The Harford County Public Schools Grading and Reporting Planning Committee got an earful from the public at a community meeting held last Tuesday at Harford Technical High School. The meeting was planned to gather input on proposed changes to the Board of Education’s grading policy and procedures for grades 3 through 12, and there were plenty of questions and comments from the 35 or so teachers, parents and students in attendance. Enough so that about halfway through the 2-½ hour exchange, one Committee member pleaded with the audience not to “shoot the messenger.”
The Committee began by presenting draft documents containing new procedures for calculating grades in HCPS. The goal is to align grading with mastery of the curriculum, so that grades reflect what students know and can do – a worthy goal to be sure; and also to provide “consistency of grading from teacher to teacher and from school to school.”
To achieve consistency, the Committee proposes standardizing grade calculations in all subjects for all students in grades 3 – 12 as follows:
To help ensure that grades reflect mastery of the curriculum, study habits and behavior are defined as “Learning Skills” that would no longer be factored into students’ grades. Instead, these skills would be reported separately, the way comments now appear on report cards. One committee member said this was designed in part to eliminate bogus extra credit assignments, such as bringing a box of tissues to class (tissues are a hot commodity in the classroom, for the sniffles and a myriad of other uses).
I attended this meeting as both an observer and a participant. The concerns that were raised focused less on the goal of ensuring that grades reflect student achievement and more on the methods for calculating grades and the problems with a one-size-fits-all formula. Many of the comments came from parents and teachers at Patterson Mill Middle High School, where the principal implemented a form of the new plan at the beginning of this school year.
Here’s a sampling of some of the comments made Tuesday night:
The grading formula that values tests and projects at 50-60% of the final grade, quizzes and class work at 30-40% and homework at 0-10%, better applies to elementary students. The grading formula should vary depending on grade level and course content.
The process for grading special needs students based on grade-level content is unclear.
Under the proposal, an “E” (a failing grade) is worth 50% instead of zero, meaning a student who tests well could intentionally slack off and still pass the class.
Some courses, such as Living in a Contemporary World (LICW) do not have established standards against which mastery can be measured.
The grading formula can create unintended results depending on the number of assessments a teacher offers in each grading category. For example, if three or more tests are given in a marking period (totaling 60% of the final grade) and only one quiz (worth 30%), then one quiz will have a greater impact on a student’s grade than any one test.
Advanced Placement (AP) requirements are not aligned with the grading formula.
The stated goal of “consistency of grading from teacher to teacher” is undermined when class work or projects are assigned as homework in some classes. Blurring the lines between categories of assessments creates differences in grading standards.
Teachers can still offer dubious assessments (like bringing in a box of tissues) within the confines of the formula.
Teachers need time to retool their assessment plans to fit this, or any new grading formula.
Professional development must occur prior to the implementation of new grading procedures. (The Committee agreed wholeheartedly with this one)
“Multiple opportunities” for summative assessments, such as re-testing, are prescribed in the policy but may be impractical at the end of a marking period. Students who do not test well will be negatively impacted.
Separating learning skills from grades may not support learning in the case of homework. Completing homework demonstrates learning skills, but it also improves and reflects mastery of course content.
Students have a disincentive to do homework when it’s valued between 0 – 10% of the final grade; 20-25% is more reasonable for most subjects, such as English, math and foreign language.
If teachers establish a valid grading standard at the beginning of each marking period and hold students accountable, a reasonably consistent grading procedure is established. Variances among teachers and exposure to different teaching styles can benefit students as long as students are held to appropriate standards.
Last but not least, was the comment from a Fallston High School student who got to the heart of what’s wrong with having one, inflexible grading formula when she said: “Teaching is an art, not a science.”
The HCPS Reporting and Grading Planning Committee will present these and all other public comments, along with any further revisions to their proposal, to the Board of Education sometime in April. The Board will then determine next steps.
In the meantime, your comments can be sent directly to board members by email or delivered in person during the public comment session at the beginning of any board business meeting. For more details, go to www.hcps.org . Then go out and buy a box of tissues. Extra credit or no, your child’s teacher probably needs them.