Beach parents, teachers question grading recommendations

VIRGINIA BEACH – About 65 parents, teachers, administrators and community members gathered Wednesday at Kellam High School for the first of two roundtable discussions on grading recommendations.

“Grading practices are a challenging conversation,” Superintendent Aaron Spence said in his opening remarks to the group.

The first two recommendations from the district’s Fair and Equitable Grading Practices Committee — assess academic progress separately from behavior and work habits, and to revise the current grading scale — generated the most questions Wednesday night.

Parents, teachers and community members listened to the opening remarks at the grading roundtable. (Kelly Kultys/Southside Daily)
Parents, teachers and community members listened to the opening remarks at the grading roundtable. (Kelly Kultys/Southside Daily)

“All we’re doing is dumbing down the truth,” said Rob Stover, a parent of a Virginia Beach student and a teacher at the Advanced Technology Center, about the suggestion to change the division’s grading scale to a 5- or 4-point option.

Another Advanced Technology teacher at Stover’s table, Linda Lavender, agreed.

“They are ill-prepared to handle the rigors of college,” she said.

Lavender said students get points deducted in college if they hand in an assignment late or fall behind if they skip class. That accountability needs to be enforced in secondary school to prepare students for it, she said.

Others, like table-facilitator Robin Hoffman, the division’s coordinator of professional growth, and Jennifer Carson, the coordinator of world languages, said the current grading scale is heavily weighted toward failing grades. They noted, as it says in the grading committee’s recommendations, that the division’s 100-point system has 36 passing grades and 64 failing grades.

Stover and Lavender said they would rather work with students to get them to “step up” and work for higher grades, instead of “lowering” the scale.

“I’ve neglected kids on the upper end of the scale,” Lavender said.

She said she had been asked to try out some policies that have been discussed in the grading practices review, such as re-testing, and she said she believed it hurt the students’ progress.

“When I stopped re-testing, the grades went up,” she said.

Another teacher in the division and Lavender said re-testing also creates more work for teachers, who have to create new tests. This also slows the learning time in class, they said.

Stover said he could see how giving a zero to a student in the current system could greatly affect the student’s grade. He tries to not give zeros unless a student really don’t put any effort in, he said.

Carson asked about the subjectivity that comes into play when academic and behavioral categories are split. For example, she said, “attitude” is very subjective and would require some sort of rubric or comment system to assess it.

Others, including Stover, said they didn’t see the point in splitting homework from academic grading marks.

“I wouldn’t assign homework just to assign it,” Stover said.

Homework should have a purpose, so it should count as a part of the grade, he said.

Carson said she wanted to make sure teachers don’t use their grades for disciplinary purposes.

“I could see someone using participation that way,” she said.

Everyone at the table agreed there should be one grading scale used across the district.

“That was the spirit of the committee,” Hoffman said about standardizing practices.

Hoffman gathered response sheets from the table and turned them over to the grading practices committee, which will review the feedback it gets on its recommendations before sending a final proposal to the division. Another roundtable discussion will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at First Colonial High.

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