Parents, teachers pack First Colonial cafeteria to discuss Beach district grading changes

Marc Bergin, the superintendent's chief of staff, address parents at the March 22 grading forum. (Kelly Kultys/Southside Daily)
Marc Bergin, the superintendent’s chief of staff, address parents March 22, 2016, at a district grading forum. (Kelly Kultys/Southside Daily)

VIRGINIA BEACH – The ongoing discussion over changes to grading practices in the public school district drew more than 100 people Tuesday to First Colonial High School, where attendees echoed concerns made last week at a similar event.

The turnout was greater than what showed at Kellam High for the last forum. Parents and teachers grabbed extra chairs and crowded around tables in the First Colonial cafeteria to join the dialogue with school division officials, students and grading committee members.

Parents, teachers and students questioned the three preliminary recommendations that the district’s Fair and Equitable Grading Practices Committee issued two weeks ago after months of research, and how they would be implemented.

“I don’t feel like this prepares kids for college or for life,” said parent Elaine Munitz, who has four children in the division and one in college.

She criticized the recommendations as “inflating the grades” for students and making it so students can’t accept failure.

Other parents, including Amy Rivers, said they like some parts of the recommendations, such as the push to separate assessments of student behavior, such as organization and timeliness, from the academic grades.

“I like the nitty-gritty,” Rivers said about getting more detail on where her children have weaknesses.

Still, she and other parents questioned how the reporting would appear to colleges. Many argued that schools need to help mold a “full person” who is prepared in academics as well as in other areas, such as time management.

Princess Anne High School Principal Daniel Smith, a member of the grading committee, said one of their main goals was to report grades that reflect what students know.

“When you see a grade, what does that tell you?” he asked.

Smith said his school had already incorporated some of the proposed policies, such as giving students more opportunities to retake tests and not deducting academic points for late work. Some of those approaches, as well as other factors, including changes in teaching style, have increased their students’ success.

Munitz and others suggested those results had more to do with making it harder for students to fail.

Bailey Montalvo, a freshman at Bayside High, asked how the grading changes would affect her and her classmates. She questioned the usefulness of moving to a four- or five-point grading system from the current 100-point scale, as is proposed in the grading committee’s recommendations.

Montalvo gave an example of a student who received an 86 under the current system. That student can see he or she knew a lot of the material but still has areas to work on for the next assignment. A four-point scale, she said, isn’t nearly as specific; that student would be lumped into the “four” group, with others who answered more questions correctly.

Montalvo said some students will feel under-appreciated if some of the recommendations take effect, especially if they see their classmates handing in work late or not at all and still receive credit.

This is a sample of a possible report card that would separate academic grades from behavioral aspects. (Kelly Kultys/Southside Daily)
This is a sample of a possible report card that would separate academic grades from behavioral aspects. (Kelly Kultys/Southside Daily)

“Personally, I feel like that’s not fair to the children who actually tried,” she said.

But almost everyone at her table seemed to agree on the need to standardize how some items, including homework, are graded. Montalvo said it’s hard for students to go from a class where homework is a huge part of the grade to a class where it doesn’t matter at all.

The grading committee will review the feedback it has received from its roundtable events and an online E-town hall. It is scheduled to present its final recommendations to the School Board in May.

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