At the beginning of the school year, DCPS implemented Aspen, a new attendance and grade reporting software. While it was implemented earlier this school year, the issue of Aspen automatically calculating student’s final marks only recently came into light when teachers with semester classes had to enter final grades last week and realized that there was no spot to do so.
Principal Kimberly Martin sent out a DCPS memo this past Thursday, February 4, to Wilson staff explaining the new system and stating that Aspen will be converting all letter grades to the highest value in its possible range. Like many teachers, Martin was not aware of the changes being made to the grading calculations. “I was a little surprised. I did not know how the grade calculation was going to work,” she said.
Throughout the advisory, teachers enter grades into JupiterEd. At the end of the advisory, teachers enter letter grades into Aspen, which are then converted into numeric values, averaged, and converted back into letter grades again. “When a teacher enters a letter mark, we do not know the numeric value that the student actually achieved (i.e., a B could be anywhere between an 83 and an 87),” the memo stated.
The fact that letter grades, not percentages, are now averaged for the final grade makes many teachers say grades are inflated. “[Teachers] were already concerned about the inflation we saw in Jupiter, and then to find out how Aspen operates, to me, was just hurtful all the more,” math teacher Elaine Smith said.
Many teachers are concerned about the lack of effort needed for a student to pass the class. Not only does this calculation elevate students’ letters on their report card, but it allows them to pass their classes with minimal amounts of work. “A student can get a C in the first advisory and not show up for the last three and still end up with a passing grade,” Smith said. “There’s no way that we [Wilson teachers] agree that that should happen.”
All letter grades are being converted to the highest value in the range of the grade. If a student has a 73 percent in a class, the numeric value will be boosted to a 77 percent. When averaged out, this increases the student’s overall grade. “They are inflating the grades for a lot, a lot of people,” social studies teacher Michael Garbus said.
“If a student is getting a D and they have a 64 percent and there is another person with a 15 percent, they shouldn’t have the same percentage. That first student is much closer to passing than the other one,” math teacher Jamaal Wise said.
Some teachers are concerned about the affect this change in policy could have on student performance. “We all know kids are going to recognize this, like how it operates, and they are going to know that [they] can do this, and this, and this, and still get through, and that takes away [their] incentive to try,” social studies teacher Julie Caccamise said. With the automatic calculations in Aspen, students can not show up for an entire advisory and still receive a 61.10. The DCPS memo noted that “an ‘F’ is converted to a 61.10 and not a 63.99 as one would expect. If we were to use the latter, then a student could get all F’s, and a single D would be just enough to pull them over to passing the course.”
“We set students up for failure, if a student doesn’t know something and we just pass them along as if they do, we are just delaying the inevitable,” math teacher Joseph Herbert said. “A student should not be given a passing grade if they did not understand the material, especially if the next class builds upon prior knowledge. It’s something that is designed to create data to make adults look good so we can say ‘hey look our graduation rate is increasing’ but it’s ultimately hurting students.”
Some teachers are also concerned that the automatic calculation of final grades will weaken their control over the student’s final grade. “It takes away teacher discretion, teachers need to have discretion,” Herbert said. The Washington Teacher Union contract states teachers must have full control over the evaluation of the student, and their grade. “The primary responsibility for evaluating the work of the student shall rest with the Teacher.”
Aspen posted an announcement to their website today, February 8, stating, “The Chief of Schools has been made aware of the concerns regarding the final mark calculation.” A follow up announcement will be posted once a decision has been made.