A few more facts about new grading scale

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Moving Forward, by Keith Davis, Superintendent, Bullitt County Public Schools

 There has been some amount of attention given to Bullitt County Schools the past few days related to the slight change made to our grading scales at the middle and high school level.  

First, you need a little background. 

Several years ago, different schools in our district had different grading scales, which led to inequity between schools. 

After much discussion with the principals, the Board of Education accepted the administration’s recommendation to align them all at the higher level, which made 92% the lowest percentage score to receive the grade of A.  

One could debate that a slight increase in the percentage requirement might make some students work a little harder, but if we are really honest, we must acknowledge two things. 

First, expectations vary between teachers, sometimes a great deal.  What one teacher considers A level work, another may consider a C. 

Think back to your own school experience to verify the truth of this statement. 

This is one reason that most universities give more admissions weight to the more objective ACT score than to student grades. 

Grading can become even less objective when it is a subject where quality is necessarily subjective, such as writing. 

Differences in test construction, differences in how much “extra credit” is allowed, and many other factors make grades a less than ideal way to measure learning. 

This is not necessarily a bad thing – parents want to know what their professionally trained teachers believe about their child’s progress; I am just acknowledging that grades are not fully objective. 

Second, most students are not so sophisticated that they calibrate exactly how much additional effort they must put forth to earn additional 2 percentage points on a grade often based on hundreds of assignments mixed between daily work and end-of-unit assessments.

Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarships are merit based scholarships funded by the Kentucky Lottery and they are based primarily on Grade Point Average (GPA).  

This is the system the legislature adopted. I have no quarrel with it because it has been very successful in providing resources for Kentucky graduates to attend college or technical schools.  To give an example, a student with four years of straight Bs in every class would end high school with a 3.0 GPA and would be eligible for a $1,000 scholarship renewable every year if they maintain a B average in college. 

That is $4,000 to help our graduates pay for post-secondary education. 

If the same student has straight As throughout high school, that student is eligible for $2,000 each year, or a total of $8,000.  

I hope you see why we recommended this change. 

It is not about lowering standards of rigor – our teachers will be the same professional educators who will push our students to their highest potential, regardless of an arbitrary percentage grade on a scale (incidentally, most Kentucky universities do not specify numeric equivalents for a particular grade, but allows the professor or department to determine the grade based on their expectations). 

In our research, school districts are all over the map, but many use the very scale that our district just adopted.  Students in those districts, up until this point, have had a financial advantage going into college over a BCPS graduate. 

Money for college makes a difference for many students, especially those from less wealthy families, and anything we can do to make it more likely for our high school graduates to become college graduates should be seen as positive. 

The student who has made a 92% in every single class for four years until now is eligible for $4,000 in scholarship based on their grades.  The same exact student with the same exact performance under the new policy will be eligible for $8,000. 

That can make a difference between a student who couldn’t afford to go to college and a student who was able to graduate from college.  Why should our students be at a financial disadvantage going into college as compared to other students in Kentucky, especially when there is no research to indicate that such a minor change will have a negative effect on student learning?

Should Kentucky adopt a single grading scale so the playing field is level for every Kentucky student? 

I think so, given that state funded scholarships are based on those scales. 

But, the larger question that we Kentuckians should address is the very way in which we measure and report student progress and consider moving away from numeric averages based on any number of arbitrary factors and toward a system based on the demonstration of what a student knows and is able to do at the end of each grade or course.  

Finally, I want to point out once again that our Board of Education took what I consider a huge step to actually increase rigor and student accountability by making it a requirement for graduation (with exceptions for student with special learning needs) that a student demonstrate that they have met the state definition of being either college ready or career ready. 

This is far more important and worthy of discussion than a 2 percentage point adjustment to a grading scale.