An ad hoc committee of the Beaufort County school board meets at 4 p.m. today at the district office in Beaufort to begin its review of school grade floor policies and their use across the district.
Beaufort County school board members agree grade floor policies should be applied consistently across all schools, but are split as to whether they are needed.
"There is a big philosophical divide on this," board member JoAnn Orischak -- who sits on a newly-formed ad hoc committee studying the use of grade floors, as well as other curriculum issues -- said March 26.
"I think we need to hear from teachers across the district ... to see whether they see value in grade floors, whether it should be used at all or (only at) certain grade levels," Orischak said.
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The school district has been criticized for enacting inconsistent grade-floor policies, with many arguing it is bad public policy.
The practice came under scrutiny after the February 2012 resignation of Beaufort High School principal Dan Durbin, who changed grades for 33 students without following district protocol.
District officials, though, have said the grade floors are different from Durbin's "unilateral" actions.
The practice, used in some or all courses at about a dozen schools in the district, essentially gives a student a higher "F" on a report card. For example, if a student earns a 45 percent during a quarter, it would show up as a 60 percent. The higher grade prevents the student from falling too far behind, allowing another chance to pass before semester grades are issued, principals have said. The policy is intended to keep struggling students motivated.
Critics say grade floors fail to hold a student accountable and misrepresent their knowledge and a teacher's performance.
The school board approved a policy in July that keeps grades under teachers' control and requires they follow the state's grading scale.
But if a teacher or school adopts specific grading practices to give students no lower than a 60 percent on report cards, district administration must approve the practice.
The S.C. Board of Education and state superintendent have frowned on the practice.
State Superintendent Mick Zais, in an April 30 memo, said grade floors "fail to reflect an honest assessment of student mastery of work and the level of completion of a course of study."
The state grading scale was implemented to "fairly determine GPA and class rank ... not to establish a floor ... ," Zais wrote.
"In the long-term, these practices are a disservice to students because these practices undermine their preparedness for life after high school."
Check back with The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet for a story after today's meeting and follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.