GLOVERSVILLE - Opponents of a proposed grading policy in city schools that would make 50 percent, not zero, the lowest grade, say it's too lenient and lacks accountability.
But Interim Superintendent Clifford Moses said at Monday's Board of Education meeting, the high school's current policy for letter grades is more lenient.
Under the current policy, in which the district awards "quality points," a student can fail and earn no quality points for three quarters, but still pass a class by earning a grade of 70 - and four quality points - in the final quarter and scoring a 65 - one quality point - on the final exam. A student can pass averaging one quality point.
"Under the current policy, they can coast for 30 weeks and do little to nothing," he said. "The new proposal is more stringent than what we currently have in place."
The proposed policy, which would follow a state requirement to eliminate letter grades, also would eliminate quality points.
"Those safety nets have been around for years," Moses said, remembering some teachers once gave students circled 65 grades that he said meant "you failed the course, but we gave you a circle 65."
"Our quality-point system is way too forgiving. I think using a straight average is not forgiving enough, which is how we came up with this compromise of the lowest grade being 50," said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Frank Pickus.
Board member Joseph Andrews said regardless of the old policy, "two wrongs don't make a right."
"I agree it's a better policy, but we can do better," Andrews said.
Fifty-five percent of ninth-grade students are failing at least one subject, school officials said. In addition, the district's graduation rate dropped from 69 percent in 2009-10 to 64 percent in 2010-11, according to state figures.
Andrews said he's most averse to students getting an automatic 50 for not completing or making up an assignment.
"You [should] earn a zero," Andrews said.
"I do understand where [Moses] is coming from and where it's going and why we need to make changes, but it's just the message we're sending," board member Polly Peck said.
Other board members are more supportive of the policy, saying it's more difficult for students to improve their grades after zeroes, and noting such safety nets have been in place for years.
"I am OK with giving a 50, because with a 50, you are still failing," said board member E. Lynn Brown. "My concern is if we give a zero, those kids are defeated in the very first quarter."
Board Vice President Frank Carangelo, a former teacher, said such a policy is not unheard of.
Board President Pete Semione, who said he sees both sides, stressed that over the past 18 months since the Board of Education commissioned the Grading Policy Committee to begin work a new policy, committee members have wrestled with the same questions being asked now and researched a number of books and different areas.
"It's well thought out," Semione said. "We may not be in agreement with it, but as with any policy, it's something to build on or off of. You don't know until you try it. What we're using now is not working."
But board member Robert Curtis took issue with the fact that no research or data was presented to the board to support the policy.
"There's not research to back up anything Ken O'Connor says," he said, referring to books the committee read by O'Connor, a grading-policy researcher. "There's not a study to back up that it's any better than how we're doing it now," Curtis said.
"The way this was approached to the board was a disaster. They spent all this time on it, and it was thrown at us with no supporting documentation," he added.
In addition, Curtis said the proposed policy is too vague, and he said he couldn't understand how students in elementary and high school could be graded using the same policy.
Moses said it was meant to remain vague so it could be flexible, and that the policy was meant to be the same districtwide to make it easier for students to transition from school to school.
Board members agreed to meet informally with the committee to get more information for the third and final reading of the proposed policy, which could be adopted in May.
Amanda Whistle covers Gloversville news. She can be reached at email@example.com.