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Schools adjust grade scales to level playing field

By admin Published: February 26, 2012

Parents in the Highland school district complained last year that their kids were disadvantaged in applying to colleges because it was harder for them to get an A than it was for students in many other districts.

Highland required 93 percent for an A grade, because the district used a scale in seven-point increments instead of the more common 10-point scale, which requires a minimum grade of 90 percent for an A.

Last month, the board voted to adopt the 10-point scale.

''This change will ultimately benefit our students by aligning our grading system with the majority of school districts and colleges in Ohio,'' according to a district news release. ''We needed to level the playing field for our students.''

Hudson shifted from a seven-point scale to a 10-point scale in June 2010 and early evidence suggests that it has helped some students who were on the cusp of getting an A or, on the other end, a passing D.

''To a degree, it probably is easier to get an A now,'' said John Frahlich, Hudson's guidance counselor director.

The average grade point average in Hudson has ticked up from 3.1 to 3.4, although other factors may have contributed to the increase, Frahlich said.

Students who scored below 69 percent flunked with the old seven-point scale. Under the new scale, 69 percent is a high D, and 59 percent is failing.

''We have significantly fewer students who are failing classes,'' he said. ''It's a wide range, it's not just benefitting the top students in the class.''

Highland and Hudson are among the latest districts that have converted to the more common 10-point scale. But does it really matter to college admissions officers whether an A is 90 percent or 93 percent?

''Ultimately, the grading scale that a school decides to adopt is not going to disadvantage students in the college admission process,'' said David Hawkins, director of public policy and research for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. ''The grading scale is such a small part of the larger process and one that's not likely to really show up in any long-term fashion as an effect on a student's chances for admission.''

Grades do matter, especially in core academic subjects, which was the most important factor in considering prospective students, according to the organization's 2011 report.

Strength of curriculum was rated the second most important, followed by standardized admission test scores and overall high school grade-point average.

But because high school grading scales are all over the map, nearly half of colleges and universities reported in 2006 that they recalculate individual grade-point averages to provide a standard comparison.

Courses matter

Advanced Placement courses and programs such as the International Baccalaureate are universally recognized. Seniors who load up their schedules with study halls won't be as competitive, no matter which grading scale their school uses.

Hawkins advises students to take challenging courses and get the best grades they can in those courses.

''Grading scales won't really matter,'' Hawkins said. ''You just need to apply yourself and do well in those classes.''

He said admission officers also put a lot of stock in a high school's reputation for sending college-ready students.

''What the college knows, what they have access to, is how those students tend to perform in college once they get there,'' Hawkins said. ''So they can look at the students who have made it, look at their grades and look at how well each school's curriculum prepares the students for higher education.''

Highland's director of curriculum and instruction, Laurie Boedicker, agrees.

''What those colleges and universities are looking at is how have our children performed in the past,'' said Boedicker, who led the committee of teachers, administrators, parents and other community members who researched the issue for the school board.

However, companies that award scholarships to children of employees and car insurance companies that offer good student discounts are more likely to take a GPA at face value, which could hurt students who have a higher bar to clear for an A grade, Boedicker said.

''We really want our students' achievement to be a reflection that is comparable to the information they're getting about other students from other districts,'' Boedicker said.

John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or jhiggins@thebeaconjournal.com.

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