South Bend Schools new grading guidelines cause concern

By: Mark Peterson, Megan Hickey Email
By: Mark Peterson, Megan Hickey Email
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South Bend, Ind. The rules for grading high school students in the South Bend Community Schools have changed, but is it change for the better? The debate is heating up.

“In the past, you know, people have got fired for changing the grades. Coaches tried to get teachers to change grades before and that was totally wrong and there's been dismissals because of that before,” said board member William Sniadecki. “Now all the sudden, because you put it in an administration guidelines it’s going to be legal? There's something very, very, wrong with this.”

The administrative grading guidelines are designed to put a high school diploma in realistic reach of students who get off to a bad start during the first grading period of any given high school year.

A start so bad, the student might be tempted to drop out because it would be mathematically impossible to earn any credits toward graduation that year.

The policy applies only to high school students and only to the first grading period of a given school year.

A memo sent to teachers on January 10th states, “With a change in the guidelines, a student isn’t penalized nearly as much for a poor mark in the first grading period when they improve in the second marking period.”

The new guidelines redefine the failing grade percentage associated with an “F.”

An “A’ would still be awarded for student performance in the 90% to 100% range, and a “B” would still be defined in the 80% to 90% range, but “he failing grade percentage of an “F” must be calculated no lower than 50%,” reads the memo. “Teachers will change a percentage lower than 50% for the first marking period of the semester or trimester to ‘50%’ manually in the electronic grade book.”

“Whether well intentioned or not, this change, that should never happen,” said South Bend School Board Member Roger Parent. “Well, it sends a message to the student that in the first grading period they don’t have to do very much because they’ll get 50% no matter what. 50% is still not a passing grade, but it’s still very different from 10%.”

“I’ve got two grandkids that go to South Bend Schools,” said William Sniadecki, “I don’t want, I want them to get what they deserve if he gets a 30% on a test I want him to be at 30%, I want him to strive to get to that 70%, 80%, 90%, 100% and work for it.”

Both Sniadecki and Parent are calling for the new grading guidelines to be rescinded.

The topic was much discussed during Tuesday night's meeting of the board of school trustees. A panel of South Bend School Corp. representatives defended the new guidelines.

"With my ten percent F I'm done," said Dr. Cindy Oudghiri, Director of High Schools, demonstrating the issues with motivation to do better after a low grade. "Even if I get an A in my final quarter and a C in my final exam, I'm still not going to pass that class."

Roger Parent said the guidelines "inject into the grading system an element of dishonesty that we cannot afford to communicate to the public or to do actually."

Exec. Director of Research and Evaluation Dr. John Ritzler responded to concerns after his presentation on the basis for the change.

"I disagree, I think we've laid out the guidelines extremely clearly," Ritzler said. "They're in writing, the old guidelines are in writing. If it was not dishonest in the past to take every F and make it a zero, I don't see why it's dishonest to put it on a 10-point scale."

Some members of the board suggested that the guidelines might be "relooked at" but no plans were set in stone.

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