don’t gel with grades, she said, that could be a problem.
“What a college doesn’t need to see is you’ve got this fantastic GPA and lousy test scores,” she said. “When they see that, that’s just a red flag that this student is going to have problems.”
From the perspective of college admissions, a change in the grading scale might not have a huge impact.
Jim Rawlins, president of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors and director of admissions at the University of Oregon, said that changing a scale does not mean to him that a school is suddenly grading harder. Observation of grade distribution over the course of a few years will eventually show whether it has become harder for students to achieve those grades, he said.
To any extent a grading scale change could make a difference, Rawlins said, it’ll all come down to communication.
Many selective colleges, he said, request school profiles along with student transcripts so admissions officials can evaluate such things as grading scales and class rigor.
School counselors often deal with a few regional colleges most often, and become familiar with their requirements.
“At schools that students apply to most frequently,” he said, “I imagine counselors will be good about letting colleges know.”
Anniston school registration this week:
Anniston parents can register their children for all school grades this week during the system’s one-stop registration event at Anniston High School.
If students will be transferring schools, whether it’s across the country or from one elementary school to another within the district, parents must withdraw them from their previous school in advance and bring proof of withdrawal to the registration event.
School personnel will be available to register students at the following times:
Today: 8 a.m.- 12 p.m. and 2 p.m.- 6 p.m.
Wednesday: 10 a.m.- 2 p.m.
Thursday: 8 a.m.- 12 p.m and 2 p.m.- 6 p.m.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.