A&T high school parents and students on D-fensive to keep tough grading policy

MARYSVILLE The Marysville School District is reviewing the grading policy at a couple of high schools to ensure fairness for all of its 11,000 students.
Two smaller high schools have tough grading policies in place for many years. The Marysville Arts and Technology High School has not given out one D in the five years since its founding, and the former alternative high school now called Marysville Mountain View High School requires students to complete coursework at an 80 percent or B level to earn credits toward a diploma. Both policies are aimed at increasing academic rigor and the consequent value of the schools diplomas, but the district is questioning whether those schools have the authority do so.
Several A&T students and parents complained to the school board recently, asking them not to devalue their transcripts. The moms and students at the March 5 school board meeting said the A&T policy pushed students to work harder to get a C than they otherwise would have. A large gathering spoke at the boards March 10 retreat, presenting a petition signed by 70 percent of the A&T student body to keep the current policy.
The C standard forces us to raise the bar and try to do better, said Alicia Benfield, an A&T junior who has attended the school since she was a freshman.
Another junior with a similar name seconded her comments, adding that it would be a horrible decision to revise the policy.
I was very impressed with the C standard, said Alisha Anderson. They were going to prepare us for college. Ive seen my fellow students that would accept a D strive to do better.
Two parents of A&T students spoke as well, including Alicia King who said it was a neat decision for A&T to push students to get a C.
Pricilla Benfield took it further, saying any change in the grading policy will undermine the high schools academic efforts.
To lower the bar is absolutely offensive to me, Benfield said. When the bar is lowered students reduce effort. Theres nothing broken here.
And that may well be the case according to assistant superintendent Gail Miller, who emphasized that the policy is simply being reviewed at this point. A high school transcript contains a provision for a D grade and that grade earns a student credit toward a diploma, whereas an F does not. In general, any effort below 60 percent is an F.
A&Ts particular practice is not really the issue, according to Miller, who said the board wants to examine whether individual schools have or should have the ability to write their own grading policies on their own. The Mountain View policy requires students to achieve 80 percent, or B-level work to earn credit, and that is being looked at as well.
Our policy is silent on the matter, Miller said. The school board is studying whether or not to revise the policy and how they would do that.
It might not be fair to all students to have different standards from school to school, and the board opened up the floor at last weekends annual retreat for 30 minutes of comments from students and parents attending the March 10 event.
A&Ts practice was the impetus for the larger discussion. Thats why the board is having a discussion. The boards concern is consistency, Miller explained. Were looking at all the practices.
Frank Redmon has been principal at A&T since September and he said he hasnt done a formal poll of students but has heard comments at PTSA meetings. Those who care are concerned, he added.
There are some people talking about it, Redmon said. There is considerable student opinion on it.
He said he has an opinion on the matter but doesnt want to rock the boat while the district is studying the matter, although he did give a presentation to the board at the retreat. The examination comes at the same time, but is completely unrelated to tougher high school graduation requirements mulled by the district at the same meeting.
Teachers union president Arden Watson said there was some confusion on the issue as some faculty at the new smaller learning communities were talking about incorporating a no D policy when their new schools come online next fall.
I think that has intrigued some of the smaller learning communities, that they might like to try it, Watson said, noting the teachers at A&T want to keep things the way they are at their campus. They are very committed to the no D policy, because they have interventions in place to get kids to the C level.
As for the Mountain View policy, Watson didnt think many people knew of their tough policy.
I dont think most people understand how the alternative grading works, I wasnt really aware of it myself.
Board president Michael Kundu emphasized that he was speaking for himself and not the board when he said the district policy is not as firm as Miller implied and that schools have some latitude to formulate their own policies, as long as they are not undercutting the districts academic standards. Students at the former Marysville Alternative High School are older and can face the added rigor, he said, and that school has a very different mission from other high schools.
I believe that those kids challenge themselves even more, Kundu said.
I completely agree with everybody [speaking at the retreat]; I think in society we underestimate our kids.

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