Cotati-Rohnert Park schools officials defend new grading scales
Under an onslaught of questions and concern about their new grading policy, Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District officials have taken to media outlets and social media to defend the district’s practices, saying they align with top standards and steer students toward success more effectively than the traditional scale.
The district’s new grading standards, passed on a 5-0 vote in June, were arrived at through discussions involving administrators and teachers, said Superintendent Robert Haley, who on Monday appeared on two radio shows and a TV news segment explaining and defending the policy.
In an interview Tuesday, Haley and other district officials said the district endorses a grading methodology known as equal interval. But they said latitude is given to different schools on which of several scales to use, and further flexibility to teachers who can “customize” the scales to suit their needs, meaning each teacher can develop and use their own grading scale within the equal interval matrix.
The broad discretion given teachers has led to a slew of different grading scales, confusing some parents and even teachers in the district. At Rancho Cotate High School alone, according to a review of QuickSchools, the school management software system the district uses, there are five different grading scales, each one of which a teacher can customize.
Under an equal interval scale in which, for example, grades progressed in increments of 10 from 50 to 100, an F would be from 50 to 60, but in a traditional scale, students receive an F for a score of 0 to 59. By increasing the lowest possible score for an F, the new system makes it easier, the policy’s proponents say, for a failing student to work their way back into passing range.
The policy “raised the floor” so that struggling students can focus as much on learning as on trying to climb out of a deep failing grade range, officials said.
“We focused on the grading philosophy that would have the kids focused on learning rather than the point-getting,” said Scott Johnson, principal of Lawrence Jones Middle School.
Johnson sat on a task force that developed the new policy, a process that involved “dozens of teachers” along with administrators, Haley said.
“In devising the policy, some of the main discussion of the task force really had to do with the overall philosophy of grading,” Haley said. “How are we motivating students, how are we grading students?
“How are we assessing mastery versus compliance … am I getting an A simply because I’m turning in the homework, or am I getting an A because I’ve demonstrated mastery of the topic at hand?”
The district’s response was driven by a Press Democrat story Thursday that reported on one of several grading scales being used at the district.
In that scale, grades rise in 20-point increments. For example, scores of 20 to 40 percentage points earn D- through D+ grades — and so on, up the ladder. Students get an A- for scoring between 80 and 85. That, combined with assertions by teachers that even missing work is assigned 50 percent, raised a furor.
Haley has furiously criticized the report. He said the statement that missing work receives a 50 percent is “completely false.” Assigning 50 percent for missing work while using the 100 point scale, without “converting it” is “not sanctioned” by the district.