Board should end policy of setting a grade floor

info@islandpacket.comMarch 27, 2013 

You would think after nearly a decade, local school officials would have made up their minds on whether grade floors make educational sense.

You'd be wrong.

That alone suggests the Beaufort County school board should end the practice. If proponents haven't made their case by now, it probably can't be made.

A newly formed ad hoc board committee is to study the use of grade floors and other curriculum issues. We predict a split verdict on grade floors even if used districtwide. That, too, suggests the practice should end.

In the 2011-2012 school year about half the schools had such a policy, setting a minimum grade of 60 or 62 in some classes, even if a student actually scored lower than that. That's still a failing grade, but one from which the student, in theory, could redeem himself. The state requires a 70 or above to avoid an F.

The decision to leave it up to individual schools came in 2010. This past July, the school board reasserted the district's authority. The latest policy keeps grades under teachers' control and requires that they follow the state's grading scale. But if a teacher or school adopts specific grading practices, such as a grade floor, district administrators must sign off.

This policy doesn't make sense. Grade floors should be a districtwide call and consistent from school to school.

And they should be based on what's been shown to work. That hasn't happened with this policy.

The only empirical evidence we've seen on its efficacy came in June 2004, following the school year it was first given a try. The conclusion: It did not result in any significant increase in the percentage of courses passed when compared with the previous school year.

Critics, who include the state superintendent and the state Board of Education, say it does students no favors.

State superintendent Mick Zais wrote in April, "In the long-term, these practices are a disservice to students because (they) undermine (students') preparedness for life after high school."

Perhaps. That depends on the individual student and his or her circumstances. But teachers have enough flexibility in how they grade their students that individual circumstances can be taken into account.

Absent hard evidence, we're not getting anywhere with the debate over grade floors. It's time to end it.

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