Happy New Year and my favorite blogs

In an attempt to start the New Year off right, a tip o’ the keyboard to some of my fellow bloggers whose musings I read on a very semi-regular basis.

Admissions Blogs
While I realize it’s hard to imagine any other admissions blog being worth your time, there are two I scan periodically. Scott White is a high school counselor and does a superior job researching issues. Jon Boeckensetdt is Associate Vice President at DePaul University and generally offers some of the most reasonable and well written insight on the whole field of admissions.
Scott White’s World and
Jon’s Insights.

I’m often asked for financial aid information and do the best I can, but have to defer to the guru, Mark Kantrowitz. Mark is an engineer by training and brings that outlook to the often convoluted and confusing aid discussion. We both post regularly on admissions.com, which I’ve found the best place to read his latest insights.

Broader Education
Michael Alison Chandler writes for the Washington Post and has a terrific blog. She’s been spending a year reliving high school math – for any of you that want sympathy (or parents who need to empathize) it’s a great column.

Being the D.C. area I’m a bit of a poltical junkie, and I think Chuck Todd, recently named as White House Correspondent for NBC, to be one of the most straightforward and insightful media figures. Also one of my best friends, but that may be one of his few lapses in judgment. His stuff on the election is here and his newer stuff is there.

Higher Education Policy and Marketing
You’d think these would be different topics, but in the admissions field they all get jumbled together. On the marketing side, Ypulse, led by youth media expert Anastasia Goodstein, is great reading – especially if you want the latest on how Disney will leverage the “Jo Bros” new show, and what you should call “Twilight” fanatics (that would be, “twihards”). If you prefer a more academic analysis of the fields, Tom Mortensen is a well known researcher that has a great feel for what the majors issues are in the field and writes for Postsecondary Opportunity. Elizabeth Scarborough is one of the most brilliant researchers and consultants I’ve met, and does a great job giving colleges advice – so if you want to know what they’re hearing, check out her blog.

Other stuff
Since I have a six year old, my e-mail box is often filled with Spam offering me opportunities to spend money carefully disguised as parenting advice. In the midst of all the junk I stumbled on (not StumbledUpon) a website by a mom that I actually enjoy, and I’ve yet to see an ad!

One of the weirdest connections that has evolved in my work for Mason has been getting to know movie and television producer, writer, director Marshall Herskovitz. Along with trying to save the environment and remake maybe my favorite movie of all time (more on that when he tells the world) he also created the most successful internet TV show to date, and established it alongside an online community designed to support creative and artistic endeavors. Most amazing – if you join and post on his page, he will actually wrte you back! He was the keynote speaker at our summer arts festival here at Mason, where I found the in person Marshall to be even more fascinating than the online version.

A challenging part of working someplace like Mason is the realization that, despite my enormous ego, I’m usually surrounded by people who are WAY smarter than I can ever hope to be. One of my favorite examples is Jim Olds, director of the Krasnow Institute and one of the world’s leading neuroscientists.

OK, enough complimenting other people. Now that it’s out of my system, back to my usual sarcasm and shameless plugs (be sure to check out Mason Metro and don’t miss our January 15 freshman application deadline!!!). Be seeing you, and Happy New Year.


7 Responses

  1. Okay Dean Flagel…

    It’s time for you to examine the research evidence and share your expert opinion on the FCPS Grading Policy Report. I just spent 8 months assisting Asst Supt Patrick Murphy and FCPS staff researching high school grading policies and college admissions. As a former Georgetown Admissions Officer (just saw Charlie in December!) I am well aware of the MANY factors that go into the admissions process. That said, you and I both know as professionals that weaker grades make for a weaker applicant.

    When a FCPS student gets a C+ for an 83 and but a candidate from an equally strong high school, like Arlington, gets a B for an 83, there is a competitive disadvantage for the FCPS student. Imagine a transcript full of potentially lower grades for the same level of achievement.

    I am sharing with you the top 9 facts pulled directly from the FCPS Research Report. There are many more research finding cited within the 120 page report. Regrettably, Jack Dale is disregarding the data imbedded in his own staff report and recommending that FCPS keep the existing 6/10 Hybrid Scale. FCPS parents have been battling this antiquated grading scale since 1978!

    I encourage you to LOOK at the GPA comparisons within the report. It does show that FCPS GPAs are depressed compared to comparable non-FCPS schools, but converting to the 10 Point scale along with a modest increase in weights for advanced courses would bring FCPS GPAs to the same level as these non-FCPS schools, but not to an inflated level.

    Here are the FACTS from the FCPS Report:
    1. High School Letter Grades are the most important factor in college admissions (National Association of College Admissions Counselors 2007, COLLEGE BOARD-Rigol 2003, FCPS 2008 College Survey)

    2. 55% of colleges surveyed by FCPS responded that they do NOT recalculate the GPA, so FCPS students are forced to compete with LOWER GRADES and LOWER GPAs for college admissions.

    3. 89% of colleges surveyed by FCPS responded that each individual applicant is compared against the ENTIRE applicant pool, and not simply their high school.

    4. 75 school districts in 12 different states examined this very issue and determined that ADOPTING the 10 Point Scale would BETTER serve their students and would remove any competitive disadvantage for their students’ applying to college. [Many Superintendents have spoken publicly of the need to remove this disadvantage, including Albemarle County, VA]

    5. The 10 Point Scale is the most common high school grading scale. (FCPS 2008 College Survey)
    6. FCPS’ unweighted A- GPAs are “depressed”, with 100-200% FEWER 2008 FCPS students earning this GPA than comparable non-FCPS students.

    7. Converting to the 10 Point Scale would bring these unweighted A- GPAs to the same level of comparable non-FCPS high schools, and NO GRADE INFLATION would occur.

    8. All of the above empirical evidence demonstrates that the current grading scale DOES create a disadvantage for FCPS students.

    9. There is NO empirical evidence that demonstrates that the current grading scale is BETTER for all FCPS students.
    I look forward to your observations…even if they are laced with sarcastic wit!

    Megan McLaughlin

    • Megan –
      I received the report yesterday and am attending a meeting today on the topic. I have to admit I’m a bit baffled as to the recommendation when compared to the data in the report. For a variety of reasons we’ve discussed I think the data is a bit misleading as to impact, but I think your final point is the strongest – while there seems to be ample reason to believe the 10 point scale offers some advantages, I don’t see anything in the data to recommend the current scale. I’ll report back when I’ve heard from Superintendent Dale and company.

  2. I have posted this many times and will again-if a grade scale change is implemented just how would it be done? One of the issues I am concerned with is the unfairness to the students who have already achieved the higher grades under the stricter grade scale. No one seems to be able to/want to address this.

  3. Your concerns are valid, but let me share with you some of the statistical realities. Less than 1% of 2007 FCPS graduates earned an unweighted 4.00/straight As. This translated to just 82 students countywide, from 25 high schools including TJHS Magnet. Furthermore, only 10% had earned unweighted GPAs of 3.75 countywide, versus 20-30% at comparably competitive non-FCPS high schools. That is statistically a 200-300% differential.

    So when you ask about the “already” high achieving students, bear in mind that 90-99% of FCPS students don’t fall into that category.

    To answer your genuine concern, FAIRGRADE strongly recommends a 10 Point Scale with pluses/minuses to help provide further distinction among the letter grades and student achievement.

    This also helps with the GPA points assigned, so that an A (100-97) may get either 4.3 or an A (100-94) gets 4.00, A- (92-90) gets 3.67, 89-87=B+, 3.33, B=86-83, 3.00, etc. Thus, there is both letter grade and GPA distinction to further define the student’s individual achievement in a particular course. This is how MOST colleges as well as high schools provide Grades and GPA points.

    FCPS students deserve a grading scale that reflects the common standard used by the majority of high schools in the US. Society functions and communicates by use of “standard language” and “standard measures”.

    While the outstanding academic achievement of FCPS students is accurately reflected by stellar SAT scores,(a national measure), our current grading scale fails to effectively communicate this same population of student’s outstanding achievement in the classroom.

    There is a strong benefit for FCPS to use the “standard” grading scale used by the Federal Government in its Dept of Education, College Board, and the majority of US public high schools, particularly when student grades for college admissions and/or job opportunites are being reviewed.

    Using a non-standard scale requires the college admissions officer and/or employer to the difference between FCPS grades and the national norm, and this simply doesn’t happen in most cases. Thus “An A is an A is an A ” is the default analysis when comparing 2 students from similarly competitive high schools even though 2 different grading scales were used.

    I hope this answer was helpful to you.

  4. You might enjoy this.


  5. Megan,
    Thank you, I found your post very helpful. One of my issues is that I live in Loudoun County where a parent group (“Fairgrade Loudoun” ) is also fighting to change our current grade scale. The Loudoun group is proposing a 10 point scale with no plus or minus grades,which does disadvantage the students who have already earned the higher grades. I could possibly support your system (as explained above). I do have some concerns about the weighting of “honors” classes. Since so many students take honors, it seems as if that is a waste. Also, how are honors classes defined? If, for example, Algebra 1 is a 9th grade class (non-honors), does it count as an honors class if taken by an 8th( 7th or 6th) grader? What about classes taken at T.J. (or Loudoun Academy of Science)? What about upper level ( 4th year ) foreign languages, or pre calculus? Defining an honors class could go on and on…
    Also, I know that some parents want the change (if made) to be applied retroactively. I can’t see how this is possible, as the student worked for and the teacher graded to the scale in place at the time. Again, this would be to the disadvantage of the highest performing students. (maybe they are few in number, but as a parent of two of them, I can not support a proposal that will penalize my children for earning higher grades in the first place!).

  6. To answer your questions about weighting for honors courses and what criteria must be met to receive weights, the VA Dept of Ed provides regulations for determining what courses may count for honors/honors weights.

    As for “retroactively converting prior grades” if a new scale is adopted, Fairgrade has learned during the course of its research that this is a very complicated issue, due to teacher domain over the issuance of grades. In order to respect the teacher’s discretion, Fairgrade has not lobbied for retroactive grades. (my father was a former HS teacher!)

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