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High School Grading Structure Defies Logic

There are some things I will never understand...

When I went to high school, the grading structure was simple: High school was broken down into Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years, with each year broken down into four quarters. For each quarter, I would receive a grade for each subject, and my final grade would be a function of my quarter grades, mid-term, and final exam. For the sake of brevity, I'll offer an example:

AP History - 1st Quarter letter grade D (numerical grade 63), 2nd Quarter grade F (numerical grade 55), Mid-term exam grade F (numerical grade 56), 3rd Quarter grade C (numerical grade 75), 4th Quarter grade C (numerical grade 74), and Final exam grade C (numerical grade 77).

My report card would arrive sometime in early-July, and it would show all four quarter grades, mid-term and final exam grades (see below), and a final grade of D (numerical grade 64).

AP Hist: 1Q - D, 2Q - F, MID-TERM EXAM - F, 3Q - C, 4Q - C,FINAL EXAM - C, FINAL GRADE - D

In this example, I would receive a poor but passing final grade, and would not have to repeat the course or take AP History over the summer.

I went to high school on the east coast, and I moved to Las Vegas in 2001. The Clark County School District is currently the fifth largest in the nation, and their secondary school (high school) grading structure, in my opinion, is counterproductive.

Still using the above example, under C.C.S.D's grading system, I would have received an F for my first semester grade (1st Quarter, 2nd Quarter, and Mid-term exam), and I would have had to go to summer school for 3-4 weeks or repeat the first semester of AP History during the following school year, regardless of what grades I garnered for the 3rd Quarter, 4th Quarter, and Final exam. For those who do not see a problem with this system, I can assure you that its concept is flawed on multiple levels.

First of all, let's go out on a limb, and assume that high school students try to achieve passing grades for their courses during their first semesters. Next, let's admit, that although students try to pass their courses, some circumstances might arise, that would preclude them from doing so. For example, they might get Mono and miss half of the first semester, or like many high school aged kids, they might fall into a period of undetermined malaise (maybe their parents separate, their girlfriend/boyfriend moves away, "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" gets canceled, etc.). In any event, for various reasons, their concentration falters for a month or two, and they receive a failing grade in one or two subjects, for the first semester.

I'll admit, that I might be the laziest person on the face of the Earth. In fact, I spend a great deal of time and energy, looking for ways to avoid working (with the exception of tutoring, of course). However, my power of objectivity well surpasses my laziness, and objectively speaking, under C.C.S.D.'s grading structure, if I received a failing grade in a subject for the first semester, I would have little-to-no motivation to improve my grade during the second semester, since I was destined to go to summer school anyway. Subsequently, if I were to fail the second semester, then the only difference would be my going to summer school for 6-8 weeks instead of 3 or 4.

Since I've never had to go to summer school, it's possible that I might be understating the difference between going for 3-4 weeks and going for 6-8 weeks, but we're talking about high school aged kids having the opportunity to blow-off the entire second semester of a course (four-and-a-half months), and their only penance is an additional 3-4 weeks of summer school. In no way, shape, form, or manner, do I condone purposely failing a course for the sake of trading 18 weeks of school for 3-4 weeks of summer school, and I believe that when the C.C.S.D. implemented this system, that they probably did not anticipate students taking said posture, but frankly, their system invites this kind of reaction.

When I attended high school, if I received a failing grade for the first semester, I would be afforded the opportunity to buckle-down during the second semester, and raise my entire year's average to a passing grade, thus avoiding summer school. Doesn't that structure make more sense? Let me put it another way: If a student fails a course in the first semester, what is better motivation for him/her to excel during the second semester: The chance to avoid summer school altogether, or the chance to avoid going to summer school for 6-8 weeks instead of just 3-4? There's no question in my mind, that the first option is more appealing. The more I think about it, the more stupefied I become. I worked as an assistant camp counselor for one or two summers during high school. Under C.C.S.D.'s grading system, if I had failed one subject during my first semester, then I would have had to kiss that job "good-bye".

What I find provocative, is that the C.C.S.D. charges students for going to summer school, usually $50-100/student per course. You may draw your own conclusion, but when I see something that doesn't make sense, and also happens to generate revenue for the system that puts it in place, then it gives me pause.

I'm sure many of you are thinking, that the current system obligates students to work hard and pass their courses for both semesters. Well, you're right, but unavoidable circumstances do happen, and often occur to high school students who otherwise, would not fail a course during the first semester. High school is a turbulent time for teenagers.

My point is this: C.C.S.D. has, effectively, changed high school from a four-year stint into an eight-semester trek, with each first semester independent of its corresponding second semester. What brain-trust decided that this direction was more beneficial than the basic four-year grading system? If an eight-semester grading structure is better than a four-year grading structure, are we to expect a sixteen-quarter grading structure further down the line? And what next, a 144-week grading structure? Perhaps every missed homework assignment or failed quiz should require students to attend two hours of summer school. I don't know if that would motivate students, but it would certainly motivate prescription medication manufacturers.

And, while we're on the topic of "What is the C.C.S.D. thinking?", does anyone know why high schoolers have to pass a proficiency test (HSPT) in math and reading, in order to graduate? I dare you to try to answer that question with a straight face. Maybe it's just me, but I was under the impression that a student, who passes three required years of high school mathematics and four required years of high school English, would be proficient in math and reading. How foolish of me.

Dollars to donuts, I'll wager that the HSPT was put in place to test the proficiency of C.C.S.D. high schools and teachers, and not their students. Think about it...If you get a 100% on the HSPT and two of your classmates get 80% and 75% respectively, do you think that your high school diploma will look any different than theirs? Prospective colleges will be looking at your SAT scores, while the Superintendent of Schools and the Clark County Finance and Operations Division will be looking at HSPT pass-fail ratios, right before they decide which program to cut.

And for those who still think that there is no meaningful problem here: For 2012, Clark County's 4-year high school graduation rate (62.5%) was the 3rd lowest in Nevada, and Nevada's 4-year high school graduation rate (61.5%) was the 3rd lowest in the nation. That means that the expulsion and drop-out rates, were probably among the highest for both categories. If that's not a meaningful problem, then I don't know what is.

--Editor, Tutor Pros

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Daniel Dayan of Tutor Pros

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