Retroactive grade changes demand discussion

Published 10:48 am Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The reasons given by Dr. Willie Bell, superintendent of Franklin City Public Schools, to move the division to a 10-point grading scale are, at best, adequate. In a presentation made to the city’s school board earlier this year, the primary reasons for changing the scale centered around leveling the playing field for Franklin’s students when it came to college admissions. In theory, a student’s grade point average will be inflated by going to a 10-point scale. The philosophical debate over the validity of such a change has much room for debate. It is not one we will engage in now.

The decision to retroactively manipulate students’ grades and, therefore, artificially inflating grade-point averages, however, should be up for discussion. According to documents available on the school board’s website, the change to a 10-point scale was to be effective as of Sept. 8. Nowhere is it mentioned that grades would be altered retroactively. The change in grading scale was voted on and approved by the school board. The decision to make the change retroactively was not. The superintendent made the decision to act on his own, stating at the most recent school board meeting that, “Nothing in the policy denies the superintendent of doing a retro change.” He added, “Really, the board doesn’t have to approve a retro change because it is an operations, the policy is a 10-point grading scale.”

We disagree. While one could argue over the difference between policy and operations, this was clearly a move made to usurp the board’s authority. If Bell had intended to make the grading scale change retroactive, it should have been brought to the board’s attention prior to a vote on the new grading scale.

This retroactive change is one that clearly leads to serious questions. Are students now participating in sports who would not have been eligible had their grades not been changed? Are students now enrolled in academic programs to which they otherwise did not earn entrance? Is the division’s on-time graduation rate going to be artificially inflated because a student earned an D in a class as a freshman, but was gifted a C in that same class as a senior? And more specifically, who is looking into the information that can provide answers to these and other questions? Is it the school board, a majority of the members who are nothing more than a rubber stamp for the superintendent? Or is it the state board of education, which is supposedly providing close monitoring of the school system’s activity in light of recent school and division level reviews?

This is not an issue to gloss over, as has been the case with so many others. We can only hope that those is a position of authority to do so, namely the local and state school boards, will dig in and look for answers. Forgive us, however, if we remain less than optimistic.