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S.C. high schoolers to be graded on 10-point scale

South Carolina’s high schoolers will be graded on a 10-point scale starting next school year, after a unanimous vote Tuesday by the state Board of Education.

State schools Superintendent Molly Spearman said the change allows South Carolina students to fairly compete for college entry and scholarships – both academic and athletic – while benefiting military families and other students transferring into South Carolina schools.

“It comes down to one word: fairness,” Deputy Superintendent Julie Fowler told the board before the 17-0 vote. “We wanted all students to have a fair opportunity for admissions and scholarship.”

It could also mean roughly 13,000 additional students earning lottery-backed state scholarships annually by 2023.

The change takes effect Aug. 1, so students taking summer classes will be the last graded on a seven-point scale.

South Carolina colleges, as well as most states, already use a 10-point scale, including neighboring Georgia and North Carolina, which made the switch last year.

That means, for example, that South Carolina high schoolers who earn a 90 receive a 3.0 toward their grade-point average, because an A is currently 93 to 100. However, a Georgia student receiving the same grade earns a 4.0.

That hurts South Carolina students whether they’re applying to a college in or out of state, Deputy Superintendent Sheila Quinn said.

Middle schools aren’t required to make the change but are encouraged to, because many eighth-graders take high school courses.

State educators opted against phasing in the change with next year’s freshman class. The state’s computerized grade-reporting system can’t handle two scales simultaneously. Also, many classes include students of multiple grades, Quinn said.

“If a 90 for a freshman is an A, and 90 for a junior is a B, parents will have a hard time with that,” she said.

Grades issued before Aug. 1 won’t be recalculated, meaning rising seniors’ GPA will benefit from only one year under the new scale. That phases in the rising number of students earning a B average and qualifying for the state’s HOPE, LIFE and Palmetto Fellows scholarships.

Using current eligibility requirements, the change could result in an additional $14.5 million in scholarships awarded to students by 2020, when next year’s freshman class graduates – the first under a 10-point scale for four years. The full cost would reach $50 million more yearly in 2023, according to the state Commission on Higher Education.

The biggest impact would be on HOPE recipients, because receiving that one-time $2,500 scholarship requires only a 3.0 GPA. To receive a $5,000 LIFE scholarship annually for four years, students must also rank in the top 30 percent of their class and score at least an 1100 on the SAT college-entry test – and maintain a 3.0 GPA in college to keep it. To be a Palmetto Fellow, students must earn a 3.5 GPA, rank in the top 6 percent of their class and score at least a 1200 on the SAT.

The Legislature could alter the criteria. Although the scholarships are backed by lottery profits, fully funding them often requires using state taxes.

But Ways and Means Chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, applauded the vote and its benefits to families statewide. White has been critical of rising college tuition rates.

“Any time we open opportunities for people to further their education, that’s what we need to be doing. I see this as a win-win for South Carolina kids to be able to help their chances to attend school,” the budget-writing chairman said. “As a state, that’s what we should be doing.”

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