Thursday, December 27, 2007

...and all the children are above average

The Washington Post reports today on a unique benefit of many Maryland school systems. You get higher grades that kids in Virginia even if you achieve exactly the same scores in the same classes.

Simply put, Fairfax high schools set a higher bar for grades than those in Montgomery. To earn an A in Fairfax, it takes a score of 94 to 100. In Montgomery, it takes a score of 90 or higher. Standards for grading in the two counties, including bonus point calculations, are so out of sync that it appears possible for a Fairfax student to earn a 3.5 grade-point average for the same work that gets a Montgomery student a 4.6 GPA.

Parents nationwide are increasingly frustrated with wild variations in grading systems that, they say, are costing their children thousands of dollars in merit-based scholarships and leaving them disadvantaged in college admissions.
Ordinarily one would write this off as simply another example, along with the "alternative" to passing a graduation test, as yet another example of educrats in a predominantly liberal jurisdictions continuing to advocate a non-threatening and knowledge-free system of public education. Hardly news, that. But what we are witnessing is the beginning of Gresham's Law being applied to our education system on an national basis.
Some scholars and college officials recommend giving more consideration to grades, despite variations. Researchers Saul Geiser and Maria Veronica Santelices, in a June report for the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California at Berkeley, concluded that high school grades -- like all measures of student achievement -- have flaws but are better predictors of performance in college than standardized test scores. The researchers, looking at the academic records of almost 80,000 U.C. students, said grades have another advantage: They are "much less closely correlated with student socioeconomic characteristics than standardized tests." A college that emphasized grades in admissions would be more likely to find low-income minorities who would do well in college, they said.

"High-school grades provide a fairer, more equitable and ultimately more meaningful basis for admissions decision-making and, despite their reputation for 'unreliability,' remain the best available indicator with which to hazard predictions of student success in college," Geiser and Santelices wrote.
Simply put, as a parent you cannot afford to be laissez-faire about your school district's grading policies. If, as the two yahoos who authored this study assert, that high school grades are a better predictor of academic success than the SAT or ACT, then your child, living in Fairfax County, is at a severe disadvantage when competing with a kid from Montgomery County for college admissions or scholarships. Not because there is a difference between the school systems but because Montgomery County awards higher grades for the same level of proficiency.

Now there are a few options available. The Feds, arguably, could step in an standardize grades across the nation. Not likely and I'd prefer that my federal government spend more of its time offing terrorists and reducing spending than worrying about inequities in high school transcripts. Maryland, of course, could raise its standards (don't get upset, that's a joke). Or Virginia can lower its standards.

Any bets on the most likely outcome?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Working for a non-Montgomery County local school system, I can tell you that if I were a college admissions officer, I would not trust a students High School transcript beyond confirming that the student had actually graduated from that counties school system. Until sometime in 2005, this other nearby school system did not have a standard way of calculating a students GPA, even now grades are not calculated in accordance with School Board policy. GPA's were calculated by Guidance Counselors using formulas to produce specific results. For example, a lot of School Boards have adopted GPA standards for student athletes’, so if that star athlete is not doing so well in school, just calculate his/her GPA differently, or maybe have a teacher or two change a grade, several administrators got in hot water for this recently, but those few scapegoats’ were only the tip of a Titanic sized iceberg. Do not trust the GPA.

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