Grading policy has its supporters and detractors

By Rose Schneider

A grading system based on entirely on test-taking — and allowing for multiple re-takes —  is raising questions in Wamego about whether the city’s high school students are being appropriately prepared for college.

Four years ago, Wamego High School (WHS) officials changed the school’s test-taking policy, allowing students who receive less than a 70 percent — a failing grade — to retake a version of the test up to five times in order to get a passing grade.

“We require students to retain a 70 percent or higher and in order to do that some students need additional help,” said WHS Principal Tim Winter.

The system allows students roughly five days to work one-on-one with their teacher outside of class in order to relearn needed materials after failing a test. He or she must do this before retaking in order to earn a passing grade. Each time the student retakes the test, the information is presented in a different way to ensure that he or she is not simply memorizing the studied material. Each retake is given before or after school.

WHS board member Mark Bettencourt is one of three members who strongly disagree with the teaching method.

“Kids are efficient machines and will sink to the level an adult supervisor expects,” said Bettencourt.

He believes teachers should be helping students from day one, not after a student fails on a test.

“Parents wonder why their kids never have to study, and 80 percent of WHS students are on the honor roll,” said Bettencourt. “Kids have every reason not to study now …between sports, Facebook and Twitter it is easy for students to have the attitude, ‘Why would I study when I can just retake the test in a couple of days?’”

According to Winter, the school has a small retake rate. “Ninety-seven percent of students will not have to take the test more than twice,” he said.

Bettencourt also questions the future of students who have taken multiple tests and graduate high school with high grade point averages, then get to college and realize they don’t get do-overs.

“It’s not about GPAs,” said Winter. “We want the students to come here to learn and walk out of the classroom knowing all of the content…whatever grade they have will correlate to what they’ve learned.”

WHS officials said ACT scores have been at or above state and national levels since 2009. Last year, however, the school did see a decline in their student’s scores. In 2012, the average ACT score of Kansas students who took the test was 21.9, and the national average was 21.1. WHS has not released data on 2012 test-takers, but it has made public the performance of students who took the test in 2007. There were 88 WHS students who took the ACT that year, of whom 48 – about 55 percent – scored above 21.1. Of the 40 in that class who did not exceed 21.1, 17 had weighted GPAs in excess of 3.5, and 32 had weighted GPAs above 3.0

Bettencourt questions why WHS has had 17 valedictorians in a single graduating class when many students are only getting ACT results in the teens and low twenties even though their GPAs are above 3.5.

“There is a lack of checks and balances with this system,” he said. “There are businesses who are no longer using WHS GPAs to award scholarships because of this system.”

The grading system was adapted from Robert Marzano, author and researcher on teaching practices and Richard DuFour, co-author of “Professional Learning Communities at Work” and “Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap: Whatever It Takes”.

“Our teachers are dedicated to this philosophy and motivated to help students in and out of class,” said Winter. He encourages parents who have questions or concerns to call the school and speak to him directly. He can be reached at (785) 456-2214.

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