What are the problems with retroactive high school grade changes?

Published 11:53 am Friday, September 25, 2015

by Robert Holt

Several citizens have contacted me asking about the retroactive grade changes accomplished recently, especially at Franklin High School. There are numerous problems associated with a move of this magnitude. I will mention the top five from my point of view.

First, changing the rules after the fact is unfair to both students and teachers. If academic work is done under one set of rules and those rules are later changed, confusion and questions naturally arise.

Second, if a student under the prior “seven-point” scale earned a “B” with a 92, for example, changing that 92 to an “A” now represents an inflated grade and is not fair to those students who legitimately earned an “A” with a higher score.

Third, one of the biggest concerns is teacher evaluation integrity. Teachers and students know what the requirements are to earn an “A,” “B,” etc. If a student graded a “B” on the “seven-point” scale and that grade was changed administratively to an “A,” then we are sending a message to the teacher that the administration knows better and the teacher’s evaluation is not that critical. Students and teachers each know the requirements for each letter grade. With the new “10-point” scale a score of 90 is an “A.” Teachers will adjust their scoring accordingly. Essentially, a 90 on the new scale will be just as hard to achieve as a 94 was on the old scale.

Fourth, class rankings are affected. All of a sudden the excellent work a senior has done for the previous three years is now diluted with more lower level grades on the old scale now moving higher with the new scale. The result is that rankings are reshuffled penalizing the higher level students.

Finally, changing grades administratively to a higher level gives the public the impression that the school is “dumbing down” the academic standards. This is not actually the situation (see the previous paragraph), but that impression is there.

Schools in Suffolk, Surry and Isle of Wight all converted to the 10-point scale and none changed grades retroactively. It was mentioned at the Sept. 17 school board meeting that Henrico County Schools converted and did so retroactively as was specified by their board in their conversion policy. No such retroactive grading change was approved in the Franklin School Board policy. The Franklin policy was effective Sept. 8, 2015, with no provision for retroactive grade changes. Also, the Henrico conversion was recommended by their superintendent who was later terminated from that position as well as from the previous three superintendent positions he held.

Colleges do look at applicant grade point averages (GPA), Standards of Learning (SOL) scores and Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores. SOL scores compare students in Virginia, and SAT scores do the same thing at the national level. All three measures are evaluated by college admissions staff so that they may obtain a complete profile of the student applicant.

Franklin schools have made impressive gains in state test scores; those numbers will be officially reported by the state department of education soon. There are many great things happening in Franklin schools. Hopefully, the grading situation will be resolved shortly.

BOB HOLT is a graduate of Franklin High School and a current member of the Franklin School Board. The opinions expressed are his own and not necessarily those of the Franklin School Board.