Wake board to hear proposals on grade policy

Staff WriterAugust 2, 2011 

  • The Wake County school board will discuss grading practices at a work session that begins at 3:30 p.m. today at 3600 Wake Forest Road in Raleigh.

— The way Wake County students are graded could be overhauled with far-reaching changes - such as reducing the role of homework and the penalty for handing it in work late - under a proposal being presented to the school board.

At a board meeting today, school administrators will suggest a number of changes that would standardize how teachers issue grades across the district.

Administrators, who have been reviewing Wake's grading practices for a decade, say the changes will ensure that grades will reflect what the students know and not be influenced by other factors.

But the potential changes are drawing a backlash from some parents and school board members who are concerned that the overhaul will result in students slacking off.

"Parents believe you should be held accountable for your actions," school board Chairman Ron Margiotta said. "If you handed in your assignments late or mouthed off to your employer, there would be consequences."

Among the changes being proposed:

Grading classroom behavior separately for middle and high schools - in addition to the A-F academic grading systems already in place.

Reducing how much homework can be counted toward the academic grade - from 15 percent to 10 percent per marking period - in grades 6-12.

Prohibiting K-12 teachers from giving extra credit.

Requiring teachers to allow students to have up to five days to hand in late assignments with the penalty capped at 10 percent.

Requiring that higher scores on retests replace the original exam grades.

Restoring the use of A-F letter grades on report cards in grades 3-5.

Administrators have justified the need for changing grading practices by pointing to how inconsistently grades are handed out now.

For instance, teachers of the same subject at a school might have different policies on late assignments, how much to count retests and whether to issue extra credit.

Earlier changes

Wake made its first change in 2001 when it introduced in some elementary schools a report card that dropped the use of A-F letter grades.

Grades were handed out on a scale of Level I through Level IV, mirroring the four levels of academic proficiency used to evaluate performance on state end-of-grade exams. The report cards also record behavior as separate grades.

The new report card became standard in all Wake elementary schools in 2004, although the school board members recently told staff they wanted the letter grades restored for the upper elementary school grades.

Wake then began to review the grading practices in the middle schools and high schools.

In addition to looking at whether to count classroom behaviors such as participation in the academic grades, the review also looked at whether practices such as giving zeroes influenced report cards too negatively.

Some schools were authorized to try alternative programs.

For instance, Zebulon Middle School students who get less than a C have to keep retaking the test or assignment until their grade improves.

At Lufkin Road Middle School in Apex, a student who is caught cheating the first time has to be given an alternative assignment on which the grade can be as high as 80.

A balanced policy

Diane Dulaney, past president of the Wake County PTA Council, said much will depend on the details of how the new guidelines are implemented.

She served on a committee of parents, students, teachers and administrators that reviewed the middle school and high school grading practices.

"We were trying to balance the ability of teachers to make decisions for their students while also having uniformity," Dulaney said.

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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