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    Proposal would make A's easier

    Lawmakers would alter the school grading scale so it would match the one used in most of the nation.

    By SHELBY OPPEL

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 14, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- State lawmakers, blocked last year by Gov. Jeb Bush, are trying again to make it easier for Florida students to earn an A.

    The proposed change would reset the state-mandated grading scale to match the one used in most private high schools and many out-of-state schools. Proponents say it would level the playing field in college admissions and competition for scholarships and financial aid.

    "I know my wife told me, "You can't come home until you vote right on this one,' " said Sen. Jim Horne, R-Orange Park, one of 11 senators who unanimously approved the measure in a Senate committee Tuesday.

    As the grading scale stands now, 94 percent through 100 is an A. Under a bill moving through the Legislature, that would change to 90 through 100, the range used in most of the nation.

    Eighty through 89 percent would be a B; 70 through 79 percent, a C; 60 through 69 percent, a D; and 59 percent and below would be an F.

    Last year, Bush vetoed a similar measure sponsored by Sen. Anna Cowin, a Leesburg Republican, in part because it gave school boards the option to alter the grading scale -- instead of requiring the change -- and therefore could have created inequities between school districts.

    This year's version, sponsored by Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, and Rep. Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, answers that objection by mandating the change statewide.

    Bush also objected to last year's bill because he said it could be interpreted as a move to lower academic standards.

    "I think that sends the wrong signal. We need to have high standards," he said at the time.

    A spokeswoman for Bush said Tuesday that he has not changed his position but will review the bill again before making a final decision.

    Would changing the grading scale lower academic standards? Not in the long run, Cowin said.

    Until teachers adjust to the changes, which would take effect for the 2001-02 school year, some students might earn A's more easily under the 90-to-100 scale, Cowin said. Ultimately, though, teachers would make tests and other assignments more difficult to compensate for the change, she said.

    "The reality is we're giving the opportunities for teachers to make more difficult tests," Cowin said.

    Cowin hopes Bush will review the proposed grading scale change in tandem with another bill she is sponsoring that would require school districts to include high school profiles on the student report cards sent to college admissions officers.

    The profiles, already published by some schools, would show admissions officers how frequently each school awards A's versus lower grades, a provision aimed at providing a more accurate measure of a student's academic achievement as compared with students in other schools.

    Taken together, the grading scale change and the high school profiles would allow admissions officers to more accurately compare the academic records of public school students with their private school peers, as well as with public school students from other school districts and states, Cowin said.

    Jane Gallucci, a Pinellas School Board member and president of the Florida School Boards Association, said she welcomes the grading scale change.

    Before Bush vetoed the measure last year, Pinellas officials were ready to adopt the new scale. If Bush changes his mind, Gallucci said, "it's sitting right on the shelf. We'll put it right in."

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