City schools flunk weighted grade system

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Come fall, the Pittsburgh Public Schools will do away with a controversial grading system that sets 50 percent as the minimum score a student can receive on any test and assignment.

The district instead will use a 5-point scale that officials said will be a more accurate measure of student achievement and still give struggling children a chance to catch up to their peers.

The 50 percent minimum -- designed to run in conjunction with a 100-point scale -- will remain in force for the rest of the school year with a couple of exceptions.

Teachers now will have the authority to give zeros to students who refuse to do work.

Some students have been refusing to complete assignments, telling teachers they'd take the 50 percent instead. Bill Hileman, a Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers staff representative, said "the No. 1 problem with the 50 percent minimum was the negative impact on student behavior."

By month's end, the district hopes to try out the new grading system in at least two unidentified schools.

The district said the 50 percent minimum had been used in city schools for about a decade. But officials touched off a wave of controversy last fall with a memo -- co-signed by the teachers union -- seeking more consistent use across the district.

Officials said the 50 percent minimum was an academically and mathematically sound way to compensate for flaws in the 100-point scale.

Under the original scale, work scored 90 percent to 100 percent was an A, 80 percent to 89 percent a B, 70 percent to 79 percent a C, 60 percent to 69 percent a D, and 59 percent to zero an E, or failing grade.

Not only was it unfair for a failing grade to carry more weight than passing grades, the district and union said, but students found it virtually impossible to recover from a handful of bad grades.

The district was widely ridiculed after the memo leaked out.

Some teachers and parents said the minimum amounted to grade inflation and conflicted with the district's "Excellence for All" improvement campaign. Radio hosts and bloggers called the district soft on students, and student discipline problems added fuel to the fire.

Under the new scale, work scored from 4 to 5 will be an A, 3 to 3.99 a B, 2 to 2.99 a C, 1 to 1.99 a D, and zero to .99 an E.

Joe Smydo can be reached at or 412-263-1548.


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