Tallmadge -- Starting next school year, students in the Tallmadge City School District will be evaluated with a new grading scale that officials say will make them more competitive when seeking financial aid and applying to colleges and other post-secondary training programs.

The Board of Education authorized the new grading scale last month.

According to School Board President Rick Kellar, the current scale has been in effect for about 10 years.

The new scale widens the range for the highest of the letter grades. A percentage range of 98 to 100 earns an 'A+'; 93 to 97 an 'A'; and 90 to 92 an 'A-.' The old grade scale only grants an 'A+' for the 99 to 100 percent range; an 'A' for 95-98.99; and 'A-' for 93-94.99.

It also shifts the other letter grades down the scale, so instead of requiring a percentage in the 70 to 76.99 range to get some sort of 'D' grade, students will only need to land in the 60 to 69 percent range.

Superintendent Jeff Ferguson said the district decided to change the grading scale after spending the past six months looking into whether a revision would be appropriate. The district gathered information and feedback from other area school districts, teachers, guidance counselors, students and parents and concluded students in Tallmadge would be more competitive when applying for financial aid and entrance into the colleges and post-secondary training programs of their choice if the school district were to revise it.

"The concern came that some universities might put our students at a disadvantage being on one grade scale when some of the other districts were on a different grade scale," Ferguson said, explaining that because Tallmadge's current scale makes it more difficult to earn higher letter grades and doesn't weight honors courses, students from school districts that have different scales are benefitting.

When students compete against each other for scholarships and college admissions, and all things are equal in their candidacy, except for their grade-point averages, Kellar said it's likely the students who have higher GPAs will be more successful in whatever they're seeking.

"It levels the playing field," he said.

Course weighting

Ferguson said although it appears the changes to the scale are "slight," students are likely to significantly benefit from the new scale, and more students will be motivated to enroll in honors and advanced placement courses when they learn about how they can benefit.

The number of "college prep quality points" each letter grade equals, for purposes of calculating GPAs for standard-level, non-weighted classes, will remain the same. An 'A' on the new and old scales for standard-level courses will still equal four quality points, while a 'B' will equal three and so on.

Honors and advanced placement courses are more difficult and require more work from students so they now will be rewarded with more points toward GPAs.

The new grade scale weights honors classes, which are typically more rigorous than standard courses but not as difficult as the advanced placement courses that yield college credits. These courses yield "honors quality points" that are weighted in between the standard and advanced placement classes. An 'A' earned in an honors class will earn 4.83 points, while an equivalent grade in an advanced placement class will yield 5.33 points.

Kellar said having weighted honors courses is one of the most significant differences between the scales.

"Students [who] wanted to take honors and were equally concerned about maintaining a high GPA to get scholarships or get into the school they wanted, they won't be punished for that decision. They actually would be rewarded for it," he said.

Ferguson said the wider range for letter grades on the new scale won't affect the rigor of the courses as the Common Core standards for public education in Ohio ensure students are being held to the same level of rigor as they are now.

"This is not going to adjust the expectations that we have in these classes," he said.

Researching the change

During its research into grading scales, the district analyzed data from 17 area school districts and found the majority have grade scales similar to the one Tallmadge adopted, Ferguson said.

The district decided to implement the new scale for the 2014-15 school year, rather than phasing it in over a period of four years, so that students will benefit right away and eliminate any confusion caused by managing more than one scale.

Kellar complimented the school district on its research into the matter.

"It was a good process," he said.

Contact this reporter at 330-541-9428 or hschoenstein@recordpub.com

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