To the Lower Merion School Board and Administration:
This petition is in opposition to the planned change in the LMSD grading policy from the QPA system to a percentage system. We strongly believe that It is not in the interest of Lower Merion School District at this time to undertake a change in grading policy and that the consequences to our students of such a policy change have not been adequately studied or understood. Further, the proposed grading policy and the process by which it was conceived are flawed as described:
1. Proposed grading policy increases stress on students: At Lower Merion School Board meetings, students and parents stated that the new grading policy would increase stress by making midterm and final exam grades more important to the end-of-year grade calculation, hurting both successful and struggling students, further aggravating the stress induced by the already high-stakes testing. In the strategic plan it was presented that the district is attempting to achieve a holistic plan regarding our students and trying to understand the stress factors affecting our students. During a May education meeting, a student presented a petition with 300 Lower Merion High School student signatures against the grading policy change to a percentage system. In addition, 100% of the comments of the May 11th meeting opposed the changes to a percentage system. The school board/administration did not consider their strong objections, ignoring the Lower Merion School District’s new Strategic Plan goal of having a holistic approach to our students. Dr. McGinley said that the Lower Merion School Board and Administration would only go in a direction directly opposed to the students if they made it very clear why it was necessary. No convincing reasons have been given that places this grading policy change above student well-being.
2. Present and future harm to students in the college admissions process: According to our counselors as presented by the committee, colleges understand our present grading system and know the rigor and standards of the current LMSD grading system. There was no evidence given by LMSD that a grading change to percentage system is beneficial for the students, but evidence was given that student grades will suffer by a very significant percentage across all grades and all students. Further, adding “+” grades confuses transcripts and GPA’s, while devaluing the letter grade it enhances. The “+” grades without “-“ grades raises confusion and the GPA percentage changes based on a “+” dilute the GPA. Colleges previously familiar with LMSD’s grades will have to reconsider their evaluation of LMSD grades and students, causing several classes of LMSD students to become “guinea pigs” for college admission decisions before the colleges figure out the new LMSD evaluation system. With the changeover in the system, students who perform consistently from year to year may appear to have dropped in the subsequent year due solely to the new calculations. The transcripts of current LMSD students will be further confused with a combination of grading systems and explanations showing on their records, including grades earned under the current grading system and other grades earned under the new proposed grading calculation. Although the new grading system will appear inflated because of the “+” without “-“, in actual fact, our students will suffer poorer grades because of the percentage system.
3. New system does not achieve goals: The presentation stated that creating more categories of grading decreases accuracy according to studies. With adding the “+”, we have more categories than the studies suggest. The proposed system with “+” only does not measure up to the like districts as only 1 of the 13 districts included in the district’s comparison had a similar system. The committee did not support changing to a “+” only system. The school board recognized significant inconsistencies in teacher to teacher curriculum and grading within a given course which causes significant inconsistencies resulting in unfairness in grading and this should be fully address before consideration of changing the grading system.
4. Poor timing of any proposed grading changes: Lower Merion School District has recently received significant negative publicity on multiple fronts. Now, particularly when the school district is being viewed under a microscope, is not the time to enact any sweeping changes regarding the grading system and how higher institutions will be judging our students. At all cost, the Lower Merion School Board and the Lower Merion School District Administration should be concerned that they do no harm to present and future students.
5. Transparency: There is a concern of transparency regarding these proposed grading changes. First, the examples given comparing the percentage system to a QPA system misleadingly suggested that the percentage system would more often lead to higher grades, when in reality in our school district, the grades are worse with a percentage system over 90% of the time when there is a difference from the QPA calculation. These misleading examples likely affected the LMSD survey. In addition, the final meeting notifications and meetings took place in July during summer vacation, over objection, when many students and parents were unavailable to participate. Also, of those attending the meetings, there was significant parent and student opposition to the proposed grading system. One of the goals of the District’s New Strategic Plan is Communication, specifically to ensure that all district stakeholders including parents, guardians, teachers and students’ voices are heard. While stakeholders were allowed to voice their opinions, it does seem that those opinions were ignored, rather than considered. Also, there was significant disagreement and concern among the Lower Merion School Board members regarding these proposed changes.
In summary, we the parents of students at Lower Merion High School and Harriton High School oppose the grading change and respectfully request that it be repealed as it will cause harm to our students. If, in spite of the above, the Lower Merion School Board and Administration does not act in accordance with this public petition, and allows the new grading system to become effective, we demand that it become effective only in connection with those high school students who enter as freshman during the first year of the new grading policy. In that way, their grading system, even if unfortunate, will be consistent.