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Niskayuna High to switch from letter to numeric grading system

Monday, January 28, 2013
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— Niskayuna High School officials are planning to change from letter grades to a numerical scale that would more accurately depict student achievement.

Principal John Rickert said the issue is that during the conversion from numerical points to a letter grade, some students may be negatively affected by rounding down.

Under the current system, students receive an A, B, C, D or F. Those students taking honors and Advanced Placement courses can also earn an H grade for exceptional work.

Students receive numerical marks for each quarter and a final exam. Those are averaged together into a final grade. That number is translated into a letter grade, which appears on the report card. For the purposes of calculating grade point averages, the letter grades are converted into “quality points” out of 5 total. For example, a B+ would convert to 3.3 quality points. An A- would be 3.7, an A would be 4.0, an A+ would be 4.3 and an H would be 5.0.

The last step is for the quality points to be averaged into the GPA.

However, school officials say that throughout the multiple calculations, the course grades become less precise.

For example, no matter if students earn a 97 or 100, they will receive 4.3 quality points. Likewise, students get 3 points for a B grade — whether they earned an 83 or an 86.

“Once you’re above the lowest threshold, you’re automatically losing points,” Rickert said.

Throughout this process, students’ final course grade could get rounded down as much as .14 on a 4.3-point scale, according to school officials.

“We found that over 70 percent of our students were impacted by this rounding down mechanism,” Rickert said.

The new scale will be from 0 to 106. A score of 97 to 100 is A+. Students in the honors and AP courses will now have a chance to earn up to 106 points instead of getting H grades, which will be eliminated after 53 years.

The district’s Shared Decision Making Committee for four years has been studying how best to report student achievement, according to Rickert. He pointed out that other Suburban Council schools use a number scale.

Board member Barbara Mauro said she worried about how the changes would affect students who already earned H grades in their courses.

“I don’t think we should take something away from them that’s been an expectation,” she said.

Rickert said those previously awarded H grades would be converted to 105.

One of the issues is H has been a subjective grade, he said. The criteria for awarding an H is not consistent within or between departments.

He noted that college officials are looking at the overall strength of a student’s academic program and not just the GPA.

Board President Deb Oriola said she thought the new system was going to be phased in much more slowly.

School officials said it wouldn’t be a problem to make the switch because two years ago, the district implemented a new software called PowerSchool to input student data. The software has the raw numbers for the current students so they would be easily switched over into the new format.

The target date for implementation is Aug. 1.

 
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