As students head back to class, an A isn’t what it used to be

When students go back to school this week, one of the most significant changes will be a new grading scale in most classes.

The S.C. Board of Education voted in April to adopt a 10-point grading scale for high school credit courses, with the goal of leveling the playing field for college admissions and scholarships against students from other states, where such a scale is already used.

The Rock Hill, Fort Mill, York and Clover school boards have all voted to apply that same scale to most elementary and middle school students, except in cases where a standards-based grading system is used.

Under the new grading scale, which goes into effect when school opens this week, a score of 90-100 is an A; 80-89 is a B; 70-79 is a C; and 60-69 is a D.

Under the state’s previous scale, called a seven-point scale, a score of 93-100 was an A; 85-92 was a B; 77-84 was a C; 70-76 was a D; and 69 and below was an F.

“On the surface, it looks simple,” said Harriet Jaworowski, associate superintendent for Rock Hill schools. “The difficulty comes in things that would not be as obvious to the public, such as what a B might represent in terms of skill and ability,” Jaworowski said. “It’s not as simple as just changing the numbers.”

Jaworowski said the intent isn’t to make school less rigorous by making it easier for student to earn an A, or less likely to fail a class.

“We are going to work with teachers to make sure they are grading appropriately,” Jaworowski said. “We want to make sure that we understand what a B represents, in terms of quality work. ”

Marty McGinn, assistant superintendent for the Fort Mill district, said educators need to guard against the possibility of “grade inflation.” For example, McGinn said, a score of 69 and below was a failing grade under the old scale. Now, a failing grade will be a 59 and below.

“That’s where discussions with principals and teachers have to happen about making sure that even though the scale has changed, we adjust our rigor, to make sure they are prepared for the next level of a course,” she said.

She said teachers may need to adjust the way they assess students on what they’ve learned. “We’re spending a lot of time talking about depth of knowledge and how we’re stretching students,” she said.

Tim Cooper, a spokesman for the York school district, said York schools also will be talking with teachers this fall about grading practices.

The S.C. Department of Education recommended the transition from a seven-point to a 10-point scale after months of research and discussions. The change was made to smooth the transition for students from other states where a 10-point scale is used, and to align with neighboring North Carolina and Georgia, which made the switch last year.

The state change covers only high school credit courses, which are those counted toward graduation, though local school boards have the option of adopting the same scale for other classes to be uniform.

State education officials say the grading scale change is not retroactive to high school credit classes taken before the 2016-17 school year.

That’s because it was not possible to make the change retroactive without altering students’ class rank, a factor that can affect scholarship opportunities, according to information from the state.

Grade point averages earned under the previous seven-point scale will be locked down as of next week, when the new grading scale goes into effect, according to the state department.

A student’s final transcript will average all the quality grade points earned and then divide that by the number of credits attempted.

Jaworowski said the Rock Hill district plans to help parents and students understand the change by publishing information on its web site and perhaps holding parent meetings to explain the changes.

“The greatest impact will be to students in the top 3 percent, because they are competing for that recognition and those scholarships and those kinds of things, and that’s important, so we don’t want to inavertently cause a problem for them,” she said.

Jaworowski and McGinn said they are still waiting for more information from the state about some pieces of the grading policy, including the impact on state-funded Life and Palmetto scholarships.

Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077

First day of school

Rock Hill: Tuesday

Fort Mill: Monday, with staggared start days for kindergarten Monday to Thursday

Clover: Monday

York: Monday

Chester County: Monday

Lancaster County: Monday