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Scranton Middle School's Pilot Grading Program Sparks Debate

The 12-point grading system Scranton Middle School will pilot during its second quarter and second semester drew both criticism and support during the Brighton Board of Education meeting Monday night.

plans to implement a new 12-point grading scale pilot program this school year stirred up debate during the Brighton Board of Education meeting Monday night.

Scranton 7th Grade Principal Debbie Higgins and 8th Grade Principal Kirk Hobson presented the program to the school board.

The goal of the 12-point grading scale is to eliminate the numerical difference between letter grades. Currently, A,B,C,D and E grades have a 10-point difference. But the difference between E and a zero is 59 points, even though they both are failing grades.

Students get a zero grade when they fail to turn in or complete an assignment.

"There is a discrepency in the grading system," Higgins said. "The effect of the zero when averaged with other grades is disproportionate."

Hobson said this problem is something Scranton has been exploring for four years and the 12-point grading system is the best solution because it is the quickest way to fix the grading scale discrepency and because it is compatible with Zangle, the grading software currently used by district teachers.

The plan is to experiement with the program in two teachers' classrooms in the second quarter, which begins Nov. 9. If everything goes well, the entire school will move to the grading scale in the second semester in January.

"It's like the grading scale most of us grew up with, A-B-C-D-E," Hobson said. "Except each grade has a numerical equivelent, so a B+ would be a 10 and an A- would be an 11, for an example. So as a student earns that letter grade, teachers put in the numerical equivelent."

The advantage to using the 12-point system is that a student has a better chance of recovering his or her grade if they miss an assignment, according to Hobson.

Scranton filled out an application for an innovative program proposal. The school is piloting the program to see if it will work within the district. Next fall, the school board will decide whether it is something they want to pursue based on Scranton's success.

Cause for concerns

Brighton resident Craig Phelps works for the Wayne State University Honors College. He sits on the committees that decide which students will be awarded scholarships. Phelps said he disagrees with this grading scale because it inflates student grades.

"At the middle school level you're setting your students up for failure," he said. "When they go into a high school system that's not based on the same metrics - when they're always used to being able to turn their homework in late or getting 50 percent on homework they didn't do - that's going to impact abilities."

Phelps said college admissions and scholarship programs watch for grade inflation school districts, and if this program is implemented district-wide, Brighton Schools could get that kind of reputation.

"I don't think they are seeing the long-term impacts," Phelps said. "In the short-term I"m most concerned with the system being gamed and when students get to high school, underperforming and being overconfident because they're not used to the homework load. If you stumble out of the gate, it's going to be hard to pull that grade point back up. And the difference between a 3.2 and a 3.5 is pretty big in terms of what kind of colleges you can get into."

Phelps also has concerns for the high achieving students.

"If you inflate the grades, it devalues their academic acheivement," he said.

Currently, students at Scranton Middle School are not receiving any zeros from now until the end of the semester in order to prepare for the 12-point system. The lowest grade a student can get is a 50 percent, even if the assignment is not turned in.

Many audience members, some of them teachers, spoke out, not liking the idea that students who repeatedly do not do the work would still receive a 50 percent.

Hobson defended the idea.

"It's still a failing grade, anything below 60 is failing. but again, if they start to make some progress towards recovering their grade, they have a better likelihood of doing that under this system. The problem comes in, if you're not doing anything and the lowest grade you're getting is a 50 percent, I don't like that, it's uncomfortable. The way to correct that is with 12-point scale. Which is why we're moving in that direction."

Hobson said that is the way Fowlerville Junior High prepared before they implemented the new grading scale. He also said the work is not done because Scranton still has to have discussions on which type of assessments to use as the program develops.

Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Laura Surrey said she is in full support of the 12-point system grading model.

"What I don't think we should do is do things without giving it a lot of clear thinking to make solid decisions," she said. "It's early - it's probably my fault for suggesting they (Higgins and Hobson) come to the board. They are not asking, they are just giving them (board members) a heads up. It turned into a debate and made them defend their position. I support them trying this."

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