Controversy emerges over whether to implement new JCPS grading s - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Controversy emerges over whether to implement new JCPS grading scale this fall

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Some controversy has emerged over whether or not to implement a new grading scale for students in Jefferson County Public Schools this fall.

Tammy Berlin, vice president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, was among those who served on the Student Progression, Promotion, and Grading committee along with four other JCTA appointees and a dozen other district representatives. The committee is chaired by Karen Branham, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for JCPS.

She says the committee’s recommendation was to move to a straight 10-point scale, similar to the one that most colleges and universities use. Under that recommendation, an A student is one who scores 90 to 100 percent, a B is 80 to 89 percent, a C would be 70 to 79 percent and a D is 60 to 69 percent, while a U is anything below 60 percent.

“Our recommendation, which was consistent with the top survey response in every stakeholder group, was included in the draft of the SPP&G that was presented in two different public comment sessions last month,” Berlin said. “It was expected that the recommendation would be presented to the school board for a vote at Tuesday’s meeting.”

As WDRB reported last month, JCPS is exploring changes to its current grading scale, which states that a student who scores a 90 to 100 percent earns an A, while a B is the equivalent of 80 to 90 percent, a C equals 75 to 79 percent and a D is 70 to 74 percent, while a U is anything below 70 percent.

The district sent out a survey with three options to teachers, parents and staff members. The first option was to keep the grading scale as is, the second option was to change it to a straight 10-point grading scale and the third option was to change it to a 10-point scale with no D (with students getting a U for anything below 70 percent).

On Thursday, Berlin said the committee learned that Superintendent Donna Hargens “directed the committee’s chair to pull the committee’s recommendations on the grading scale from the SPP&G proposal that the school board will consider on May 24, and replace it with a proposal that she developed with her cabinet members behind closed doors.”

“The proposal that Dr. Hargens and her cabinet are recommending would set aside the committee’s collaborative recommendation and instead call for keeping the current uneven grading scale and collecting yet more surveys and studies to be completed during the 2016-17 school year,” Berlin said.

Indeed, according to the original agenda posted last week, the Jefferson County Board of Education was supposed to “accept the first reading of the Student Progression, Promotion, and Grading handbooks for the 2016-17 year.”

On Friday, JCTA sent an email to its 6,500 members stating that when union leaders learned of Hargens’ plan to substitute “the recommendation that was developed collaboratively by the committee,” with one her cabinet recommended, "we contacted the district."

"We urged that the school board be offered the committee’s original recommendation and that (the committee) could explain to the board that the cabinet had some questions that they would like to have answered," Berlin said. “This would allow the board to decide which recommendation they wanted to vote on.”

The email went on to state that Hargens said no.

"Dr. Hargens refuses to honor the recommendation of the committee made up of JCTA members and other district representatives and which is based on data collected from stakeholders throughout the district," the email says. "Instead, she insists on preemptively taking the power to make a decision on this important matter away from the duly elected school board and place it with her own cabinet. This is an outrage."

Late Friday, the item was withdrawn from the agenda with no explanation.

As of Monday, it is unclear whether any changes will be made to the grading scale for the 2016-17 year.

Last June, the district changed its grading scale for this year in order to "level the playing field" with students in other districts across the state.

The district's previous grading scale stated that a student who scores a 93 to 100 percent earns an A, while a B is the equivalent of 86 to 92 percent, a C equals 79 to 85 percent and a D is 70 to 78 percent, while a U is anything below 70 percent.

At the time, district officials said the change takes into account the "more rigorous content standards" and "supports equal opportunity for and levels the playing field for JCPS students as compared to students in other districts using 90-100 and 80-89 to earn scholarships and receive jobs."

The committee stated it would "revisit the changes that were made to the district’s grading scale," which is what Berlin said it did over the course of several months this year.

"Stakeholder voice should mean something," Berlin said. 

The school board has to approve the Student Progression, Promotion, and Grading handbooks for the 2016-17 year before it can go to the printer. The district's 101,000 students receive a copy of the handbook each year.

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Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

Copyright 2016 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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