District studies the value of A's and B's

High schools may change the way teachers grade their students

Mountain View and Los Altos high school students may soon see significant shifts in the way teachers assess and grade their academic performance.

If the local high school district adopts the recommendations made by an officially sanctioned task force (composed of teachers, parents and students), instructors will soon be required to assess student understanding of academics separately from student behavior in class, attendance and work habits.

Additionally, should the district adopt the proposed policy changes, greater pressure will be placed on individual departments to ensure that different teachers of the same course provide similar experiences to their students.

The recommendations come from the Assessment Task Force -- a group of 14 teachers, three parents and three students, who have been researching disparate grading practices by interviewing students, parents and other teachers, and discussing and debating potential changes to the district's current student assessment policies.

Brigitte Sarraf, associate superintendent of educational services for the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District, is very passionate about the project. She said that the goal of the task force is to improve the district's grading policies, and, ultimately, help the students perform better.

"We ought to be able to guarantee students that whatever grade they earn is based on a common set of principles or standards, and that the grade reflects the degree to which they have mastered that subject," Sarraf said.

Behavior counts

Traditionally, teachers have often considered behavior, attendance and other non-academic factors when calculating a student's grade, said Paige Price, an English teacher at Mountain View High School.

Price, who led the task force at her school, said many of the grading policies in place today were created, in part, to help the military sort through recruits. If that were the sole purpose, things like work ethic, promptness, and the ability to follow direction would be very useful metrics.

"They really don't function now when you're trying to give students feedback on what they're doing well and what they need to improve in," she said.

Because students only get one grade per subject, considering all non-academic factors within that single grade results in a distorted assessment of a student's comprehension of the academic material.

Following directions, work ethic, promptness and ability to cooperate with others are all important life skills, Price admits, and the task force is not suggesting that schools should stop pushing students to develop those skills. Rather, she said, "We are going to reshape the process of assessment."

The grading of a student's understanding of the content should be separated from all other non-academic factors, Price said. "That is not to be conflated with the reporting of their academic progress."

More than a grade

On top of that, the task force is calling on teachers to go above and beyond giving students a simple letter grade.

In the future, when Price gives a student a grade, she is going to provide meaningful feedback -- explaining how she judged the quality of the student's work as well as explaining where there is room for improvement.

"One of our big issues was lack of alignment between courses," Price said. Over the course of interviewing students and parents, the task force discovered that each year, in the process of picking or being assigned classes, teens would evaluate teachers based upon how "easy" or "hard" they were. Parents were in on it, too -- often pushing their kids to take the "harder" teacher, assuming that their children would get a better education.

In other words, Price said, earning an A in a course taught by one teacher required less work than earning an A in the same course taught by a different teacher. The task force's recommendations are aimed at putting a stop to that.

The task force presented its recommendations to the MVLA district board of trustees at a meeting March 26. The board will vote to approve the new policies at a later date.

The trustees seemed generally pleased with the thrust of the task force's recommendations. However, trustee Joe Mitchner raised a question that led to several minutes of open debate between Mitchner and board president Phil Faillace.

Getting zero

Mitchner suggested that the list of recommendations include a detailed explanation of the devastating mathematical impact of giving a student a zero. He explained how a student given a zero out of 100 on one exam would still have an F after scoring 100 points on a subsequent test of equal value -- assuming the teacher takes the average of both tests, since many teachers give an F for anything between zero and 50 percent. Mitchner said it seems that the two grades should average out to a C.

Faillace countered, noting that many teachers would not agree with his logic.

Price said that including a provision aimed at directly dealing with the "double zero" phenomenon was opposed by many teachers, who felt that it would amount to giving students points for an assignment they hadn't completed -- the most common reason for a zero is a student missing a test or assignment entirely.

Striking a compromise, the task force has proposed making it so teachers must be more accommodating to students who miss tests or fail to turn in assignments. Students ought to be able to make up assignments they have missed, Price reasoned. Punishing them academically for missing an assignment they may very well understand is counter-productive. And if they don't understand the assignment they neglected to do, teachers still need to make sure they learn it.

All of the Assessment Task Force's suggestions can be found on the district's website,, by following the links to the board of trustees' meeting agendas, clicking on the March 26 meeting packet and scrolling down to the section covering "Grades/Evaluation of Student Achievement."


Like this comment
Posted by Real World
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 4, 2012 at 2:19 pm

This just puts the students behind when they enter college and the real world, which does not make such accommodations for missing assignments or not showing up to work.

Like this comment
Posted by Real World
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 4, 2012 at 2:33 pm

But, the grading in high school and college is not Real World.

And to your point, in the Real World, they do actually make accoommodations. It takes many incidents before a person gets fired. One such missing assignment usually just results in an angry boss, and having to spend a great deal of your weekend finishing the project. Sounds a bit like the same thing to me.

Like this comment
Posted by MV parent
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 4, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Having the letter grade be based on academic standards makes a lot more sense than including things like work habits, etc. to influence (for better or worse) the student's academic grade? Isn't this how the K-8 district does it with the 1-2-3-4s for academic standards and the N, S and Es for behavior?

It is also how the students will be graded in college so at a minimum having the upper grade high school students be graded on the basis of how well they have mastered the academic standards of the course.

Like this comment
Posted by In the real world
a resident of another community
on Apr 4, 2012 at 4:37 pm

"...many of the grading policies in place today were created, in part, to help the military sort through recruits. If that were the sole purpose, things like work ethic, promptness, and the ability to follow direction would be very useful metrics."

Work ethic, promptness and ability to follow directions are not just what the military looks for, it's what employers look for.

Like it or not, the world is based on social interaction so behavior and attitude are very important if you want to succeed. The people that get ahead not only do the technical aspect of their jobs well, they interact well with others.

If you want your kids to be prepared for the REAL world, not just the ideal world of academics, you should consider behavior into your grade because it sure as heck will be factored into their performance reviews.

Like this comment
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 4, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Education systems are totally disgusting.
Thomas Edison, who acquired over 1,000 patents in his name, was kicked out of school by his teacher, Reverend Engle, who referred to him as "addled". Albert Einstein, who dropped out of high school per the advice of a teacher, was considered too dumb to enter the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zurich. Michael Faraday, who without much formal education was the best experimental scientist who ever lived. Albert Einstein kept a picture of MichaelnFaraday on his study wall alongside pictures of Sir Isaac Newton and James Clerk Maxwell. Can anybody here describe the "Faraday Effect"?
Those who can, do; those who can't, teach (and throw geniuses out of class).
We pay basketball players $25 million a year or 300 times what we pay a good scientist.

Like this comment
Posted by James Hoosac
a resident of another community
on Apr 4, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Academic grades should rate academic performances and not social behavior. A genius may spend 5 minutes to learn and rest of the time goof-off. Many intellectuals throughout history are eccentrics or even downright jerks. But they make huge contributions to our society.

It's ridiculous for those liberals on the left to inject into academic performances with all those nonsense.

If you want to educate and grade social behavior and social skills, then create such classes: boot camps, community services, missions, etc., and grade students properly for those classes.

Like this comment
Posted by Ned
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 4, 2012 at 8:00 pm

And we all think that our kids are little geniuses that have got everything figured out. They will just succeed. As long as they can log on to Facebook and Twitter and Google.

Like this comment
Posted by Who does this benefit?
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 6, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Who does this benefit? Doesn't the policy hurt the kids that are struggling and need the "soft" extra points to get a high grade? Kids that have good study habits and learning skills will continue to get good grades. Won't this create a bigger divide between the kids that have learned how to learn, and those that are still figuring it out? Perhaps, that's the point of the policy. Reward the kids that learned the material. Yes/No?

Like this comment
Posted by Benefits
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 6, 2012 at 5:02 pm

It actually benefits struggling kids. They get 2nd chances to complete work and/or demonstrate their knowledge. In the historical school system, they'd get an "F" and move on to the next topic. After a few "F"s they might just give up. Now there's incentive to keep at it. No "free" A's or inflation...just a 2nd chance to do work and get credit.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Nobu Palo Alto eyes next-door expansion
By Elena Kadvany | 1 comment | 2,601 views

By Laura Stec | 34 comments | 2,108 views

Are We Really Up To This?
By Aldis Petriceks | 3 comments | 1,463 views

Couples: Cultivate Love, Gottman Style
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 282 views


Top restaurants to check out

Mountain View Voice readers have officially decided. See which local restaurants and businesses can now claim the title — Best Of Mountain View 2017.

View Winners