Educational Editorial: Fairfax grades

By Dr. Bill Bosher, NBC12 Educational Specialist

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Fairfax County, the largest school division in Virginia, has decided to eliminate letter grades from report cards in the elementary schools.

While other school divisions have made this "cultural" move, the significance in Fairfax is that it will involve 40,000 students.  The new report cards will include four numbers and many more categories.

A Fairfax staffer said, "Letter grades have predominated for a long time, but they've rarely been well defined."

This is true!

However, equally large districts in Maryland gave this a try and backed away. Their retreats were due to parents demanding letter grades.

As one Mom in Fairfax said, "we know what they mean".

Well here lies a contradiction. How do the people who receive the grades (parents and students) know what they mean, but the people who give them (teachers) claim that they have no meaning?

Some observations: Letter grades have typically come from numbers.  If you get 90% correct, you get a "B".  Conversely, if a teacher uses the more subjective letter grade, it is translated to a number for averages and GPA's.

As Fairfax has noted, letter grades in the middle and high schools will remain because of college admission. Well, the Fairfax model attempts to change culture but will the new "4" on reading actually mean "A"?  Will Fairfax now "weight" elementary grades?

The compelling question is "what does the student know and what can the student do"? While some parents may not be interested in knowing the answer to this question, schools seem to be equally inept at painting a good picture of the student's progress. Perhaps the most practical report card is for teachers and parents to find more time to talk.

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