School grading practice finally gets its just due

Courtesy of morguefile.com

At long last, the Beaufort County Board of Education has banned a failed grading practice that made no sense and was used inconsistently.

With any luck at all, we will never again hear about "grade floors," which were banned by a unanimous vote July 2 after a decade of discussion and study.

Beginning in August, the grade a student earns is the grade that will go in the books.

Grade floors were borne of good intentions. If a student ended a quarter with an average of 45 out of 100, it would go in the books as a 60. In both cases, the student earned an "F," but the "grade floor" of 60 was designed to allow the student a more realistic chance to pass before semester grades were issued. It was supposed to keep students involved, and prevent dropouts.

But the practice was also called grade inflation and social promotion. In addition to local opposition, the S.C. Board of Education and the state superintendent 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."

He was right. The concept always failed the simple test of honesty.

Even worse, it was not used consistently countywide. In the 2011-12 school year, it was used in about half the schools. That's not fair, and it should never have been condoned by the school board.

And there was no evidence that it worked. In 2004, after being tried for a year, a study concluded the practice did not result in any significant increase in the percentage of courses passed when compared with the previous school year.

But sweeping grade floors out the door does not mean the challenge has gone away. Schools still face the age-old problem of engaging and encouraging the weakest students. It's a cold reality in public education that just got a little colder. But at least grading is now honest, and consistent across all the schools. Coming to this conclusion should not have been so difficult.