Next fall, a North Carolina high school freshman and an upperclassman in the same class could receive a score of 92 from their teacher, but one student would get an A and the other a B.
At the other end, a freshman could get a 60 and pass with a D while a sophomore sitting next to the student could get a 69 and fail with an F.
Both scenarios could happen during the next three years as state education leaders phase in a new 10-point grading scale – where scores between 90 and 100 earn an A – that will change how grade point averages, or GPAs, are calculated for transcripts and class rank. The State Board of Education voted this month to move from the seven-point grading scale to a 10-point scale.
Current high school students will keep the seven-point scale – where an A designates scores between 93 and 100. The new scale will begin in the 2015-16 school year with the freshman class.
With many classes having students at multiple grade levels, the change means that classmates with the same numerical score could get a different letter grade. Situations such as these are causing some parents, students and local school board members to urge the state to start using the 10-point scale for all high school students, not just new ones.
“If we put the same effort into the class, then we should be getting the same grade,” said Parker Renberg, 14, a freshman at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh. “We both worked to the same standards. Why should this new freshman not earn the same grade?”
Under the new plan, Parker will remain under the seven-point scale until he graduates. He hopes to get 10,000 signatures on an online petition, chn.ge/1FJagl9, and present it to the state. As of Monday afternoon, he had 432 signatures.
However, Deputy State Superintendent Rebecca Garland said it’s fairer to phase in the 10-point scale so that students in the same grade level are using the same scale. She said they’ve phased in other changes over the years, such as revised graduation requirements.
The State Board of Education didn’t want to put students in the same grade level at a disadvantage for class rank based on the timing of their courses, she said.
North Carolina is one of the few states where high school grading scales and transcripts are set by the state.
Leveling the playing field
One of the reasons for the 10-point scale is that it would level the playing field in college applications, parents and school districts said. North Carolina students potentially found themselves at a disadvantage against college applicants who use a 10-point scale.
The change was cheered by high school students and their parents until they realized it wouldn’t help anyone currently in high school. Students have sent out tweets with the #wewantjustice hashtag, demanding that they also get the 10-point scale.
Some Wake County parents have set up an online petition at bit.ly/1oQ14X9 to lobby for the 10-point scale to be immediately implemented.
But Garland said people should remember that the state is also phasing in other grading changes that will reduce the credit for taking Advanced Placement and honors courses.
“While the grading scale is a little more generous, the weighting scale is a little less,” Garland said. “There’s a tradeoff.”
The phasing in of the AP and honors changes is a reason that Adam Geringer, 16, a junior at Broughton High School in Raleigh, is OK with staying with the seven-point scale. Adam had lobbied state leaders to adopt the 10-point scale.
“I don’t like what they’re doing because of personal interest,” he said. “But on the other hand, I understand completely why they’re doing it.”
But Parker, the Leesville student, said his GPA could go up a quarter-point on the 10-point scale even if the state were also to immediately make the change with advanced courses.
“It could definitely impact me getting into college,” he said. “That quarter-point could help be the deciding factor with another student with equal credentials.”
Some Wake County school board members have also expressed surprise that current high school students won’t get the 10-point scale.
Wake school board Vice Chairman Tom Benton said that it will put teachers in an unmanageable situation where they decide whether to manipulate the scores to give students in different grade levels the same grade.
“I can’t imagine a teacher sitting there giving different letter grades for the same average,” he said.
Benton also questioned whether the state’s problem-plagued PowerSchool system can handle the phase-in. Garland said that the technology staff at the state Department of Public Instruction has assured her that the programming changes can be made.
Bill Cobey, chairman of the State Board, said there are no plans to revise the phase-in.
“We’ve heard a few concerns about a freshman in a class getting an A and a sophomore getting a B,” he said. “But college admissions offices can figure it out.”