The grading scale for schools ordinarily goes from zero to one hundred, with zero being the lowest grade you could score on any assignment. Back when most of us were in middle school, if we didn’t do an assignment or if we got every question wrong on a quiz, we earned a zero. That one zero would drag down our entire average and we would have to struggle to bring it back up just to pass, or drown ourselves in extra credit just praying that it would be enough. The Greenville County School District wants to change that. By establishing a policy with a grading floor of a 61, the lowest grade a student can receive on any assignment or test would be a 61. It is still an F, though falling in the upper range. Even with the grading floor, students would still have to make up the work they failed so that they will learn the required material. According to Derek Lewis, the District 24 representative of the Greenville County School Board, the policy isn’t exactly new. The Board approved the grading scale in 2007. “[It] was designed to allow ample opportunity for a teacher to award a student an F for failing to master a skill, but still provide the student and parents with some opportunities to bring that grade up.”
Greenville Middle School was the first in the district to implement the policy in 2011, followed two years later by Beck Academy and Blue Ridge Middle School. Over the course of regularly scheduled meetings, the principals of the schools would share the success of the new grading floor, including a reduction in students not turning in their work and an improvement in the passing rates. It was then decided that, by using a timeline appropriate for each principal and his or her school, that by the Fall of 2016 all of the middle schools would be using the grading floor.
Some parents are concerned that the grading floor would encourage students to use it as a free pass for laziness, but Derek Lewis doesn’t think so. “A 61 is still an F. We are still providing F’s as end of course grades, and students are still in danger of repeating a class that they failed. However, unlike a 0, a 61 is a grade that could be brought up.” He wants students to consider the reason behind the low grade instead. Was it because they didn’t fully understand the subject or because it was turned in late? Once they understand the purpose of the grade, Lewis feels the students would be more motivated to try to bring it up from a 61, instead of facing the nearly impossible task of trying to improve it from a zero. He said, “For me, a 0 reflects the student has learned absolutely nothing, which I would find hard to believe is accurate.”
There are also concerns that the policy would encourage cheating. Lewis wants the parents to understand that if a student is caught cheating, the grading floor is not a tool that would be used to address it. While that answer leaves a lot of room for more questions, each school has a different policy for handling how a student will be graded if they are caught cheating, but that students are suspended if caught and the grading floor has not changed that.
The grading scale is aimed at the middle schools of the district, but some elementary schools have started using it as well. Stephanie Porter, a fifth-grade teacher at Crestview Elementary in Greer, says that her school has already implemented the policy. When asked what the grading scale meant to the elementary students, she said, “The goal of having a grading floor is to give students that want to put forth the effort the chance to bring up a poor grade, and to keep a couple of bad grades from ruining their final average. Students struggle for different reasons, and sometimes they have a fluke of a bad grade. But by using the same intervention strategies for students who have a hard time understanding the subject and for students that just weren’t prepared keeps that bad grade from ruining their overall average. As a teacher, I don’t discuss it with my kids. I just encourage them to do their best and things generally fall into place.”
Since the fall of 2015, eleven middle schools have applied the grading floor to their grading scale. Two more will implement this spring. By the fall of this year, one more school will be using it in compliance with the timelines appropriate for each principal.