Sunday, November 19, 2017
Education

Pasco teachers' union calls school's grading plan 'grade inflation at its worst'

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HUDSON — An effort by some Fivay High School teachers to create common grading guidelines for all courses requiring state end-of-course exams has raised the ire of the Pasco County teachers union.

United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb complained Tuesday to the School Board that a school had established grading criteria for courses including Algebra I, geometry, biology and U.S. history that amount to "grade inflation at its worst." Webb did not name the school, which the Times later learned was Fivay.

A letter to parents explained that students in the courses will be allowed to retake any major assessments (such as tests and projects) for full credit as many times as necessary. All teachers will accept late work, with some deductions in score depending on when turned in. And assignments will be graded on a new scale that looks like this:

90-100 percent = 100 percent (Mastered)

70-89 percent = 80 percent (Proficient)

50-69 percent = 60 percent (Partial Knowledge)

0-49 percent = 40 percent (Lack of Mastery)

No Effort = 0 percent (No Effort)

"Basically what this says is, if I am given a piece of paper and I answer one question and write my name on it, I am given 40 percent," Webb said.

She called on the School Board to fix the situation, which she contended violated state-mandated grading criteria, the district's Pupil Progression Plan and longstanding practice that gives teachers flexibility in how they grade students.

Fivay High principal Angie Stone said the idea for a common grading standard actually came from teachers who discovered that students who changed class periods in the middle of a semester were earning widely different grades from their two teachers.

"Teachers were counting different things with different weights," Stone said.

One teacher might give students more credit for their homework, for instance, while another might count test results more heavily.

"When they first started seeing that, they were like, 'This is not right. It should be more standard,' " Stone said.

So the teachers created their own research team to explore options. They proposed the new guideline, which the Fivay leadership team decided to test out on the courses with end-of-course exams before expanding it more widely. Teachers who did not want to participate in the pilot were able to opt out.

"Students should be able to move from teacher to teacher . . . and their grade not be impacted by who their teacher is and the way they weight things," Stone said.

She rejected the idea that the proposed grading scale amounted to grade inflation, noting that all score bands for passing grades are much smaller than the range within which a student can fail.

"An F is a 50-point range. It really penalizes a child if they get a zero," Stone said. "If they are working as hard as they can and they just mess up or something, they should get some credit for the progress they are making."

On that point Webb agreed. But she said it should be up to the individual teacher to take into consideration all the factors for each student, rather than relying on a simple grading scale.

The issue of whether schools should issue failing grades to students has been a contentious one all over the country, including in Hernando County. In 2009, Hernando officials considered eliminating zero as a grade in elementary schools.

They ultimately did not adopt such a policy.

Pasco School Board members sounded distressed about Webb's complaint and called for further investigation.

"I would like the superintendent to look into it," Chairwoman Joanne Hurley said. Fivay's plan "does seem to be in conflict with policy."

"Whatever school that is enforcing that is in contradiction with whatever we are doing," added board member Steve Luikart, a retired high school assistant principal.

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino told the board she was not familiar with Fivay's initiative. At the time, she did not even know which school was making the effort, as Webb kept the school's name out of the conversation.

But she said her staff would review the situation and make sure that all county schools follow the district progression plan and state grading laws. Beth Brown, executive director for secondary schools, said she would reach out to principals to discuss grading practices "and go from there."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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