CLARKS SUMMIT- The Abington Heights School Board picked up discussions Oct. 3 that began months ago regarding the merits of grade weighting. Abington Heights Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Quinn presented the board with his thoughts on how he thinks the district should move forward.
"Last spring, we had an underlying feeling that a change in grade weighting is something that we want to do to encourage an increase in rigor in our high school curriculum," Quinn said. "With that in mind, I had a two-part proposition. The first part of the proposition was to look at the extra weight given to AP and honors courses and how to differentiate between the two. I think part of the motivation was if we have someone who is able to go either honors or AP and we differentiate between the two, and make the AP more valuable, maybe we could encourage more students to take AP courses. We proposed to keep the current 5 percent for AP. In order to differentiate, we would knock the weight for honors down to 3 percent so there is some premium if a student chooses honors over level two, but there is a greater premium if the student pushes into AP. The second part of the proposal was to apply the weight not quarterly, as is the current way, but once at the end of the year to the final grade. The rationale for that was to say, in a sense by weighting things quarterly, we distort the picture of how someone is performing."
Quinn thinks some people have a skewed view of the purpose of grading.
"I believe the purpose of grading is that one student's grade in a course has nothing do to with anybody else in the class," he said. "It should be a measure of their performance relative to what they're expected to know. If teachers and students are doing the job that they should, everyone should have an A. There is still a very strong belief that the purpose of grading is to rank and sort. The reason I think we want to shift the emphasis toward content is because our kids are competing against students from all over the world. I firmly believe we have to change the culture about what grading is and what school is for, but I don't think it's going to be a quick and easy thing to do."
Quinn said he is puzzled by the district's poor marks on the PSSAs (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment).
"Our high school resultsare truly baffling," he said. "We do have kids who have grown, but we have far more who have not. I can't tell you today why that is. When I walk down the halls, I see great things going on in the classrooms. I see kids actively engaged in substantive thinking. Yet we get back numbers saying not everyone is growing enough. It's a puzzle."
Students take the PSSAs in grades 3-8 and again in 11th. Quinn said the district sees a big drop off in 11th grade from the cumulative scores from the previous years.
Board member Frank Santeriollo believes a lack of concentration might be a reason for the low grades. "You have to take into account that the PSSAs are not counted toward college or graduation," he said. "Kids may not be really doing their best compared to the SAT's. It's an importance factor."
High School Principal Pamela Murray, Assistant Principals Mr. Andrew Snyder and Mr. Marc Wyandt, the two curriculum directors, Dr. Mahon and Dr. Quinn will spend time in the high school, 45 minutes at a time, in the back of classrooms.
"We're not looking for who's doing what wrong," Quinn said. We're looking for what's going on in the rooms and what kind of patterns are developing in multiple rooms. We're going to talk directly to kids and try to take as expansive a view as we possibly can. Ultimately, we'd like to develop a set of observations that guides our thinking to come up with an explanation."
Quinn recommended that the grade weighting for honors and AP remain as is.