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Could cutting very low scores from the grading scale improve Department of Defense-run schools for military children?

It’s one option being discussed by the department’s Education Activity division as it reviews grading scales, homework and report cards in more than 200 schools around the world.

If the proposal is adopted, students could never score below 50 percent, even for doing very little or no schoolwork.

Such debates are common in the United States, where schools and universities use myriad grading scales.

No decision on grading scale changes has been made but DODEA said removing scores of 49 percent and lower could be one way to help struggling students who are hobbled by poor grades.

One very low score on the current grading scale digs students into a hole that requires several above-average scores to fill.

However, some Pacific educators worry the change would allow unmotivated students to pass classes with less effort and take grading decisions away from teachers.

Lib Johns, an English teacher for M.C. Perry High School at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan, said lopping off the bottom end of the grading scale would not fit in with the DOD school system’s goal of encouraging high student achievement.

“How can students have highest achievement if you are going to give them 50 percent on every grade whether they turn it in or not?” said Johns, who has taught for 19 years.

Johns said she tried out the system last school year and found it mostly benefited students who did not turn in work.

Meanwhile, students most in need — those with learning disabilities or who struggle and still receive a string of very low grades — already were receiving help from understanding teachers, she said.

“Any student who made an attempt to do every assignment and turn it in even though it is not perfect will not fail,” Johns said.

Rick Gween, an honors English teacher at the same high school, said he also believes eliminating the lower half of the grading scale would be a bad idea.

Students “would just have to do a couple things to get the D,” Gween said. “I see it as just setting kids up to fail when they leave high school.”

But some educators say the current grade scale is unfairly weighted toward failing grades.

Michael Johnson, principal of Robert D. Edgren High School at Misawa Air Base, Japan, said the elimination of scores below 50 percent is just one example of grading scales that “more accurately reflect knowledge and skills gained in the classroom.”

For now, the failing grade range of zero percent to 59 percent carries six times the weight of other grades, which cover 10-point increments, Johnson wrote in an e-mail response to Stars and Stripes.

The proposed change would give an F grade the same weight as A through D scores, he said.

“In this grading scheme, 49 is the new zero,” Johnson said.

The DODEA debate came about because educators in the field were concerned over grading policies and numeric values, DODEA spokesman Frank O’Gara wrote in an e-mail.

Eliminating the lower half of the grading scale is just one possibility under consideration, and more research and evaluation are needed before changes are made, he said.

“There is an ongoing debate in the educational community about the impact of zeros assigned to students for homework and other assignments [and] requirements,” O’Gara said.

Now, an overall C student could end up failing because of a zero-percent score on missing homework, and many educators question whether that is fair, he said.

“Some schools have set a grading scale of 50 to 100 percent. A grade of 50 is assigned for missing assignments,” O’Gara said. “Then it is still possible for a student who misses homework but passes all tests to earn a passing grade.”

If and when future changes are made, they will be closely linked to DODEA policies on homework and report cards, which both are under review, he said.

“Changes to grading policies and procedures take a great deal of research and coordination,” he said.

Sharp curve?

Here’s the grading scale now used by DODEA schools:

A = 90-100 percentB = 80-89C = 70-79D = 60-69F = 0-59 [range of failing scores is six times the size of each other letter grade]

The agency could eliminate the bottom 49 percentage points from that grading scale, making all grades equal in weight. However, some teachers worry the change would allow unmotivated students to scrape by while doing less work:A = 90-100 percentB = 80-89C = 70-79D = 60-69F = 50-59 [range of failing scores is equal to each other letter grade]

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