Wake Ed

March 26, 2014

Wake County to give schools autonomy on grading policies

Wake County school leaders say they want to give schools autonomy in setting grading policies after previously saying that they wanted to get consistency across schools.

The pendulum has shifted from trying to have the same grading practices at all Wake County middle schools and high schools to allowing each school to have autonomy within a broad framework.

As noted in today’s article, Wake County school board members and school administrators are talking about how they want to give schools autonomy in the details of implementing the new grading policy that could go into effect this fall. That is far different from just a few years ago when administrators were complaining to board members that inconsistent grading policies meant students who did the same work could get different grades depending on the school they attended.

“We like that word 'more autonomy.'” Superintendent Jim Merrill said at Tuesday’s school board policy committee meeting. “Now you're getting to should it be school level or PLT level, maybe even classroom level. The deeper you try to answer that, the muckier it gets.

If you believe in the professionalism of our faculties and their leadership, we should let them handle it. Then the only thing you need to be doing is be bracing for the complaint or pushback that says 'But I have two children in this school and their English.' That is academic freedom. As long as you can brace for that, I think you have to allow for this level of decision making.”

Merrill left Wake before administrators began the review in grading practices in the mid-2000s.

The broad framework in the R&P behind the new policy tells schools to develop their own grading plan that allows students to get credit for missing or late work, and to recover from getting zero and failing grades on tests and assignments. If a school wanted to ban zeros or allow them, it could.

"What we were trying to do here is provide you as the board and us as a school district an opportunity to say this is what we believe and value should be part of our grading practices,” Todd Wirt, assistant superintendent for academics, told board members. “We understand that the execution of this could look a little different from school to school,

However it is our expectation and belief as a district that we should have zero recovery, that grades should not be used in a punitive manner. There are some really strong belief statements in this R&P."

Board members basically agreed with the idea of giving the schools autonomy on grading.

“Are we as a board okay with Leesville’s parameters being different than Enloe’s?” said school board vice chairman Tom Benton. “Is there anything we want to apply across all high schools? I’m somewhat comfortable with leaving it up to schools.”

The board and staff have moved in the direction that school board member Jim Martin has been advocating since he joined the board that it was unrealistic to demand that everyone use the same grading practices.

“What you’re seeing is a practical board that understands education,” Martin said after the committee meeting about the board giving schools grading autonomy.

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The WakeEd blog is devoted to discussing and answering questions about the major issues facing the Wake County school system. WakeEd is maintained by The News & Observer's Wake schools reporter, T. Keung Hui.

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