Making Sense Of New DOE Grades

Larry Price
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Wednesday - October 26, 2005
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One of the great things about going to school is achieving a report card with straight As. Making the Dean’s List or a straight 4.0 grade-point average. Having a high GPA and class rank have always given students something to strive for.

When students start thinking about applying to an academically respected college, their GPA and class rank are major concerns. But if a student has no desire to excel in college, he or she may not pay much attention to their GPA or class rank. Most likely, neither will their parents.

One of the big secrets at many of the elite business schools in America is that they have adopted policies that prohibit them or their schools from disclosing grades to recruiters. The idea is to reduce competitiveness and eliminate the risk associated with taking difficult courses. Maybe we should add that provision to our new grading system - secrecy.

Knowing your GPA has been around forever in public schools. Parents who are interested in protecting their children’s future are always concerned about grades. A report card without a string of A’s and B’s on it, in every subject, will send most concerned parents into a sweat.

For parents who have children in our public education system, there is help on the way. It’s a new grading system soon to be employed in our public education system. The traditional public school report card has given way to a standard-based assessment system that uses M’s, N’s and U’s to indicate whether students are proficient at grade-level academic standards.

I’m not going to attempt an explanation of how the new system will work. Word is the Department of Education decided to implement this new system of evaluation because of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) focus on standards-based performance. The new system is fraught with impending questions.

It seems obvious that the DOE wanted to create a system whereby people would not be so “hung up” on grades, but the reality is that grades are the entities most people understand. I can’t believe the “brainiacs” who conceived the new grading system could not have matched the NCLB standards to the A-B-C-D-F grades and avoided all these mental gymnastics.

What the new system changes is the way educators, parents and students think about grades. It makes you wonder if the schools are having a difficult time with attendance at PTSA meetings, how will they teach them the new grading system?

Bottom line is the grade is not that important, rather that the student understands what he or she is learning. If this is the rationale, as I am assured it is, then an E grade will mean that child has performed beyond grade-level expectations, but will be virtually impossible to achieve in the beginning of the school year.

There are some obvious problems that need to be worked out by the DOE. For instance, what happens when a child changes to another school that use a different grading system? What happens when the student applies to college? Or wants to transfer to a private school? And finally, how are all the special education students going to be graded? Under the proposed system that takes place in all public schools by fall 2007, will they all receive U’s? I’m confident all these questions will be answered in time to spare parents any confusion about how their children are doing in our public school system.

It does seem that the DOE is trying hard to make the NCLB work and at the same time restructuring the classrooms, restructuring the funding to special students and giving principals more control over budgeting in their schools.

Maybe it was time to give the parents and teachers something to worry about.

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