A standing-room-only crowd of concerned parents and students came ready to discuss a number of important issues at last week's Unionville-Chadds Ford school board meeting.
But it was East Marlborough Township resident Nicholas O'Neill and his brief presentation on the district's current grading standards -- complete with a PowerPoint sideshow and accompanying handouts -- that got the ball rolling and had the crowd applauding.
O'Neill was quick to point out that it was the grading system that he was concerned with and not the criteria.
"We're not here to talk about grading standards," O'Neill said, adding that although the curriculum at U-CF provided the students with an "engaging, challenging and first-rate education," the grading system used by the district was, in his opinion, 20 years out of date.
"This is back when fewer kids were applying to colleges, and when the acceptance standards for most colleges were not as high," O'Neill said.
Under the district's current grading system, an average is generated to reflect a student's overall performance, which is then boiled down to a single letter grade ranging A through F.
With this system, any student who falls between a 92 to 100 average will receive an "A" grade, 83 to 91 for a "B," and so on.
In his presentation, O'Neill attempted to draw a parallel between that system and the percentage-based system that more accurately tracks a student's individual progress by using a more accurate grading performance scale.
Using two fictitious students -- "Betty and Bob Unionville" -- O'Neill tried to show how a student with relatively average test scores running between 73 and 85 percent would wind up with the same letter grade as a student with averages between 90 and 95 percent.
"This system makes no sense whatsoever," said O'Neill.
In checking the math on the scores provided by O'Neill for his fictitious students, however, "Bob" would actually average out to 81, while "Betty" wound up with 92 - a "C" and an "A" respectively, as per U-CF's current grading system, not falling between the 83 to 91 area that would constitute a "B."
O'Neill then made a similar comparison, between "Betty Unionville" and "Suzi Henderson," referring to Henderson High School in West Chester.
With these two examples, O'Neill showed that a student with what would be considered a low-to-mid "A" in Henderson -- with test score averages between 90 and 95 percent -- would equate to a simple "B" average under the U-CF system.
"Now, which of these students will have a better selection of colleges?" O'Neill said to the board. "Which one will be eligible for merit scholarships?"
O'Neill said that he had solicited comments from several well known colleges about the grading system, and of those that responded, the comments were less than supportive of the current system.
One such comment was from Liz DeDoster, the admissions coordinator for Boston University, who said that unless transcripts provided a percentage grade, then "You have a system in which the students can fall through the cracks."
"There are no ways for these schools to differentiate between the high Bs and the low Bs," O'Neill said, something that he and several other audience members felt could place a child at a disadvantage when applying for college.
O'Neill urged the board to take the grading system under consideration as soon as possible, for potential implementation by this coming September and the 2006-2007 school year.
Superintendent John Kenney said later in the meeting that the board had been planning on discussing the grading system in depth the following year and that any changes would not occur until sometime in the future. Any changes, however, would likely not be for implementation for the 2006-2007 school year -- a comment that brought a collective groan from the audience.
"I want to hear both sides of the issue," Kenney said. "I am open minded about it, and our goal is to resolve this by next school year."
Deciding when to approach the issue, however, is not as difficult as deciding when and how to approach implementing such a change, despite the fact that -- according to assistant superintendent Brenda George O'Hearn -- percentages will be used on third marking period report cards.
"There is also the question of do we modify the existing system, using plusses and minuses, or go to percentages," Kenney said in a phone interview last week. "There's also a case of when do you implement the change? Immediately? With the incoming freshmen, or with the existing sophomores? Regardless, it will have an impact on class rank, and those types of things can lead to litigation."
According to Kenney, the class rank issue could be more pervasive than may be immediately evident to most, especially when students find themselves competing against other students that may not have been a challenge before grade modification the grades.
"The problem is, both students and parents would calculate that they've been disadvantaged or advantaged based on a change," Kenney said. "That's why it's difficult to make a change in the middle of a [high school] career. I am willing to study the issue and if there's something in our scale that is disadvantaging our students versus other students, then yes, we should put them all on equal footing."
Unionville High School principal Jim Fulginiti said his approach to the grading issue is more of a philosophical one, although he's also not opposed to addressing the situation.
"It's always healthy to revisit the way you go about doing business," Fulginiti said in an interview last week. "And sometime policies are in place and they get entrenched and that can be harmful, especially as things move forward and things change, and [the original policies appear] out of step."
Both parents and students came out to give their input the grading issue, although most statements amounted to little more than supporting a change, or at best a reexamination of the current system.
"I know in my mind, I don't thinks there's going to be the perfect answer, " Fulginiti said by phone last week. "Because there's always going to be, 'OK, here's the downside . . .'"