Kansas City Public Schools sets lowest grading level at 40%, no longer allowing ‘zeroes’ – even when no work is turned in

(The Lion) — Zeroes are no longer allowed to be given to students in Kansas City Public Schools. The lowest score possible now is 40%, even if the student never completes or turns in assigned work.

The momentous change for the 2023-24 academic year has been made to the Missouri school district’s grading policy without much, if any, public fanfare. The new policy was explained to KCPS staff in a PowerPoint presentation sent out the week of Aug. 7 under the heading “Grading Categories: Student Engagement, Student Progress and Student Proficiency.”

The goal seems to be to keep underperforming students’ grades artificially higher so improvements aren’t so daunting and students aren’t demoralized.

“Students will not receive a grade lower than 40% on attempted or missing assignments, assessments and activities,” the PowerPoint obtained by The Lion reads. “This adjustment will prevent students from having grade percentages that are so low, students are unable to improve their overall grade.”

Screenshot of a district PowerPoint slide obtained by The Lion.

The district also has adjusted its grading scale to correspond with the new 40% floor. The new scale changes from one where an “F = Lower than 60%” to one where an “F = 40% to 59%.”

To further clarify the new policy, the district provides the following examples – including “If a student scores 18% on the assignment, student will receive a 40%.”:

Screenshot of a district PowerPoint slide obtained by The Lion.
Screenshot of a district PowerPoint slide obtained by The Lion.

A KCPS employee, who spoke to The Lion on condition of anonymity because of not being authorized to make statements to the press, said KCPS told staff the new policy was instituted to address a lack of effort by students.

However, the employee feels students should receive the grade they actually earn, and anything else is doing them a disservice.

“Students just weren’t doing the work,” the employee told The Lion. “The district believes giving them ‘zeroes’ would be deflating. I feel they should get the grade they earn based on their merit. If they don’t do the work, they shouldn’t get the credit.

“We’re not teaching them true work ethic that translates to the real world if we’re telling them it’s OK to not turn in your work – or if they turn it in late and then still get to pass either way. In the real world, that wouldn’t fly. You’d lose your job!”

While it’s possible the new policy may simply be an effort to help prop up struggling students as the district claims, the employee suspects there may be an ulterior motive behind the change.

“I can’t confirm it, but it looks like this may also be an attempt to pad district grades – especially given the district’s past struggles with regaining, and now maintaining, accreditation.”

The district’s April 2023 scorecard seems to add credibility to the employee’s suspicions. According to the district’s own data, only 24.3% of its students are proficient in English Language Arts; only 18.7% are proficient in math; and only 19.9% are proficient in science.

Those figures are 19%, 20.5% and 17.8% below the statewide averages, respectively.

The district also acknowledges the vast majority of its students aren’t college-ready: Of those who take the ACT, a common aptitude test for students wanting to enroll in college, only 28.7% score an 18 or higher, which is 12.3% below the statewide average. A score of 18 is the minimum requirement to be accepted to most public colleges and universities.

With the change, KCPS becomes the latest district to join the ominous nationwide trend of lowering grading standards to help underperforming students and schools, despite evidence that doing so may actually hamper students.

The Lion reached out to KCPS for comment.

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