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Earning an A in tough program gets tougher on paper

St. Petersburg High School officials say they'll now enforce a statewide grading system that requires a score of 94 to earn an A.

By STEPHEN HEGARTY

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 16, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- School officials say it won't have much of a practical effect, but at least on paper, students in the International Baccalaureate program at St. Petersburg High School will have to do more to get an A next semester.

For years, some teachers in the rigorous IB program have been operating under different grading scales. In one class a score of 90 earns an A. In another class, a 94 is needed to get an A.

The statewide grading scale is 94 through 100, so it's unclear why some IB classes -- among the toughest, most demanding classes offered in the district -- were operating under an easier standard.

"We had one teacher using 90 to 100 and another using 94 to 100, and some using other things," said Linda McPheron, the assistant principal in charge of coordinating the IB program at St. Petersburg High. "It was pretty inconsistent."

After questions were raised, St. Petersburg High officials decided they needed some uniformity. The solution was to do what they should have been doing all along: conform with the state standard -- 94 through 100 for an A.

"We felt we had to go to the countywide standard," McPheron said. "We can't really make our own policy, so we need to conform to the county policy."

What that means is that starting second semester, a score of 90 will no longer count as an A in any class. Parents and students will be notified of the change in a letter on Monday, McPheron said.

Naturally, some parents and students are concerned that student letter grades might suffer. IB students are among the brightest in the district, and many have ambitious plans to attend prestigious colleges, so even a slight dent in their grade point average would be a real setback.

McPheron said that if the change is handled deftly, students will barely notice and their grades won't suffer. Grades routinely can be enhanced through such strategies as extra credit, so students can easily make up the difference between a 90 and a 94, McPheron said.

Grading scales certainly are useful, but they also serve a largely symbolic purpose. State lawmakers recently tried to change the statewide standard to 90 to 100 for an A, but Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed the measure, saying it would send a message of lowered expectations.

In reality, teachers can easily adjust their grading to accommodate a different grading scale.

"If someone were to tell it was 98 to 100 for an A, I could add enough obvious questions to balance it out," said Ralph Cline, assistant principal in charge of coordinating the IB program at Palm Harbor University High School, which uses the required 94 to 100 scale. "The same goes for a writing assignment. Regardless of the grading scale, a very good paper will get an A."

McPheron said it was her job and the job of teachers to assure parents and students that the change will not penalize the student.

"There is no change in the expectations," McPheron said. "We know the kids are meeting high standards. Believe me, it would do us no good to lessen their opportunities."

Recent coverage

Area high schools make 'Newsweek' list (March 5, 2000)

Psych text is required reading (February 4, 2000)

New principal in a choice era (December 8, 1999)

Bush plan could cut kids with top grades (November 14, 1999)

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