Anne Arundel Schools Adopt Controversial Grading Policy
Anne Arundel County Public Schools adopted a new grading regulation last week. It was unveiled before the Board of Education at the June 6 meeting. As a regulation, there is no requirement for the Board to vote or approve the changes.
The policy changes were made by a panel of Anne Arundel County educators and Dr. George Arlotto, Associate Superintendent for School Performance. A preview of the revisions were made public earlier this year. At that time, the public was invited to review and comment on the changes at the AACPS.org website.
The most controversial aspect of the policy revolved around new student options for re-doing work, re-taking tests, and a more lenient policy for late or incomplete work.
To start, the regulation specifies a procedure for establishing a grading system within each classroom. At the beginning of each class, teachers must now specify:
- the standards students are expected to master in the class
- specific weighting of work (homework, classwork, tests, quizzes, projects)
- consequences for late work
- processes for missed and late assignments
- the teachers’ availability for re-teaching
- the teacher contact information, and
- a process for obtaining make-up work
For elementary students, the rules haven’t changed much. Rather, it is in middle and high school where the big changes come into play. It is also this area where there is push-back from parents, students, teachers and some members of the Board of Education.
The new policy grants teachers and students flexibility to re-do, re-teach and re-assess. The regulation could also lessen student penalties for late or incomplete work.
Members of the grading panel said they felt that not all students master material at the same pace.
There is a trend in some education circles to move away from grading student work in favor of a less-competitive model that emphasizes mastery of the material over grades.
In testimony, panel members said that they wanted to give students and teachers more opportunities to try different approaches in the classroom.
The new regulation gives school-based “content teams” in each subject area the flexibility to re-teach and re-assess if students did not master the material the first time.
It also gives students some leeway in due dates, which may help students who may have stress outside of school, like a difficult home life or many extracurricular activities.
Panel member Kim Jakovics of Corkran Middle School said she felt the new language furthered conversations among instructional teams within the school and department.
“It gives flexibility to provide better instruction,” she said.
Dr. Sue Lieber, a parent with children in elementary, middle and high school, offered public testimony saying she felt that the proposed regulations may have been borne out of good intentions, but they will hurt students by making them less accountable.
“If homework isn’t worth much, and they can redo it at any time, they aren’t going to do it. It has to be worth something,” she said.
Board member Eugene Peterson agreed.
“I want children to be held accountable. They need to complete the assignments,” he said.
Kristina Korona, a teacher on the panel, said that the policy is holding students accountable.
“This is not just about completing the project. Did they get it? Did the students meet the standard?” she asked rhetorically.
Board members Debbie Ritchie and Andrew Prusky wanted to be sure that Assistant Superintendent Dr. George Arlotto had a plan for rolling the policy out and informing students and parents of the change.
In the 2011-2012 school year, there were changes in grading calculations—a move from letter grades to percentage grades—that some students and parents didn’t know about or understand.
The grading regulation does not alter the updated grading calculation.
Arlotto said that he did not have a communications package for parents yet, but that he would talk to schools spokesman Bob Mosier about how to roll it out. He said that initially it might take the form of “Frequently Asked Questions,” something they could get out to teachers right away.
He also said that he wanted to make sure that teachers have a good example of a course syllabus to use in creating their own, which is now a requirement.
Arlotto was asked about whether the change in grading regulation would impact colleges and universities that review student transcripts from Anne Arundel County Public Schools. Arlotto said he didn’t believe it will be a problem.
Another area of concern revolved around the part of the new regulation that stipulates that students will receive a minimum grade of 50 percent on any assignment where they have made a “good faith effort” to meet the requirements.
If a student does no work on the assignment, it will be graded as a zero.
Student board member Jillian Bucks said asked Arlotto if the grading policy addressed a problem at South River High School where students who are not enrolled in the STEM program no longer have an opportunity to be valedictorian or salutatorian.
STEM students take an honors science class in their freshman year that automatically pushes their weighted grade point average a half-point ahead of their non-STEM peers.
Arlotto did not answer the question, but took a note.
Within each assignment, grades will be based on a point-system or rubric. When the teacher returns the work to the student, the grading system/rubric must also be returned so that the student can easily identify the strengths and weaknesses in their work.
Extra credit has also changed. All students will have a chance to earn extra credit within a specific set of circumstances.
In middle and high school, homework in the five core study areas: language arts, math, science, social studies and world language will count as no less than 10 percent and no more than 15 percent of the total grade for the marking period.
Education activist Joanna Conti testified that the changes are not “doing anything to prepare students for success in the real world.”
She said that the policy sets up a situation where students will “wing the test without studying because they will have endless opportunities for do-overs.”
She said the policy encourages student procrastination and places a huge burden on teachers to teach and re-teach and re-teach.
“Teachers will have to develop new and different tests each time they do another round of re-teaching,” Conti said.
One of the high school panel members, Robert Silkworth of North County High School, and a representative for the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County (TAAAC), said that he didn’t agree with everything in the new regulation and that there are differing philosophies about re-teaching and retesting.
The TAAAC website quotes one teacher anonymously: “the proposed changes are an insult to real education. By design they make administration look better and create needless extra work for teachers. Redos and flexible due dates set students up for failure after high school where none of these policies exist in business or college.
Jakovics countered that the redo is not a free pass. The burden of redoing the work falls on the student. They have to come in after class, do the extra work on their own time.
“It puts the burden on the student. Many students won’t want to take that time and put in that effort,” she said.
Prusky said that he would like the panel to stay intact so that they can work through feedback over the course of the next school year.
“The workload issue [for teachers] has come up and it would be good to be able to talk to the team that collaborated and worked on this,” Prusky said.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kevin Maxwell said that meeting a few times over the course of the school year would be useful.
“We can have a regular standing group that can meet from time to time,” he said.
The regulation goes into effect in August for the 2012-2013 school year.