Albemarle County’s Draft Grading Policy – Part 2

Dr. Matthew S. Haas
Superintendent of Schools, Albemarle County

by James C. Sherlock

After I posted yesterday on Albemarle County’s Draft Grading Policy, I wrote each of the members of that school board.  Still troubled, I wrote them again this morning.  That board is a very distinguished group .   I thus have reason to hope the messages have some effect before the vote on the policy on September 24.  We’ll see.  

Here are the messages.

Yesterday

The Daily Progress reported that you “didn’t ask many questions” on September 10 concerning the pending Draft Grading Policy.   

I have experience in Virginia schools as both a public school teacher and, once retired, as a volunteer tutor in remedial mathematics.  

I read the draft policy closely.  I found considerable cognitive dissonance and large gaps both in the newspaper interviews and in the draft policy.  

This grading policy as written will present teachers with a major challenge to their integrity.  

At first read, an experienced teacher can be forgiven for thinking that only practical way out of the box you are building will be massive grade inflation.   That is the elephant in the room.  

It will need to be addressed forthrightly and publicly on September 24.  You are very smart and accomplished people, so you and the Superintendent may have in your minds some way to avoid that pitfall.  I hope you will you share it.

I offer a number of additional questions that I hope you will ask on September 24th so that we can get the answers on the public record.  

General Questions:

  • How will college admission offices perceive and evaluate the grades of applicants from Albemarle County high schools under a unique grading standard?  
  • How will students transferring to or from Albemarle County schools to or from another district or state will be evaluated for proper class placement in their new schools and their grades translated for transcript purposes?

Grading Practices

From the Draft Policy section “Grading practices in the ACPS will be:”

Accurate

  • Explain “teachers implicit bias.” Which of your teachers are so afflicted?
  • Explain “reflective of a student’s environment.”
  • Explain “mathematically sound calculations.”

Supportive of Student Learning – Explain how grading practices can:

  • “Reflect individual differences and rates of learning.”
  • “Address the unique needs of special populations of students” – one of the grade inflation red flags.
  • “Make adjustments for transitional periods (including elementary to middle and middle to high).”
  • “Encourage students to take an active role in setting goals and assessing progress.”
  • “Foster a positive self-image for the student” – another grade inflation red flag.
  • “Inform teaching practices and student learning.”
  • Be “credible” under this policy.

Consistent 

The criteria listed are entirely subjective. With so much subjectivity required on the part of each teacher, achieving consistency “within and across students, teams, departments, courses, and schools” absent grade inflation will prove impossible as a practical matter.

Stacey Heltz, an assistant principal at Charlottesville High School was quoted in the Daily Progress: 

In a standards-based class, the homework piece is not really factored into that grade,” she said. “ … But their grade in a regular classroom or on a traditional grading scale might be low because they don’t access or because they might be taking care of their siblings. So their grade is negatively impacted, not because they don’t understand but because they didn’t play the game of school.

I never before knew an AP that considered school a game or at least would admit it if she did. 

Unless 5,000 years of teachers around the world have missed something, failure to do homework will reduce understanding. It will indeed silently factor into the grades, unless grades are directed by policy or unspoken understanding.

Superintendent Thomas was quoted:

(Superintendent) Thomas said changing grading ties into the division’s anti-racism policy, which calls on staff to ensure that each student can be successful. “This is one of those inequalities — grading — that we know happens systemically nationwide, and we’re going to tackle it and it’s going to be hard and we have a lot of staff members who are excited about that and want to get behind that,” he said.

Perhaps the superintendent can elaborate on his assessment of the difference between nationwide grading inequities and nationwide achievement gaps.

“(Superintendent Thomas said … that changing grading practices will be a big challenge.”  

I agree.

So we arrive back where we started – at grade inflation. That will be the default interpretation of the guidelines unless you and the superintendent can explain how the grading practices will meet the goals without it.  

That explanation is key to public acceptance of this proposed policy.

This morning

As a former teacher I cannot get this off of my mind.  

Reading the Daily Progress stories from February and from the other day, the unmistakable takeaway is that your superintendent will direct teachers to not require homework be completed (assigned?), not require classroom participation and not require correct answers on tests while awarding good grades.  

In my experience, children who do not learn multiplication tables in the third grade, for example, have no chance to successfully participate in math instruction for the rest of their school years.  

Those are the children that as a volunteer I for four years taught to multiply in the fifth grade at a side table in their classrooms. They were all volunteers.  Nearly half of one class. 

I had almost a 100% success rate, but it required homework. Those children were unfailingly proud of themselves, and now had a chance in math classes.

Now on to Albemarle County schools.

The children will figure out what is happening with the new policy as soon as their teachers begin to execute it.  

The kids who have struggled with school will suddenly begin getting good grades. They will tell the other kids they are suckers for doing homework. You couldn’t stop that with an army of APs. How do you think that is going to play out at recess?

If you go through with that policy, your dropout rates will soar as your school population shrinks.  

Children without a clue what is going on in the classroom after three or so years as “beneficiaries” of the new system will leave. The children with high learning ambitions whose parents can provide them with an option will leave.  

You are literally gambling with children’s lives. I hope the “game” proves worth the candle.

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16 responses to “Albemarle County’s Draft Grading Policy – Part 2

  1. The Grand Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan could not devise a better way than Albemarle-Charlottesville progressives to undermine African-American children and keep them in a state of ignorance. Race-obsessed progressivism is a disease.

  2. James W who comments here of late and is a retired teacher alluded to the relationship between grades and SOL scores and I’d ask that same question – not sure I really understand it.

    Do Colleges (at least in Virginia) want to see Virginia students SOL scores? I doubt that school grades alone are the sole determining factor for admission.

    Or for that matter, do Colleges, want to see some kind of uniform standardized testing scores for homeschooled or non-public school applicants, for instance?

    Is this much ado over nothing except for the ideologically inclined?

    Do parents of high performing kids care?

    What parents will argue against this?

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Loudoun County went through this a few years back and now revising in the wake of the equity/critical theory craze.

    I could assign homework, but I could not count it as a grade. Therefore only the goodie two shoe kids who had mom and dad hovering over them actually did the assigned work.

    I could only count tests towards a report card grade. Students had the opportunity to retake the test if they failed. Why study the first time when you can get a free look and take it again for an “A”.

    Cheating and plagiarism could not be punished really. Students were to be corrected by “talking to them”. Students then got another crack at the test or project/paper.

    50% was the minimum grade permitted to be given for a report card. Even if a kid did absolutely nothing.

    No real attendance policy. A kid could miss days on end and never be held accountable.

    What happened in Loudoun is gradually migrating to places like Albemarle. With the assistance of the VDOE the migration of flawed grading practices will accelerate.

    • “Why study the first time when you can get a free look and take it again for an “A”.”

      Surely, not the same test? My policy, well stated and printed on the silly-bus. “Make-up tests are available, but I hate having to create make-up tests. You will hate taking it.” In 23 years, I probably had to create and give half dozen at most.

      Cheating. Caught several. Zero! Made them sign confessions. It was that, or the Honor Council. Never went to one.

      50% was the lowest failing grade I would give. Less than that is draconian, and can destroy any opportunity to pass. It’s a numerical thing.

      • I actually side somewhat with Nancy here. The F range is very large, you know 6 times larger than any other range. In multivariable calculus, we had 3 exams and a final. My first exam in the class, worth 20%, was a 30. It was solely on sequences and series. I could not get it in my head. To this day I still know little to nothing on sequences and series. I still didn’t know it for the final. Determing gradients, double and triple integration I could handle (average at best). I struggled to get my average up after the initial hit. The 70s (C) I was pulling on the next tests weren’t pulling my average up but so much. Overall, I’ve used multivariable calculus 0 times since then and feel I’m a perfectly competent engineer.

        • James Wyatt Whitehead V

          That’s just great! Surrendering to North Korea will be so much easier now.

        • I agree with both you and Nancy. 50% as the lowest failing grade makes sense, but that assumes either number rather than letter grades or atypical number-to-letter grade conversion factors.

          Three observations:

          1. Nancy clearly taught in a private school (honor council), and that changes assumptions about the motivation of the students (or at least of their parents), homework, classroom decorum, discipline and available punishments.

          2. Nancy sounds like a thoughtful teacher that the kids would have respected.

          3. One or two a year of the kids the Albemarle County School Board thinks they are going to help with this misguided grading policy might have reached multivariable calculus. Under the proposed “homework is for suckers” policy, they will be lucky to reach algebra.

          • State college. One of the 2nd tier schools.

            The only violation of policy I routinely made was I would let any student to withdraw “WP” right up to the last day of class. “You aren’t failing until you take the final exam.”

          • Oh, before you get all excited. The LAST thing you ever want is a student trial before the Honor Council. The little buggers are entitled to legal representation and mommy & daddy will bring in a real face-biter on your ass.

            My ex-wife found that out. The bad news, she was crucified. The good news, she won her case and the little buggers were expelled. The great news, she won, which came with legal protections.

            That’s why I handled my cheaters in class, got signed confessions, and assured them that the event would end there.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Policy states the retake is the same test.
        Signed confessions? You would be roasted alive for such a thing.
        50% floor? Why should Waleed get a 50% for 3 report cards in a row. That jackpot did absolutely nothing but play video games for 8 months. Could not take the phone away. Against the policy. Waleed knew what he was doing. Pulled out a good grade in the 4th quarter to pass. I was all over this guy, his parents, his counselors. Summer school should have been his fate.

        • Okay, that’s a dumb policy. Same test is cheating the kid who studies his butt off to get a “C”. He’s the kid who is cheated.

          (50+50+50+100)/4 is 62.5, a “D”. Sure fine. That’s a pass but God, what’s he gonna do with that?

          Look, I appreciate the frustration you might feel, but do you really think Wally is going to make a (minimum) 90 to pass after 3 50s in a row? Remember that 50 was a floor, so the little moron is even more unlikely do it.

          Yeah. I got signed, hand written confessions. I still have them.

          • James Wyatt Whitehead V

            Whaleed sought the 50% floor to piss off his dad. I knew that. But it frosted me over everyday because I knew he had the right stuff. What is Whaled going to do with a D. Nothing. He can’t wait to get a hold of the next dime bag to tide him over a few days. Lives from one high to the next. The best policy is for the policy makers to get the hell out of my way and let me wrench on Whaleed. I would have pulled every nut and bolt out to fix that leaky seal and I would have had it fixed by Columbus Day (whoops in Loudoun it is now Indeginous People Day).

  4. As I said, pretty soon graduates of our public schools will be fit to work for only CNN or the Washington Post.

  5. Sorry guys but this seems to be entirely the handiwork of liberal Democrats. No mandatory homework, retaking failed tests, encouraging connivance, no punishment for cheating or plagiarism (per Mr Whitehead) – does anybody seriously think these policies will improve educational outcomes for anybody?

    What’s the end game? Pretend all is well until the SOLs prove otherwise? Eliminate the SOLs and let the SATs separate the wheat from the chaff? Eliminate the SATs and let freshman Calculus divide the mathematical “haves and have nots”? Continue grade inflation in college and let anybody with an interest become an aeronautical engineer or brain surgeon?

    Capt Sherlock says of the Albemarle School Board, “You are very smart and accomplished people …” They certainly don’t seem to smart to me.

    Can anybody explain what they are trying to accomplish and why they can’t see the obvious issues with this approach?

    • Not all subjects are SOL tested. I believe – reading, writing, math, history, and science and as far as I know they are not affected by “grading” policies.

      SOLs not every grade either, but sooner or later, there is a reckoning that can’t be easily tinkered with so perhaps these grading controversies are with respect to subjects/courses that are not SOL-tested? There has been some SOL cheating from time to time but that’s way different from grade escalation.

      For the non-SOL subjects/courses and in the higher grade levels- the grades will affect the cumulative QCA and for those headed to college – and we have ample comment here in BR from teachers telling about the pressures on them with respect to grading – and this is a combination of parents who do not want their college-bound kids bona fides messed up and from higher in the food chain who don’t want trouble from parents.

      Teachers are in the middle.

    • The end game Mr. DJ is remake the standards, remake the assessments tests, make all subgroups equally dumb, and all to prove that the left is right.

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