Beaufort County educators see need to reform grading system

When it comes to grade floors, Beaufort County educators and school board members disagree.

Some say the practice gives struggling students a reasonable chance to recover from failure. Others see it as grade inflation and social promotion.

But all attending a meeting of an ad hoc committee Tuesday seem to agree that the 100-point grading scale needs to go. The committee was formed by the school board to review grade-floor policies and their use across the district.

Principals said schools have tinkered with grading policies in the absence of comprehensive grading reform that leads to fairer, more accurate student assessments.

"It's about grading reform and not setting a floor," said Okatie Elementary principal Jamie Pinckney. "The grading scale is skewed, providing students more opportunity to show failure than success. You have zero to 69 points to show you're failing, but only 30 points to show success."

The district has been criticized for enacting inconsistent grade-floor policies. 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 keeps struggling students motivated, Pinckney and other principals told the committee.

"It gives a kid a glimmer of hope that they can pass," said Whale Branch Early College High School principal Priscilla Drake. "Without that, they check out because they see no hopes of passing."

Critics, including school board member Mike Sanz of Hilton Head Island, say grade floors fail to hold students accountable and misrepresent their knowledge.

Sanz argued during the meeting that grade floors soften minimum competency requirements and offer an unfair and unearned assistance to low-performing students, giving them a false sense that they get a "do-over" in life.

Board member Michael Rivers disagreed. Rivers argued that grade floors "give a teacher flexibility to extract from that child what is lying dormant."

Most students do not need the help of grade floors, but for those few students who do -- those who live in poor, broken or abusive homes -- grade floors can be a saving grace, board member Evva Anderson said.

A study published by the American Educational Research Association in August found that minimum grading at a large urban high school in Massachusetts had a nominal effect. Of the more than 340,000 student grades studied over seven years, 8.5 percent were given a minimum grade, which ended with only 0.3 percent, or 1,159 students, passing the course.

"The results suggest policy makers who are looking to institute reforms that lead to fairer, more accurate and more consistent student assessments will need to look beyond minimum grading and to more substantive reforms ...," the study concludes.

The ad hoc committee will meet again April 17 during a scheduled districtwide teacher forum to solicit more input on the subject.

Related content

  1. Setting 'grade floors' now requires Beaufort County school district approval, July 19, 2012
  2. Half of Beaufort County schools use grade floors, April 14, 2012
  3. Superintendent Mick Zais' April 30 statement on grade floors