MVLA district seeks fairer grades


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.


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Posted by MomOfThree
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 4, 2011 at 2:04 pm

I'm glad to hear they are making this attempt, although not sure how successful they will be. Ask any kid (or parent for that matter) and they can give you very specific examples of classes/teachers who are "easy As," teachers who require extra credit to get an A, etc... I'm sure the teachers will hate this (and I'm a big fan of teachers) but it does make sense to have more uniformity in what kids are taught, within a school/school district, and how that is assessed and graded.

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Posted by Mom of Four
a resident of another community
on Aug 4, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Completely agree with Mom of Three. With college acceptance being as competitive as it is today, grading needs to be uniform. My son took a class this year in which he received a B and based on what he did and learned, knows that would have been an A in another instructor's class. Unfortunately there is no way for a college to know this and it becomes an unfair advantage for the students in the easy A class. A student can graduate from the MVLA district with a 3.5 and actually have learned more than the 4.0 student. This isn't about taking the rights away from teachers, it's about what is fair and just for the students in their classrooms.

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Posted by Mom of Five
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Aug 4, 2011 at 4:46 pm

It's about time. Grades have becoming more of a popularity contest among teacher, some with an ego and inferiority complex that make good but unpopular students jump through hoops.

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Posted by NeHi
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 4, 2011 at 7:13 pm

I agree with 3,4 and 5. Standards do have their place. Test on what we agree [oh, wow!] is important and maybe kids will learn what "we think is important".

Awalt lost their way in the late '70s and the result was a disaster. The secret to success is to have the correct definition of success. How we doing??

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Posted by mom
a resident of another community
on Aug 4, 2011 at 8:24 pm

LAHS - each year the teachers provide a Syllabus. It is very important for parents to understand this syllabus. That is the key to what their child should be working towards meeting. The teacher is not going to be able to diverge from this syllabus.

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Posted by Mom of Four
a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2011 at 7:00 am

Mom must be a teacher. Since when does the parent have to understand the syllabus. We've have already attended school. That seems very defensive.

From what I understand in the article, an attempt is being made to have grading policies and testing policies be the same. It is the only way that students can be compared with one another.

For instance, at one high school, two MEHAP teachers require Star Notes and much of the students grades are based on the Star Notes. The third teacher does not require the notes and students in that class receive A's more frequently than the other two classes. However, when it comes time to take the AP test, students who had the "easy A" teacher do not do as well. Is that truly benefitting the student in the easy A class?

If students had the option of picking and choosing which teachers they have, then this would not be an issue. However, that is not the case, so curriculum and grading needs be standardized.

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Posted by KD
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 6, 2011 at 11:33 am

Everyone interested in this issue should go to, click on “Los Altos High” then “About LAHS”, then “School Profile” (8 lines down). Now click on the 2010-11 School Profile link.

You will find a summary of the scores achieved on SAT, SAT subject, ACT and AP tests taken in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Scroll down to the second page, where you will find the grade distribution for core academic classes in 2010. (don’t bother trying this for MVHS, as they have omitted the grade distribution page in the profile)

A brief analysis; from page 1, we learn that in 2010, 43 LAHS students took the (1 hour) SAT Physics subject test, achieving an average score of 605 (out of 800)

From page 2, we learn that 21 students achieved an “A” in Physics, 39 students achieved an “A” in Physics Honors, and 3 achieved an “A” in AP Physics C.

In all likelihood, the 39 students who achieved “A”s in Physics Honors represent 80%+ of those taking the Physics SAT subject test. (Maybe we should contact the 13 students who earned an “A” in AP Statistics for a more accurate number ! Or, as you will soon, see, maybe that would be a waste of time).

Can anyone hazard a guess as to what score is typically needed to achieve an 90th percentile score on this test? Answer: 800. How ‘bout 60th percentile? Answer: 700.

Recall that the 43 LAHS students who took the test achieved an average score of 605 – which is 30th percentile. Yet (presumably) the vast majority of these test-takers achieved “A”s from their LAHS Physics H teacher(s).

I just located the MVLA School profile from 2009. 33 students wrote the Physics Subject test, achieving an average score of 603. 95 students achieved an “A” in Physics and 28 achieved an A in AP Physics C (no Physics Honors course)

Do you think there is a grading problem within the MVLA school district?

Of course, only those with access to all the statistics (including Ms. Saraffe) actually know.

Good luck with her initiative.

(Needless to say, one could argue that these grading issues are systemic; that every high school in the nation has a nilly-willy grading system that awards grades on factors unrelated to subject knowledge. But if we are going to misrepresent the facts, we should at least have standards of misrepresentation!)

Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 6, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Great analysis and food for thought KD. I'd also be curious to see how high the physics teacher could score on the AP exam.

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Posted by KD
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 7, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Thank you Observer.

More than seeing what any particular teacher might score on these tests, I would rather have teachers (be required to) provide the administration with a prediction of how each of their students would score if they were to take a standardized tests in their subject at the end of the year.

I sincerely believe that most students (and their parents) believe that receiving an "A" in an Honors or "AP" class in the MVLA school district will result in their achieving a score of at least 700(/800) in an SAT subject test, or an 4-5 in the AP exam.

Imagine the surprise if / when thees student receive notice that their score is a 550 (or lower), or a "1" or "2", indicating that they don't actually understand the material.

The statistics show that this happens all the time.

The question that I would like answered is whether or not the teachers actually understand how well their students understand what is being taught.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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