Making the Grade
By Robert Haley
I believe it has been said many times that a lie makes its way around the world in the morning before the truth even gets its pants on. Unfortunately, the story in the Press Democrat is illustrative of that axiom.
The article contained many inaccuracies, including the printed grading scale. Without explanation, the one printed does look alarming. That scale was developed by teachers who understood how to implement it, but unfortunately it has also been used by some who do not. The interval equivalents need to be understood in order to compare the two. A student failing at the 59% level on the traditional scale would be scoring below 20% on the scale shown next to the article, but that was not made clear. This phrase, which was included with the scale in the paper, “Students who miss homework or tests get 50%” is false. There are other scales being used by teachers in our district and the comparisons need to be made with care, not haphazardly out of context.
We all agree completely about wanting high expectations and rigor in our schools. Over the course of the last two years in our district we have had multiple meetings with dozens of teachers to look at our grading systems from a variety of perspectives. We do not want to lower the bar for achievement in any way, but we do want to give students an opportunity to learn, achieve, and pass courses in which they demonstrate competence and mastery.
Our previous policy, and the one recommended by the California School Boards Association and adopted by school districts around the state, allowed for teachers to grade based on achievement trends. One would hope that the trend would go up not down, but both could occur. There were, and still are, robust discussions about the mathematics of equal interval grading versus the traditional weighting of an F at up to 60%. I believe well-meaning reasonable people can have differing viewpoints. Regardless, a student who is not competent, not completing assignments, and performing in the failing range should receive a failing grade. Neither the new policy nor the old policy changed the rigor required for students to demonstrate competence. Teachers can assess for competence in a variety of ways through daily assignments, homework, projects, essays, reports, and assessments. The equal interval policy does not change that.
I meet regularly with teachers at secondary schools who are working together to find ways to accurately and fairly grade students with a focus on motivating them to learn. Those conversations and meetings will continue, and our goal is to have a learning environment with high expectations for all students. As a parent of two students in Cotati–Rohnert Park Unified School District, if nothing else, I hope these conversations continue, because to me it shows how much teachers in this district care about students.
Robert Haley is the superintendent of the Cotati–Rohnert Park Unified School District.