There may be slight variations across different areas and different eras, but for the most part one would think that the grading systems that govern schoolshave some basic rules. Anyone out for top marks needs to score a ninety-one or above, while those who just want to pass should reach a threshold of sixty or seventy points. No matter the specifics, A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s, and F’s are the backbone of education - but if one California district’s changes become the norm, then it could make for a sweeping reform on report cards and beyond.

Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District - located in Sonoma County, California - has put its new grading scale into effect alongside other scoring reforms.

The core tenet is a system called the equal interval scale; in it, grades are organized according to twenty-point ranges. Making an A, for example, is possible as long as a student scores an eighty or above - territory that would have once belonged to a B-ranking. By extension, it’s only possible to get an F by scoring less than twenty points. That might take a considerable amount of effort, since the reforms have an extra stipulation: even if a student doesn’t turn in homework or take a test, the score can’t drop below fifty. It’s a system that can potentially reward those who don’t try more than those who try and fail.

Grading on a curve

Officials in Cotati-Rohnert Park’s district have explained that the equal interval scale represents what could become a standard across the United States.

By creating a system that increases the range of passing grades, the idea is that students will be able to catch up and excel - a stark improvement over the past system and the challenge of clawing towards a sixty or seventy. Though the district isn’t the only one to make the change - a high school in Santa Rosa has also implemented something similar - it remains to be seen how well the new system will work, and if it even sees widespread use.

The equal interval scale has a number of detractors, even at such an early stage. Teachers who have been a part of the educational system for decades have argued against it; even if the new scale has the best intentions and makes numerical comebacks possible, it could simply mean that the bar has been lowered. If no effort is required of students to pass - if they could be guaranteed a C despite not showing up or doing work - then the assumption is that students won’t feel a need to try, let alone try to make an A.

Even so, some teachers have seen students working despite the shift in scores; some have been less focused on grades and more on understanding material, which is a notable benefit.

Meetings have taken place to try and alter some of the new system’s terms, though there’s no guarantee that it will have an immediate effect. Notably, the equal interval scale went into effect without proper discussion with or notification of the teachers, which counts as a problem in its own right. It’s still a safe bet that everyone involved will do what they think is best for the students; the end goal is to strike a balance between supporting those students and giving them a chance to succeed.