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Dog ate your homework? No sweat in Baltimore County Schools

John Lee

It was a picture perfect day, not a cloud in the sky, as Loch Raven High School Principal Bonnie Lambert greeted students as they entered the building, wishing them a "happy new year" on the first day of school after the summer break.

Karen Salmon, Maryland’s State Superintendent of Schools, said what’s great about education is that they get to start over every year.

"And we get to do it right," she said "So it’s really just the best." 

That’s all because the first day of school is kind of like Opening Day, when all the teams are optimistic and in first place. But there is a change-up both for Baltimore County students and their teachers. Starting today, grades will be based on academic achievement in class; nothing else. There are no marks off for being a jerk and being sent to the principal’s office, or for spacing out and not doing your homework.

The new policy is based on research that shows that marking for things like effort, participation and behavior distorts grades.

County School Superintendent Dallas Dance said the point is to make sure grades are based on what the students know.

"We want to make sure that when parents look at an A, a B or a C on their report card, or even a D or an E, it accurately reflects whether the student has mastered the material outlined in that course," Dance explained.

Abby Beytin, the president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said teachers have mixed feelings about the new grading policy. Like anything new, she said, there will be issues and she expects the policy will be tweaked.

Beytin said she wants teachers to give the powers-that-be feedback on how it’s really working in their classes.

"I know that any time there is something new people have a lot of angst around it," she said. "But until they actually start doing it, we won’t really know that."

Issues like a student’s behavior, absences and homework will be marked in a separate section on the report card. But Beytin worried there are no consequences for the things that show up in that section; and there ought to be.

She said she wants them taken into account for extra-curricular stuff. Bad marks in that section, say, could keep you off the football team or the cheerleading squad.

"So we can’t just look at the knowledge of content to raise a whole citizen," Beytin said. "You have to look at everything. Because when a child moves on to the real world, they are going to have to be on time."

Another change is that teachers will have the option to grade students on the old zero to 100 scale, or give no student a grade of less than 50 on any assignment.

In Ashleigh Carls’11th grade U.S. Honors History class at Loch Raven, students got the first-day-of-school lesson that at the micro level, history is about the individual.

Da’Mon Jones, who was sitting in the front row, liked what he heard about the grading changes.

"It will like motivate them more to get a higher grade," Jones said.

But Nate Casciero, sitting in the back row, wasn’t so sure.

"It might be going too soft on students so I don’t know," he said. "Let’s hope If they find a mistake or if it doesn’t do well they pull it immediately."

And along those lines, Baltimore County Councilman Todd Crandell says he has asked Superintendent Dance to come before the Council to explain the new policy. He says he is concerned it is not giving students a "real world" experience, in which bad behavior has consequences.