The definition of a “D” is changing at Powell High School.
When students resume classes in August, they will be graded under a new scale for D’s and F’s. For years, a grade of 65 to 69 percent meant a D, “which is a pretty short window,” PHS Principal Jim Kuhn said during a recent presentation to the school board.
The new grading scale will widen the window to 60 to 69 for a D, while a score of 59 or lower will result in a F.
The school’s scale remains the same for A’s (90 to 100), B’s (80 to 89) and C’s (70 to 79).
The change to D’s and F’s comes after a couple years of discussion at PHS, Kuhn told the Park County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees. The board approved the new grading scale last month.
In their research, PHS staff looked at how other schools in Wyoming were grading their students.
“The thing we found was that the majority of the schools we looked at were using the 60-69, 70-79, on up the ladder,” Kuhn said.
So, a student with a 64 percent would pass with a D in Sheridan, Casper or Cody, but fail in Powell and be forced to re-take the class, he said.
“We thought that maybe it would be more fair to our students to put them on a more even playing field with other schools and other graduates, if we would change our grading scale,” Kuhn said.
It’s been over a decade since PHS modified its grading system. In those years, standards and expectations for students have become more rigorous.
“We also looked at, really, how much more we’re asking students to do today — the increase in math requirements, science requirements for the Hathaway [Scholarship], and all of those things, the fewer electives we have,” Kuhn said.
The State of Wyoming is pushing higher standards at all grade levels, he noted.
“We feel our kids are getting a pretty rigorous workout at the high school level, and to get a 60 percent today might be the equivalent of getting a 68 or 69 percent eight, nine, 10 years ago,” Kuhn said.
The graduation rate also was part of the discussion, he said. Overall, PHS had a graduation rate of 88.7 percent in 2015-16, compared to the statewide rate of 80 percent, according to the Wyoming Department of Education.
“We know the impact of not being able to get a high school diploma affects a student for the rest of their life,” Kuhn said.
Kuhn said PHS staff looked at the long-range impact of failing a class, especially at the freshman and sophomore level, and how it increases the drop-out rate.
The new scale gives PHS an opportunity to see if “we can make a difference in a few more kids, give them a chance to mature maybe a little bit more at the freshman, sophomore level, so they can continue to take electives in our CTE (career and technical education) programs that for a lot of our students will be their career,” Kuhn said.
In previous semesters, the new grading scale would have impacted about 25 to 30 percent of classes that were failed at PHS.
If PHS had considered a 60-64 a D last fall, 29 more classes would have been passed out of the 111 that were failed. In the spring 2016 semester, 27 more classes would have been passed out of 82 that were failed, Kuhn said.
By modifying the grading scale, it’s not like “anyone who walks through the doors is going to get a diploma,” he said.
“You still have students who basically refuse to try,” Kuhn said.
For students who are struggling, PHS has many things in place to help, he said, such as tutorial programs, before-school and after-school programs and staff working with students in the classroom to help them move forward.
School board member Tracy Morris said that, as a parent, she has appreciated the ways PHS helps and works with students.
Board members also said they thought it made sense for schools around Wyoming to be on the same grading scale.
“Not that I would want to ask the state to mandate anything more, but we’re all taking the same statewide tests, we’re all geared toward the Hathaway Scholarship plan. This is something else that should be statewide then, that ... every kid is on the same grading scale in the state, too,” said Greg Borcher, school board chairman.