Forum on grading practices leaves parents dissatisfied

A community forum that was billed as a way to discuss solutions to grading practices in Virginia Beach Public Schools left many parents with more questions than answers.

Hundreds of parents, students, teachers and school administrators packed into Princess Anne Middle School on Thursday to hear Thomas Guskey, a nationally recognized grading expert, speak at the district’s first forum on “fair and equitable grading practices.” Many parents showed up discuss their concern that the school district is removing accountability from the grading system by not awarding zeros for incomplete or late work.

Superintendent Aaron Spence praised the high turnout. Guskey, a professor from the University of Kentucky who was brought in by the school district, presented for more than an hour on his theories on grading. He offered suggestions and tried to explain options besides typical letter or percentage systems.

This was the comment card parents used to submit questions to Thomas Guskey. (Kelly Kultys/Southside Daily)
This was the comment card parents used to submit questions to Thomas Guskey. (Kelly Kultys/Southside Daily)

It left some parents unimpressed.

“It was an hour-long commercial,” said Angelica Bodale, the mother of three students.

Guskey highlighted opinions about grading. He listed six common purposes people give for grades — including tools for communication and incentives — asked audience members to raise their hands for their favorite. The crowd was split. Guskey used that to show how diverse opinions on grading are.

“[Grading] is the most challenging area in all of education,” Guskey said.

Guskey’s presentation was followed by a 30-minute question-and-answer session that left many parents dissatisfied.

Parents could leave comments that the Fair and Equitable Grading Practices Committee will review. (Kelly Kultys/Southside Daily)
Parents could leave comments that the Fair and Equitable Grading Practices Committee will review. (Kelly Kultys/Southside Daily)

“When Dr. Spence got up and spoke, he used the word ‘dialogue,’ ” parent Carine McCandless said. “Writing questions on yellow cards that get monitored up at the podium – that wasn’t dialogue.”

Guskey answered questions from the cards on topics ranging from how changes in grading would affect students in the real world to grade inflation to using zeroes in grading policies. Audience members cheered for questions that asked how policies would affect students once they left the school district, and they made their disdain known for Guskey’s answer to why zeros shouldn’t be used in the current grading system.

“In the real world, I have to show up to work on time,” McCandless said. “I have to show up to work on time and that’s how I keep my one real job.”

A release by the school district publicizing the forum said the event would discuss discrepancies over the use of zeros at schools, how to grade late work and the purpose of homework. Parents said later that none of those issues were addressed.

“It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be,” said Vicky Manning, a parent and member of the school district’s Fair and Equitable Grading Practices Committee, which is reviewing practices across Virginia Beach. “I thought we were going to get more detail.”

Manning and other parents also voiced concern over how some of Guskey’s suggestions would add to teachers’ workload. For example, an alternative he offered to lowering a student’s grade for late work was to have them stay after school or to do it during lunch.

“When he said, ‘Well we’ll make them stay after or do it during lunch,’ — What about the teacher having lunch? What about the teacher going home?” McCandless said.

“Teachers are not robots,” Bodale added.

Parents discussed organizing a town hall discussion and inviting School Board members and administrators to have the dialogue they felt was missing Thursday.

The school district collected comment cards for the Fair and Equitable Grading Practices Committee to review at its next meeting.

Manning said the committee has just three more scheduled meetings left before it has to make recommendations to the School Board on grading policy changes.

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