South-Western school district administrators said they changed the way high school grades are calculated to make the system less punitive, but one resident critic is unconvinced.

South-Western school district administrators said they changed the way high school grades are calculated to make the system less punitive, but one resident critic is unconvinced.

Rob Starrett, a retired businessman who ran unsuccessfully for school board in November, said he learned of the grading change during his campaign last fall.

He said a parent described a grading system with 57 percent as the lowest possible grade, while 60 percent is a passing grade.

Since Jan. 11, Starrett said he has met with South-Western administrators for two and a half hours to learn more about the grading system change that took effect in August, at the beginning of the current school year.

Lois Rapp, assistant superintendent of curriculum, said the grading change came about as part of the school district's continuous improvement plan. The plan sets forth actions school officials feel are necessary to raise the school district's state report card designation.

Rapp said while the new system changes the way all high school grades are calculated, it will not change the grades that many students receive.

It will increase the chance that a student who gets an F for one six-week grading period in a single course will get a D for that course.

Rapp said a 10- to 15-member grading committee started work in the spring of 2008. It included teachers, administrators and school board member Cathy Johnson, Rapp said.

She said the committee was thinking of students who typically earn passing grades, but who might have experienced a traumatic event (such as a death in the family) that leads them to get an F. That F results in a failing final grade for the course, Rapp said.

Starrett said the new system inflates failing grades and will help students who get an F because they are on drugs or because they lack incentive.

"They have created a system where it's almost impossible for a student to fail," Starrett said. "Instead of raising academic learning, they've lowered the standards."

Rapp said the grading committee decided to use a 4.0-based system for high school grade cards rather than a 100-point system because it felt the F score was too "punitive," Rapp said.

Under the previous system, a student who received a 22 percent grade of F for one six-week period would fail a course if the remaining grades were 75 percent (grade of C) for the other two six weeks and a 71 (a C minus) for the semester exam.

Specifically, the final grade would be 59 percent, or an F. The final grade is calculated by averaging all the scores. The exam is given half credit, so the student's final grade is arrived at by dividing 207.5 by 3.5.

Under that scenario, Rapp said, the overall F " is not reflective of what the student has learned."

Under the new system, the same student would receive grades based on a 4.0 scale, similar to most Franklin County high schools and most universities, Rapp said.

So the student would receive zero points for the first F, two points for both 75-percent scores and 0.835 point for the exam score. The new calculation would result in 1.38, which equals a D plus.

In a memo to teachers explaining the change, Rapp said, "Mathematically, it makes no sense that one grading period should be able to negate the learning of every other grading period combined. This creates an unfair situation for a student who, for whatever reason, may have a poor grading period and then attempt to recover."

Starrett, however, said the system can be used for reasons not so altruistic.

Using the same calculation, Starrett drew two examples of high school students who could take advantage of the new system to earn poor grades and still receive a high school diploma, thus lessening the value of the South-Western education.

Starrett used the hypothetical situation of a good high school student who becomes addicted to drugs. The student receives an A for the first grading period in a year-long course. The rest of his grades are F's, except for his two exams, in which he receives two D-minus scores.

Depending on the value of the F's, the student could pass in the old grading system. If the F's are at or above 55 percent, then the student would get a D-range under the old system.

Regardless of the value of the F's, the student would pass using the new system with a D minus.

Starrett also drew the example of a football player who earns average grades in the fall to be eligible for athletics, but performs poorly after the season because of lack of incentive.

The football player earns C's in the first semester of the school year, but F's the second. Again, if the value of the F is above 55 percent in the old system, the student would pass with a D. In the new system, however, the student would pass regardless, because the value of the F is equal to the value of every other letter grade.

Starrett said his examples are "extreme ... but it could happen. The system is set up so that it could happen. These students are smart. They can work the system."

Starrett said a sudden drop in grades is one sign of drug abuse.

In calculating grades in the old system, Starrett said, a student would pass a course with a D minus if he or she received a total of 427 percentage points for all six-week grading periods and two exams in a year.

In the new system, each letter grade is assigned one point on the 4.0 scale. As long as a student can score high enough grades to earn 4.2 points (the equivalent of three C's) in a year, he or she can pass a course, he said.

Starrett said under the new system, no F can be worth less than 55 percent.

Starrett said he would suggest keeping the new system, but adding more weight to the F score, like the old system.

If student recovers from the F, then points could be added to the F to reduce its weight.

Otherwise, Starrett said the change could inflate graduation numbers for the district in the long run.

He said giving a passing score to failing students can affect the value of South-Western's high school education.

"You've cheapened every high school diploma that the South-Western school system gives to hardworking students," Starrett said.

Rapp said she released her memo to teachers because teachers were concerned with the change.

That memo can be found at the SWCS district Web site, www.swcs.k12.oh.us.