Grading debate is not abating

BAR HARBOR — The debate continues over the fairness of the new grading system that is being adopted by Mount Desert Island-area schools as part of their transition to standards-based teaching and learning.

Skepticism of the new system is particularly strong among some parents of MDI High School students and those who will be attending the high school in the next few years. They fear it will keep some high-achieving students from getting into top colleges.

With the new grading system, students will receive a 4, 3, 2 or 1 depending on whether they exceed, meet, partially meet or don’t meet specific standards for what they should learn in each class.

Standards-based grades replace the traditional A, B, C and D grading system, which was more subjective. Under that system, there were no set standards for what students should know at the end of a course. And grades were often based not just on test scores, but also on factors such as class participation and turning in homework on time.

A parent of three students at Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor and a high school teacher voiced opposite views on the issue at the high school board meeting Monday night.

Parent Matt Daul said he opposes the four-point grading system.

“I think if we don’t do this properly, we’ll be putting our college-bound seniors at extreme disadvantage,” he said.

He argued that when college admissions officers see that a student has gotten a 3 in a course, they are likely to equate that with, at best, a “B” grade.

He said it is unrealistic to think that the high school’s guidance counselors will call or meet with each college’s admissions committee “to explain why a 3 is not a mediocre (score), that it’s actually a score that means this student has met exceptional criteria and is a well-rounded, educated person.”

Bo Greene, who teaches advanced placement calculus at the high school, said the standards-based grading system is far superior to the one everyone is used to, which she described as “about the least authentic thing imaginable.”

She said that when she was in school, “We got grades that reflected: ‘Did you do your homework? Are you a good kid?’ That stuff is ridiculous.

“I want a college that looks at a transcript of a kid who took my class to know what that kid knows, because that’s a predictor of what they can do as they move on. We absolutely need this grading revolution.”

Greene said teachers and administrators have worked very hard to devise hard and fast knowledge standards for each course.

Students who meet those standards get a grade of 3. To get a 4, a student must “show exemplary, sophisticated work … demonstrate exceptional knowledge and depth of understanding,” Greene said.

She said the traditional grading system does not tell the true story of what a student has learned and is able to do.

“I am damn proud to be on the cutting edge of trying to figure out what does tell the story,” she said.

Daul responded that he agrees that a standards-based curriculum is good.

“What I question is how can … we create a grading system that reflects that we’ve got skilled students, but also gives them the best foot forward when they try to move forward in this world.”

He said he wants a grading system that is more in line with “what the majority of colleges use, gives teachers a little more freedom to entice kids to earn [high] grades and differentiates among different students.”

High school board Chairman Ingrid Kachmar said there will be a forum at the high school March 30 at which parents will be invited to discuss the grading system and provide feedback to teachers and administrators.

“This is an ongoing process,” she said.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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