A New Panther Policy

Principal Dr. Brandon Wolfe has instituted a new grading policy at the school in the hopes of modernizing the grading process—students are unsure of how to feel about it.

Academics are the core of students’ experiences at Potomac Falls, but the current system is far from perfect, so principal Dr. Brandon Wolfe has taken it into his own hands and has worked to implement a new system of grading students’ work.  He hopes that the policy changes will help students prepare for college, hone their study skills, and be graded fairly on what they know rather than the learning process.

Loudoun County Public Schools is moving towards a new approach to grading which reflects students’ mastery of content and not behaviors. Following a period of stakeholder feedback and review, the entire county will likely be adopting the same standards.

“The philosophy behind all the grading changes from the [new grading policy] was to grade kids based on what they know, not behavior,” said Wolfe.  His main change is to shift formative assignments from being worth 10 percent of the overall grade to being worth zero percent, so students will be graded on their knowledge rather than practice assignments. Other changes he has instated include a 50-floor and a much more lenient late policy.

“What the 50-floor means isn’t that you write your name on a paper, you turn it in, and you get a fifty on it—it’s if you’re making an effort, if you’re working through class,” said Wolfe.  “It prevents you from getting so mathematically behind in your grades that you can’t ever catch up.”

Although Wolfe’s hopes for the system are high, he understands that any substantial change takes time to set in and many students may not cooperate immediately.

“It’s going to take time, you know, there is going to be some kickback where students say, ‘Oh, that’s a formative; it’s not graded? I won’t do it’,” said Wolfe.  “But what our goal is is to build that intrinsic desire to know, and that learned behavior into students to start doing those things [studying more, working harder].”

Many students have mixed feelings about this new policy. “Personally, I feel that the grading policy that LCPS has implemented is good and bad,” said junior Congminh Tran.  “If I’m going to get a less than satisfactory grade, then it would drop my overall grade more.”

Students have not heard much about the grading policy, and although some try to be open-minded, many are skeptical.

“I’ve heard some [students] talk, but not a lot,” said Tran. “[Many students] say that it’s, for lack of a better term, stupid, because they feel that all their grades are gonna drop now.”

Tran knows that this policy may require some accommodations on the students’ part.  “I feel that [study groups] would help raise people’s grades a lot and give them another opportunity after school instead of at home with family matters, where they can’t receive help that they need in order to be successful,” said Tran.

Freshman Maggie Lum has similar feelings about the policy. “If you’re not doing that well on your tests, then it’s probably not going to be good for you,” she said.  Both she and Tran, however, agree that the new 50-floor and late policy are good for students.

Not all students are skeptical, however.  Junior Jena Salem plans to accept this change wholeheartedly.

“Personally, I think that it gives you more opportunities to get a good grade in your class because everything is summative,” said Salem.  “I think that the policy of being able to turn things in late is more useful because, for people with harder classes, it gives them more time to catch up and complete everything.”

Although she supports the change, Salem understands that any change takes time.

“I think that it’s going to make kids slack off more because they think that they don’t have to do [formative work], but really, it’s a good tool to practice,” she said.  “I don’t think a lot of people will realize that.”

Teachers and students alike are working with this new policy as well as they can; Wolfe is doing his all to make sure the teachers are on the same page.  As well as giving the teachers a book study on “Elements of Grading”, a book that reflects his view on the subject, and passing out instructions for the new policy, he created a committee of teachers with the goal of making this change an integral part of Potomac Falls life.

“I do plan on continuing the committee to make sure that we’re continuing this discussion and not just doing it just to do it,” said Wolfe.  “They’ll meet either monthly or quarterly, just to talk about different problems that are coming up.”

Any student will admit that the old grading system is flawed.  Many find the 100-point scale borderline cruel and the late policies harsh.  With Wolfe’s leadership, the Potomac Falls administration hopes to revolutionize students’ academic experience, one change at a time.