No more A for effort, extra credit or zeros at two Fayette schools

Paul Laurence Dunbar High School
Paul Laurence Dunbar High School

Two Lexington high schools — Bryan Station and Paul Laurence Dunbar — are ditching traditional grading policies in search of more fair and meaningful grades.

At Bryan Station High School, students will no longer be able to raise their grade with extra credit or with extra points for effort, participation or following class rules. Teachers won’t be allowed to deduct points for late or missing work or to give zeros for cheating.

Going forward, an academic grade at Bryan Station will represent what a student knows, understands or is able to do. The grade will essentially consist of the scores they earn on tests in the course.

Last school year, a Bryan Station High committee on grades made up of students, parents and staff came to the conclusion that the “district’s policy on grading is broken,” principal James McMillin said.

The committee decided on new grading rules, which are currently in play for teachers: Do not include student behaviors such as effort, participation, following class rules, when entering grades. Do not give extra credit and bonus points. Do not punish cheating/plagiarizing with a zero; students must redo work. Never deduct points for student work submitted past the due date. Do not assign zeroes as a punishment for missing work. Learning takes time, so always emphasize more recent student achievements. Do not give group scores; grade individual achievement only. A student’s attendance, or lack thereof, should not determine a grade.

Whether a student participates in class or hands in work on time will still be measured and recorded on the report card, but those classroom behaviors are no longer part of the academic grade.

Thomas Guskey, an educational psychology professor at the University of Kentucky, has written seven books about grading and assessment techniques.

Guskey said the two Fayette County high schools “are clearly moving in the right direction.”

Separating information on achievement and behavior and how well students are practicing skills “brings greater meaning to grades and helps parents understand more about how their children are doing in school,” Guskey said.

Gerry Swan, an associate professor of instructional systems design at UK, is working with area schools to revamp their report cards. Swan estimates that more than 50 percent of school districts in Kentucky, including Fayette County, are reconsidering their approach to grading.

McMillin said some Bryan Station parents have been concerned about the change. Parent Ginny Robinson said she supports it.

The shift “from a mindset focusing on grade point averages, to an emphasis on knowledge acquisition is monumental,” she said. “I have had months to consider it and it is still a lot to absorb. Altering the historical thinking of teachers, students and families is going to be a lengthy process and many will resist the change. I support the efforts of the staff at Bryan Station as they face the challenges of change.”

At Bryan Station, a student won’t be able to get a score lower than 50.

McMillin said that when a student gets below a 50 on a 100-point scale, it has a devastating effect on a student's grades. Getting a zero distorts the final grade, so it does not show a student's level of mastery, he said.

McMillin also is asking the Fayette County Public Schools board to change the grading scale at Bryan Station. Currently, a 92 to 100 percent is an A. Under the new scale, 90 to 100 percent would be an A, 80 to 89 a B. The new scale is more in line with the grading scale used by colleges, McMillin said.

School board members, including Melissa Bacon and Daryl Love, praised the grade changes at Bryan Station at a recent meeting.

Dunbar has many of the same new policies as Bryan Station, but Dunbar is going even further, adopting what’s known as a standards-based grading system that in Fayette County has been tried at schools that include Tates Creek Middle School and Glendover, Sandersville and Dixie elementary schools, Swan said.

Dunbar Principal Betsy Rains said schools had been using the same grading procedures for years but “the game has changed.”

“It’s time to do something different. If we continue to do the same thing, we’re going to continue to get the same results,” Rains said.

Each school implements standards-based grading a bit differently. An example of an academic standard for English would be: Analyze in details how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs or larger portions of a text.

At Dunbar, a student's degree of mastery for each academic standard will be evaluated using a four point scale: 4-exceeds expectations, 3-meets expectations, 2-approaching expectations, 1-Not yet.

The degree of mastery will then be translated into a traditional letter grade and percentage. For example, a 3 would be 92 percent or A and a 2.5 would be 85 percent or B, a 2 would be 75 percent or C and a 1 would be 50 percent or an F.

Schools are reporting academic grades separately from how a student carries out classroom rules, so that, for example, a student is evaluated in terms of “Great reader, OK writer, great classmate,” Swan said.

Swan said he has worked with 30 schools in seven or eight Kentucky districts that are already sending home standards-based reports cards. He said in the schools that he’s monitored, “In terms of evaluating what students know and can do,” standards-based grading is better than traditional grading.

Homework is another area that will see changes.

This academic year at Dunbar, homework counts for 20 percent of a grade. Next year, scores on homework assignments won’t factor into a student’s grade at Dunbar and Bryan Station, but students will have to complete homework to get the privilege of taking tests over. At Bryan Station and Dunbar, students who score low on tests, but are completing all their homework, will generally be able to take tests over and show they have mastered the academic standards they are learning in the classroom.

Allison Roberts, a history teacher at Dunbar, said some students are worried because they think their effort won’t count for anything and she tells them, “It’s still is about your effort. It’s about your willingness to persevere, your academic grit. If you don’t get it the first time are you going to back and do it the second time? We’re going to give you multiple get better.”

Dunbar won’t fully implement standards-based grading until 2017-18. But Dunbar student Melissa Natour has been in classes where standards-based grading is already used.

Melissa said said she was able to “redo” tests covering content that she didn’t understand at first.

“It helped my grade a lot. It more accurately reflected what I knew,” she said.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears