December 30, 2007

Differences in grading frustrating to parents

Posted in Misc at 7:33 AM by Joe From Boston

The Washington Post has an interesting article about how grading disparaties affect college admission and merit-based scholarships.  Read the excerpt below:

Marcy Newberger grew up in Montgomery County and attended Churchill High School. Then she moved to Fairfax County and had children, who attended McLean High School. Both were fine schools in good systems, with one irritating difference.

Simply put, Fairfax high schools set a higher bar for grades than those in Montgomery. To earn an A in Fairfax, it takes a score of 94 to 100. In Montgomery, it takes a score of 90 or higher. Standards for grading in the two counties, including bonus point calculations, are so out of sync that it appears possible for a Fairfax student to earn a 3.5 grade-point average for the same work that gets a Montgomery student a 4.6 GPA.

Parents nationwide are increasingly frustrated with wild variations in grading systems that, they say, are costing their children thousands of dollars in merit-based scholarships and leaving them disadvantaged in
college admissions.

Sensitivity to grading is particularly acute in Fairfax and Montgomery — large, affluent counties that send more students to college each year than other local school systems. But grading disparities also have enraged students and parents elsewhere.

In Simsbury, Conn., parents stumbled onto SAT survey data that showed that teachers in their state were unusually tough graders. Just 29 percent of SAT test takers in Connecticut reported A averages, compared with 40 percent in California, 42 percent in Florida and 49 percent in Texas.

Fairfax and Montgomery school officials reject the idea that grading discrepancies hurt students. Betsy
Brown, Montgomery’s director of curriculum and instruction, said colleges know grading systems vary
and “work to even out what may be uneven across school systems and differences between private and
public schools.”

Fairfax schools spokesman Paul Regnier said the county’s students have done well in college
admissions. He said people who want to change grading rules assume that college admissions officials
“are inept and can be fooled. We believe it is a bad assumption.”

While suburban parents suggest more reliance on the SAT and other national tests, advocates for lowincome urban and rural students are calling for the opposite — more emphasis on classroom grades, in which students from poor families are at less of a disadvantage.

The issue is complex and confusing, with little research to back either side. Governments are spending
millions of dollars on analysis of standardized tests, but officials rarely provide much detailed
information on grades, even though grades have more of an effect on students’ lives. A failing grade on a
report card can force a student to repeat a class and jeopardize college admissions, whereas a bad state
test score usually has no effect.

In recent years, it has often been parents, not school officials, who have researched grading policies and
called for changes. …They also complain of bewildering differences in the way local schools award extra points for honors and college-level courses.

Hartranft said he has detected grade variations by year, by region (with New England tougher than the
rest of the country) and by subject (with good math and science grades hardest to get). Scholars Philip
M. Sadler of Harvard University and Robert H. Tai of the University of Virginia say their data show that
high school science grades would be fairer and more consistent if schools added half a grade point for an
honors course and one point for AP courses.