Wake County school administrators are yanking a memo sent to schools that board members complained Tuesday would allow students to game the system to get higher grades.
Earlier this year, administrators sent a “Grading Practices Update” with “suggested guidelines” that schools “should work to adhere to,” including allowing any student who wants to retest for a higher grade to do so and not deducting points for late work. Amid complaints from some schools and board members, administrators said they would withdraw the document and submit a revised copy to the board for its review.
“What I’m afraid is that what we’ve set up here is a way for students to in essence game the system,” school board Vice Chairman Tom Benton said of the memo. “I’ve got a B. I want an A, so I want a retest.”
The situation reflects the difference between what Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for school performance, called schools with “liberal policies around grading” and those who do not.
For several years, Wake administrators have advocated changing the way that grades are issued to reflect what students know. This has included concepts such as not letting teachers issue zeros and not penalizing students for late work. Some schools that hadn’t previously adopted those practices balked at the changes.
What emerged in May 2014 was a compromise policy change adopted by the school board that said grades shouldn’t be punitive. It also said schools will develop plans for helping students at risk of academic failure.
Drew Cook, Wake’s senior director of high school programs, said the memo was meant to answer questions some schools had about how to implement the grading policy guidelines. But instead of giving clarity, school board member Susan Evans said “some schools are freaking out.”
School board member Jim Martin, chair of the policy committee, said the memo went far beyond what the board had agreed to last year.
Martin and Benton said that allowing every student to request a retest creates an issue of unfairness and tells students they don’t have to work hard the first time.
“Kids will say, ‘Why do I have to do my best on this test today when I didn’t study last night, when I know I can take a retest next week?’” Benton said. “‘Or I’m competing with you to be valedictorian. You got a 98, I got a 92. I want a retest.’”
Board members also questioned wording in the memo saying that consequences for handing in late work should be things such as lunch detention and not points taken from the assignment.
“We certainly didn’t bless this idea that there’s no academic penalty for late work,” Evans said.
What’s unclear is whether the board might attempt to curtail any existing school practices such as universal retesting.
“We will not allow schools to operate grading systems that allow students to game the system,” Martin said in an interview after the committee meeting.