Making a grade

First Posted: 8/17/2013

The decision by the Public Schools of Robeson County to drop a lettering-grade system for report cards in favor of a numerical system appears straight forward and innocuous.

School officials says the number grades will provide consistency throughout the system, that a grade of 85 will mean the same thing at St. Pauls High as it does at Orrum Middle, which was not necessarily achieved with the lettering system. We aren’t sure we buy that explanation, but it’s not a strong argument against the new system, which takes effect for the school year that begins Aug. 26.

We do wonder if the new system will confuse some parents, especially those — and there are plenty among us — who didn’t value their education when growing up. Everyone knows that an A is a good grade, but some parents might be a bit confused about a child’s 78 in Math. Hopefully the school system will provide information that will help parents understand the new system.

There is a part of the numerical system that we do find potentially problematic. According to school officials, the lowest grade that a child can receive on his or her report card will be a 65. That suggests that a child who doesn’t show up for class, doesn’t turn in any homework and flunks all the tests will receive a 65, which seems unfair to a student who shows up for class, turns in homework, barely fails tests, and ends up with a grade of 66.

Linda Emanuel, the assistant superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, says that 65’s won’t be awarded for free.

“It’s giving kids a chance to make up work,” she said. “They have to show some interest in improving. [Teachers] aren’t going to give kids 65 to do nothing.”

We don’t understand how a child who does nothing can be given a grade of less than 65 if the policy establishes 65 as the floor. Perhaps that can be explained.

Emanuel says that the 65 floor will prevent students from getting so hopelessly behind that they have no chance to pass the grade or graduate, and ensures those incentives remain. We believe that is the impetus behind this initiative.

The news that the graduation rate for the Public Schools of Robeson County climbed to 85 percent for the most recent school year has raised concerns that diplomas are being awarded to students who have not done the work. There are plenty of questions that remain unanswered, such as: How can the system’s graduating classes be so much smaller than the freshman classes of four years before if 85 percent of the students are receiving diplomas?

We hope that the new grading system isn’t an effort to continue to push students through the system and ultimately across the stage.

Some young people will achieve in school because they are ambitious or have parents who demand no less. But there is a large number of students who have to look elsewhere for their inspiration, and if our school officials expect little from them, that is what these students are likely to provide.