Robin Madden, a Saluda Trail Middle math teacher, would spend hours crafting elaborate lessons for her sixth-graders, who would nod their understanding, then mostly fail the test.
"I felt like 'what do I do with that?'" Madden said. "I felt like I was a bad teacher."
Since Saluda Trail began piloting a new grading policy that allows students to re-take tests so long as they first re-learn the material, things have changed.
When most of her class scores below 85 percent on a test, Madden re-teaches the lesson before giving the test again. When just a few students fall under 85, they get extra practice and tutoring before they re-take the test.
"I'm seeing the light bulbs come on for these kids," Madden said. "I see value in my work now that I haven't seen."
Madden was one of several teachers who shared thoughts at a Monday school board meeting about a yearlong effort in which a group of 40 teachers has been exploring how to standardize grading across the district's five middle schools and three high schools.
It's a "work in progress" that district officials don't expect to recommend for board approval any time soon.
The teacher committee drafted rules that Saluda Trail is testing along with South Pointe High. Based on results at those campuses and feedback from teachers and parents, district leaders expect to write a new grading policy, on which the school board eventually would vote. The draft rules emphasize "mastery" learning, which stresses understanding content and moves away from penalizing students for taking longer to learn.
Teachers at Monday's meeting elaborated on the components:
Let all students re-take tests, so long as they re-learn the material first. Cheaters too, but they're docked 20 percent and a written administrative referral. That doesn't apply to standardized tests such as the PASS and the SAT.
The premise is simple: A teacher's job is to educate students, who take tests to show how much they learned. If a test grade shows they haven't mastered the lesson, then re-teach them and test them again. If they prove they learned, give them credit.
Homework can account for up to 10 percent of a student's final grade.
Eliminate zero. Under the draft rules, the lowest a student can score on an assignment, even if he doesn't turn it in, is 40 out of 100. A score of 69 or below is an 'F.'
The idea is to stress learning over grades, ensuring success is never so far out of a student's reach that she gives up.
While, critics counter that it waters down education and sets up students for future failure, when poor performance could cost a job, Director of Secondary Education Sheila Huckabee said that report card grades are often rounded to 61 or 50. Giving students who put forth no effort a 40 is actually tougher on them, she said.
School board members said they have been receiving complaints from parents, worried the new rules are unfair, and teachers concerned that they won't be able to keep up with so many re-tests.
Officials said they plan to consider those concerns and others as they tweak the draft rules.
Superintendent Lynn Moody said the effort makes for a contentious but constructive debate.
"This is really about people's core values of teaching and learning, not just grading," she said.
Moody wants to gain support for the idea before asking the school board to vote on changing the grading policy.
"We're trying to build momentum and buy-in," Huckabee said.
In January, the seven-member school board will appoint two members to join the grading policy committee.
School board member Jane Sharp has already volunteered.