State slashed weight of its tests, but what if score boosted GPA?

Some students who took end-of-course tests already may prefer score count toward their final grade

Credit: Visions of America

Credit: Visions of America

A reader posed an interesting question: What if high school students took the state-mandated end-of-course tests in December and did well on them? In fact, what if they did well enough that the score raised their grade or prevented them from failing the course?

The Milestones end-of-course tests, given at the end of each semester or school year in algebra, U.S. history, biology and American literature and composition, normally count for 20% of the course grade. With the urging of State School Superintendent Richard Woods, the Georgia Board of Education, at a meeting on Dec. 21, reduced the impact of exams on grades to near zero because of disruptions to instruction from COVID-19.

Students must take the Georgia Milestones as U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos this year refused to waive the federal requirement that states give high-stakes exams. Last year, she waived the tests since the pandemic abruptly shuttered schools weeks before tests in many states were supposed to be administered.

Some high students in Georgia on compressed or block schedules already took their EOC tests in early December, as a reader explained in an email to both me and the Georgia Department of Education.

The reader, who is both a teacher and a parent, wrote:

I know the state school board voted to approve Superintendent Woods' recommendation to lower the weight of the EOC to .01%. I understand the logic and appreciate the concern.

However, I am concerned about the legality of changing the weight of a test the last week of school. Students were told all semester their final exams, EOC for courses with an EOC and regular final exams for all other classes would have a weight of twenty percent.

After all exams were administered for fall semester, the state BOE changes the weight to .01%. Students who did well on the EOC saw their efforts to raise their final grades negated. I know a student whose grade would have gone up 10 points if the EOC would have stayed 20%. Now, the math grade will be a C instead of a B. This will hurt the student's HOPE GPA. I also know several students who failed the course because their final exam they were prepared for did not count.

So, as a teacher and parent, let me get this straight. EOC weight for fall semester and spring count .01. There is nothing parents or students can do if it hurt their average.

Here is what DOE sent me in response:

To answer your question -- .01% is the minimum, and school districts can choose to weight EOCs higher. Those decisions will be made at the district level.

The purpose of the .01% decision was to remove an across-the-board mandate that was more likely to harm students' grades than help them -- as was borne out in the public feedback when the proposal was posted in October and again in November 2020. Ultimately, Superintendent Woods felt it was unreasonable to hold students accountable, at a state-mandated percentage of their course grade, for content they may not have received consistently due to the impacts of the pandemic.

A DOE public survey prior to the state school board vote asked whether the state exams should count 20%, 10% or 0.01%. Of the 93,079 responses from parents, educators and administrators, 86% endorsed 0.01%

A compromise -- already in place in some districts -- mimics the decision-making on grading that followed the closing of college campuses and the overnight move to online learning in the spring. Given valid concerns over whether students were getting the same level of instruction, many colleges offered flexibility and created choice options for students around grading.

Some campuses awarded standard letter grades to students and then gave them a window to decide whether they wanted to keep those grades or convert the grade to pass/fail. For example, Carnegie Mellon University gave students seven days after grades were posted to decide if they would like to switch any classes to pass/fail grading. Middlebury College’s policy stated: “Faculty will still report letter grades for all students, and if a student requests Pass/D/Fail, the grades will automatically be converted to a P for grades of C- or higher and recorded as a D or F if those are the grades that are submitted. You will be allowed to invoke Pass/D/Fail grading for any course—including courses that count toward all college requirements—and will have until May 1 to do so.”

Similar policies are being adapted by districts to address the reader’s scenario of a student who took the state exam, did well and wants it to count under the standard 20% rule. As a Henry teacher said, “Here in Henry, if the EOC grade would hurt the student, it is calculated as 0.01%. If the EOC grade would help the student, it calculates as the usual 20%.”

That seems fair to me. Your view?