Higher report card grades come with looser standards Catholic schools switching next year

Published 12:05 pm Monday, June 14, 2010

More than 60 percent of Vicksburg Warren School District students received A’s or B’s on their report cards during the 2009-10 school year, an increase of nearly 10 percent over the previous year when the grading scale was stricter, district records show.

In the new 10-point system, 90 to 100 is an A and 80 to 90 is a B. Previously, students had to get a minimum 93 for an A, and B’s were awarded for the 85-92 range.

The percentage of C’s remained relatively constant at 21.6 percent, compared with 20.7 percent in 2009. Fewer D’s and F’s were given — 8.3 percent compared with 15.1 percent for D’s, and 9 percent versus 11.5 percent F’s.

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“I had more B’s this year that would have averaged out to C’s in the past,” said Vicksburg High School English teacher Jenny Drake. On the lower end of the scale, more students would have failed under the old system, she said. “I had twice as many making 60-something as I would have had in the past.”

Warren Central High School math teacher Liz Gullett saw similar results, especially with more students earning B’s as that range was lowered five points.

“Truthfully, I didn’t care for it,” Gullett said about the new system. “I felt it wasn’t going to hold us to as high a standard as we needed to set. But it did help some students pass that would have failed before.”

Drake said some students, both high- and low-achieving, seemed to try to take advantage of the lower scale. “I think they just wanted to make the 65 — to them it was passing. That pressure of failing was not there, or of not making the honor roll,” she said.

Gullett, a teacher for 24 years — the last eight at Warren Central — said there were those who just tried to get by, but for others, reduced anxiety about passing might have helped them learn. “Some who were struggling were really trying hard,” she said.

Subject Area Test results for VWSD secondary students will be announced in July, Gullett said, and she is hopeful that along with more passing grades on report cards, more students will pass the state-mandated tests taken in May.

VWSD trustees voted 4-1 in October 2008 to adopt the new system. Dissenting was then-trustee Jan Daigre, who said she feared standards would be lowered and students not required to work as hard.

District Superintendent Dr. James Price said the board had no choice.

“I still feel the board (members) did what they had to do to keep our children competitive for scholarships,” Price said.

Drake, a 30-year veteran at VHS, said she simply adjusted her teaching to make her students work harder. She also found herself challenged.

“I made them pay for it,” she said of her students. “It worked me a little harder, too, because I went back and adjusted all of my tests to make sure they were working at the new scale. I think all of the teachers were struggling to make sure their (teaching and) tests met the demand of getting our kids prepared for college.”

More than 100 school districts in the state have switched or voted to switch in the coming year to the 10-point grading scale, many citing, as VWSD did, that the goal was to make scholarship money as available to their students as those in other areas and states, most of which follow the wider grade scale.

Vicksburg Catholic School will switch in the upcoming year, said St. Aloysius principal Michele Townsend. The decision was made by the Catholic Diocese of Jackson and covers all the Catholic schools in the region.

“I’m excited about it because it puts our students on a level playing field for scholarships,” Townsend send.

Mississippi’s two state-supported programs, the Tuition Assistance Grant and the Eminent Scholars Grant, both have minimum GPA standards attached to their award criteria.

The MESG, which awards a student up to $2,500 per academic year, requires a minimum 3.5 GPA. The MTAG, up to $500 annually, requires a 2.5 GPA.

A’s are generally worth 4.0 grade points, B’s 3.0, C’s 2.0 and so on, though the same grades in honors and advanced placement classes earn more points.

Townsend admitted that getting an A or a B might be a little easier for a student under the new scale, but said VCS is working to make sure students still have incentives to work hard. Stricter criteria will be put in place for students who want to earn certain honors, and professional development opportunities for teachers will emphasize methods of developing critical thinking and analytical skills.

Clinton Public Schools and Natchez-Adams School District are also among those that will move to the 10-point scale in the coming year.

Natchez approved the change a year ago but superintendent Anthony Morris said he wanted a chance to “educate the parents” as well as plan for its implementation.

“I just didn’t want to rush into it because I was not sure how our computer system would handle it,” Morris said in a telephone interview. “I wanted to make sure the bugs were out.”