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updated: 6/4/2013 6:46 PM

U-46 changes grading scale for failing students

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Middle and high school students in Elgin Area School District U-46 who don't do any work for an entire semester still will fail next year, but if a new grading policy is implemented, they will fail with a grade of 50 percent, rather than a zero.

The district has been discussing its grading scales since November 2010 when a committee formed to review the current policies and practices, develop recommendations for new grading guidelines and create a timeline with which to implement them.

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The changes are set to take effect in the 2013-14 school year and have caused quite the controversy in recent weeks. While the district hopes the new scale will motivate students to bring their grades up, parents and teachers say it instead will encourage them to slack off.

Three teachers and a parent spoke during the public comment portion of the school board meeting Monday night in opposition to the new policy. For Tracy Ricci, a teacher at Streamwood High School, the problem with the new grading system is not for students who do nothing and fail, but for those who do little and pass.

"It is possible because of this that a student could literally do only half the work of the term and do average at best for the other half of the term and still pass," Ricci said.

Bartlett High School teacher Jeff Horler said the district should be figuring out how to get students to do more work, not giving them credit for work they didn't do. His students already are calculating how many assignments they can skip out on and still get the grade they want.

"That's what concerns me," Horler said, "that the students are already asking these questions."

U-46 now has an A through E scale where E is failing with a score of 59 or below. Next year, an E would only go as low as 50, eliminating the possibility for students to get grades any lower than that.

Middle and high schools will have the choice, next year, between two different scales: the 50-100 scale or a zero-5 scale where a zero is an E, 4 is an A and 5 is an A+.

The scales were recommended by the district's Secondary Grading Committee, made up of 30 administrators, teachers and community members. The group had consulting help from Connie Kamm, a senior associate at the Leadership and Learning Center and national expert on grading.

The change will give each letter grade an equal incremental value -- 10 different grade points comprise an E, as they will an A, B, C or D. In academic circles, the 0-100 scale has been controversial for years because of the outsized effect zeros have on a student's overall grade -- that's compared to zeros on a more balanced 4.0 scale, for example.

The goal of the new system is to motivate students to participate by making it possible to raise a failing grade to a passing one, where the challenge may have seemed insurmountable for a student with a grade far below 50.

Kathryn Castle, president of the Elgin Teachers Association and a member of the secondary grading committee, said she does not expect student achievement to suffer under the new grading system.

"We're talking about changing the scale, we're not talking about changing the standards," Castle said.

But parents and teachers have commented on the district's Facebook page en masse, arguing the new scale will reward students who do next to nothing.

U-46 administrators planned to communicate the changes to parents closer to the start of the next academic year when all schools will have chosen between the two scales and finalized new policies for accepting late work, which each department in each school must do for consistency's sake.

But community outrage started building in mid-May.

Changing the grading system doesn't require board approval but Superintendent José Torres told attendees at Monday's school board meeting the issue would be presented at the next meeting, June 17.

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