Not all A's are created equal. The differences in how teachers grade their students are being scrutinized by a commission of instructors and administrators looking at making student assessment and grading more uniform throughout the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District.
"Our board feels strongly that the grades students earn should truly reflect the students' achievement," said Brigitte Sarraf, associate superintendent of educational services with the district.
The idea is to eliminate unfair advantages or disadvantages that may be present in the grading processes of individual teachers.
While some students flourish in any situation, Sarraf said, others can end up earning poor marks because of a particular teacher's grading style.
Some instructors choose to assign more weight to tests; others emphasize class participation; and some believe that homework should factor heavily into the final grade. For a child who is a poor test-taker, shy, or living in a chaotic home, each of these respective grading styles poses a distinct challenge, she said. And then there is the matter of whether a teacher grades on a curve or not.
Ideally, Sarraf said she would like to see students in the Mountain View-Los Altos district graded based upon what they know, not on participation or homework.
"A student's success shouldn't be contingent on being in a particular teacher's classroom," she said. "It shouldn't be easier to get an A in one teacher's class than it is in another class."
The commission, which has been studying the issue for six months, will report its conclusions to the board at end of the 2011-12 school year and make a recommendation.
While many teachers in the district agree that students would benefit overall from more uniformity in the way grades are determined, Sarraf said, some instructors have expressed skepticism over the idea.
"Grading has always been viewed as a very personal thing for teachers," Sarraf said. "To change that now, and to ask people to be more aligned in their assessments and their grading practices, is not coming easy."
Nonetheless, Sarraf said, "I think (the study) is long, long overdue."
Just because the district is conducting the study, "that doesn't mean that we are taking teachers' rights away," she said.
Sarraf said she is hopeful that her district's instructors will ultimately be pleased with what the committee finds. "I think we're very fortunate in this district that we have so many teachers that are committed to their students' success," she said.