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Parent Questions Grading Policy

July 13, 2008

By Karen Bolipata, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.

Jul. 13–Susan Sarber moved to Spotsylvania County knowing its students have to work hard for an A.

That didn’t bother her until she compared her son Wilson’s grade-point average with those of students from other school districts. He had a lower grade-point average for the same grades.

“I was told: ‘Mrs. Sarber, don’t worry about that. The colleges and universities recompute the GPAs,’” she recalled recently.

But as her son neared graduation, Sarber found out that many colleges didn’t have the manpower to recalculate every applicant’s GPA to a uniform standard.

When a Maryland college her son applied to recalculated his GPA, it rose from a 3.2 to a 3.8.

It meant an additional $8,000 in scholarship money.

“That’s huge,” Sarber said. “It does equate to missed opportunities, and it equates to dollars.”

Sarber is one of several parents who approached school officials with a proposal to level the field for Spotsylvania students. Tomorrow, school administrators will present Sarber’s proposal to the School Board.

A HALF-POINT DIFFERENCE

As getting into college and earning scholarships has become increasingly competitive, more parents are questioning their school systems’ grading policies.

Fairfax County parents formed the research/advocacy group Fairgrade to push for a change in grading policies. School officials in Loudoun County also are looking into the issue.

Under Spotsylvania’s current policy, first adopted in 1987 and revised six times since, students need a 94 or higher to earn an A.

An A is valued at 4.0 on a four-point scale. An extra point is given for each advanced-placement and dual-enrollment course, so they’re calculated on a five-point scale.

No extra credit is given for honors classes, and a 98 counts the same toward the GPA as does a 94.

In Sarber’s proposal, the value of an A would increase in 0.25-point increments as you go up the scale.

A 96, for example, would count as 4.25 points toward the GPA, and a 98 would count as 4.5 points.

Under the current system, 100 is a 4.0. Under Sarber’s proposal, it would be worth 4.5.

That half-point, she said, could make the difference in college admissions.

“The difference in how your GPA shows is the difference between the ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ pile, and the ‘no’ pile,” Sarber said.

GRADING DISPARITY

Spotsylvania school officials say changing the grading policy won’t eliminate the disparity.

“No matter what you change to, there’s always going to be somebody different. That’s exactly the problem,” said Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Edlow Barker.

Still, Barker said administrators want to make Spotsylvania students’ grades comparable to those in other divisions.

Because there’s no state law regulating grading policy, even neighboring counties may use different methods.

Stafford County has a grading scale similar to Spotsylvania’s, but uses a plus or minus system that awards a half-point for pluses. In effect, an A-plus in an advanced-placement class in Stafford results in a higher GPA than the same grade in the same course in Spotsylvania.

Sarber’s proposal also includes a plus or minus system.

If her proposal is approved, it’s mathematically impossible for students’ current GPAs to decrease, she said. They will either increase or stay the same.

Parents will be notified once a change is approved, Barker said.

Sarber’s son Wilson chose Old Dominion University. Her younger son, Steven, a ninth-grader, may benefit from the new policy when it’s his turn to apply.

But that’s not why she spoke out, Sarber said.

“When it came down to a difference of $8,000 per year because of a mathematical recalculation, I’m thinking to myself, ‘How many students out there aren’t going on to four-year schools because their GPA’s not high enough?’” she said.

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