Friday, October 27, 2006

Is It Time To Dump The "D" Grade?

This is something that I've been reading more and more of: schools getting rid of the traditional "just-barely-passing" grade of "D." But now some high schools in Washington State that did get rid of their "D" grades years ago are now thinking of bringing them back:
To D or not to D.

It's a question being asked at two high schools in Snohomish County that don't include the D in grading.

The D can be an academic life saver or a slacker's best friend. The question is whether to restore it.

Mountlake Terrace High School this year will examine its no-D policy, which has been in place since the mid-1990s.

Brett Morrison, 17, a Mountlake Terrace senior, said he hopes his school keeps the no-D policy.

A lot of students try to skate by and it does provide an incentive to be more accountable, he said.

"It would mean they can do even less work and pass," he said.

At the same time, the Marysville School Board has begun discussing whether to continue the no-D practice already in effect at Marysville Arts and Technology High School.

Some teachers are also asking whether a no-D policy can be used next year when Marysville-Pilchuck High School breaks into several small schools.

Statewide, few schools have dropped the D but it is an option, according to state education officials.

"The WAC (Washington Administrative Code) is silent with regard to whether or not high schools can exclude certain grades from their system," said Joe Willhoft, assistant superintendent with the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

"I think it (a no-D policy) is often used as a way to make students more accountable for their work."

D's were dumped at Mountlake Terrace High School in 1994 when the campus won a state Schools for the 21st Century grant. The school also got rid of F's at the same time, but it soon reinstated them.

Greg Schwab, the Mountlake Terrace principal, had never heard of a no-D policy before he landed a job at the school. He hears about it around report card time.

"It was the intent to really raise the bar for kids, to shoot for higher levels across the board," he said. "Last year and this year, we have had some pushback from parents."

Parents ask why students can earn D's - and the academic credits that count toward graduation - at other Edmonds School District high schools, but not at Mountlake Terrace.

Schwab said the policy raises other questions: Does it promote grade inflation? Does it penalize students who work hard but still aren't doing C-level work?

Mountlake Terrace will examine the practice as part of a larger look at its assessment and grading practices this year.

It's a timely discussion, said Colleen Egger, a counselor at the school since 1986.

Students and schools are facing increasing pressures with new graduation requirements, including passing state WASL exams and federal requirements to increase graduation rates and cut down on dropouts.

"There is conversation among teachers and counselors," she said.

The Marysville School District is also studying the no-D policy at Marysville Arts and Technology High School.

"We are exploring all the issues around it right now," said Gail Miller, the district's assistant superintendent.

If it remains in place and is allowed at other schools, there should be opportunities and an expectation that students redo work, Miller said.

"In the real world at the job site, we don't say, 'OK, I'll take the D and I will still keep my job,' " Miller said.

Sultan High School did away with D's, but it resurrected the grade in recent years.

A no-D policy with a minimum 70 percent to pass classes was used along with a four-period day.

Said Al Robinson, the Sultan School District superintendent: "The reality, I believe, became that for some students the area from 60 (to) 70 percent was costing them their diplomas, no matter what efforts we made."
Down here in California's so-called "Imperial" Valley, a number of schools dropped the "D," years ago while others retained it, sometimes even within the same school district.
See our latest EduPosts here and this date's Extra Credit Reading there.