Original article that was submitted by School Board Members Victoria Manning and Carolyn Weems:
New Virginia Beach Schools grading practices: Formal evaluation and community input must take place.
This school year new grading practices called “fair and equitable grading” will take effect in Virginia Beach City Public Schools. Simply put, every department in every middle and high school across the division has been allowed to determine their own grading practices. These new practices are troubling. Why? Because while we believe in the expertise of teachers, there is a real need for universal guiding principles designed to achieve consistency and equity across our school division. We also believe that students need to be taught important life skills such as accountability and responsibility. These practices bypass those fundamental needs.
Under this new system, teachers in one department in a school can decide that they will refrain from awarding zeroes for work not completed and instead award a minimum grade of 50. This approach would change the grading scale to 50-100. Meanwhile in another school or within the same school in another department, the practice of reinforcing accountability by issuing a zero for nonperformance may stay intact; thus, keeping the School Board approved 0-100 grading scale in those schools. Grading practices such as whether test retakes will be allowed, if points will be deducted for late work or if homework would be graded for completion, could vary so much from school to school that student grade point averages could be inflated or deflated depending where a student is enrolled. Even worse is the fact that middle school students competing for high school academies or high school students competing for colleges will be on an unlevel playing field in the same district.
The majority of the School Board voted in September 2016 to allow these practices. This upcoming school year, the grading train will leave the station and as part of the team that leads VBCPS, we are expected to get on board. So, we have taken a step back and asked ourselves: what can we do to oversee this endeavor and try to ensure that VBCPS students who have become experimental subjects for new grading practices will not be negatively impacted? We have asked the administration to make all grading practices at every school easily accessible to the public and we hope that our voices will be heard. Furthermore, an evaluation process must be put into place to review the effects of the policy. It will be important for parents, students and teachers to provide feedback and for the School Board to determine whether there is equity throughout the division.
These inconsistent grading practices and the removal of accountability in the assessment of students have caused much discontent throughout the Virginia Beach community. Will these new practices taint the good reputation of VBCPS? Our contention has always been that students need to learn accountability and responsibility in these important years of their lives. When deadlines are not enforced or when there are no consequences for work not proffered, what is the incentive for students to perform to their highest potential?
This coming year we encourage parents, teachers and students to inform the School Board of your experience with the new grading practices. Practices that we feel are neither fair nor equitable, nor promote responsible life skills needed for this generation. You can e-mail the entire School Board by using this address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Your observations and suggestions will be invaluable as we monitor bedrock practices that affect each and every student.
Carolyn Weems and Victoria Manning are members of the Virginia Beach School Board