Grading scales not level at area schools

When it comes to grading scales, the “playing field” isn’t the same for students at area school districts.

An examination by the Hamilton JournalNews/Middletown Journal of 16 area high schools found many disparities in grading scales, including percentages it takes to get an A through F and different levels of each grade.

A majority of school districts have changed to a 10-point grading scale, but at least seven have a seven-point scale where earning an A requires a 93 percent or above. Many schools have recently made the change to 10-point scales, saying it levels the “playing field” for students applying for college entrance or scholarships.

Middletown and the Hamilton school districts both have 10-point scales. Madison’s school board voted to change to a 10-point scale last week.

“There are different variations of it, but the 10-point scale in some form has become the norm,” said Madison superintendent Curtis Philpot. “For Madison, it was just about putting or students on a level playing field while competing for scholarships and awards.

“I know of at least one Madison student who, while at Madison (under the previous 7-point system), earned all A’s and two B’s. Both of the B’s were grades in the low 90s. This student’s grade-point average would be lower than a student from another school using a 10-point scale who earned exactly the same grades.”

College admission officials say they look at GPAs when considering students, but they say a well-rounded student is more important.

“The way we do our application review process is to look at the entire applicant in the context of their high school,” said Meredith Smith, the associate director of communication in Miami University’s office of enrollment management. “We consider GPA, difficulty of curriculum, test scores, activities and many other factors. It’s a contextual review. We know that every high school has different scales, credentials and curriculum offerings and we take that into consideration when reviewing applications.”

With the new grading scale in place for this school year, Madison is one of seven schools surveyed to give an A- for a 90 score and an F for a 59.

Philpot said that studies done within the past three years by Madeira City Schools (2009) and Fairfield City Schools (2010) were instrumental in Madison’s decision.

In the Fairfield study, the group polled representatives from 10 area universities to find out the importance of a student’s grade-point average (GPA) in their admissions policy. Of the 10 schools in the 2010 study, all 10 said GPA is a criteria for admission, and all 10 said each high school’s grading scale difficulty was not a factor.

Ohio State University considers a student’s completion of the college preparatory curriculum in high school, their high school performance based on class rank or GPA, their ACT or SAT scores “and a number of other factors also play into the holistic review of admissions applications,” says Amy Murray, the assistant director of media relations at OSU.

A school district in Mountain Brook, Ala. surveyed 15 major universities as part of its research into changing to a 10-point grade-point scale. The school learned that the typical GPA (as reported by the college) for an incoming freshman was in the 3.10 to 4.14 range. At the time, Mountain Brook’s junior class average was 3.034, so they switched to the 10-point scale.

The same Mountain Brook committee said the change could negatively impact the school system if the perception was that the school had lowered its standards. They also noted the possibility that a lower goal could diminish a student’s motivation to achieve at higher levels and they questioned whether numerical grades could actually go lower as a result.

Not so at Madison. Philpot said the Madison school board wanted to give its students an equal chance and unanimously approved the grading scale change.

In Madison’s previous 7-point scale, a student would score a 93-100 for an A, 85-92 for a B, 75-84 for a C and 65-74 for a D grade. A score of 64 or below would be a failing grade.

“I was glad to see that an ‘A’ wasn’t a 93,” said Madison senior Riley Markle. “Nothing has changed as far as my motivation. And has it lessened my expectations? I don’t think so at all.”

Madison teachers have stressed that they don’t plan on changing their expectations either way, says spokesman A.J. Huff.

“They said they’ll have the same expectations in the classroom. Ultimately, it’s the outcome and effort put forth by the students that will be rewarded,” Huff said. “It’s the kids who work hard and strive hard who will be the ones who will be successful.”