NEWS- Moran's plan: Supe stops alleged 'dumbing down'

In November, some Albemarle parents were blasting a sweeping series of changes in the high schools– including converting Fs to "incompletes" and removing the traditional bonus point for Advanced Placement courses– as "dumbing down" the curriculum.

At the time, the head of the committee proposing the changes, the County's director of curriculum and instruction Don Vale, promised, "I will take your feedback to the superintendent [Pamela Moran] as she prepares to make her recommendations to the school board." 

It now seems that Moran heard the criticism loud and clear.

The changes Moran is set to present in her proposal to the county school board Thursday, February 8 will not include elimination of weighted grades for AP classes or the F-as-incomplete mandate. And of the other major changes recommended by the committee which will go before the board, Moran only endorses going from a 7-point to a 10-point grading scale (100-90 is an A, 89-80 is a B, etc.) and allowing students in standard, academic, and advanced levels to substitute their Standards of Learning exam score for a final exam grade.

"With these recommendations," Moran says, "we've done nothing to disadvantage our kids, and we've done everything to prepare them for the next chapter of their lives, be that a trade, college, or a highly selective college."

The recommendation of Vale's committee to quash weighted grades ran into more than community opposition: it violated a State Board of Education regulation requiring all public schools to weight AP classes. 

Moran decided to go a step further and weigh equally AP, honors, and so-called "dual enrollment" classes a student might take at UVA or PVCC, while at the same time eliminating weight attached to classes below honors level.

"It made sense to weight honors-level courses and not beyond that," says Moran, "because we talked to deans of admission at Harvard, at UVA, at William & Mary, at JMU, and they all said that they see honors and AP being the most rigorous course load, and they don't attach any value to weighting [any classes below that]."

But the furor over the F-as-incomplete proposal proved even more controversial. Critics said students would take advantage of the system– also known as "mastery learning"– knowing that any failing grade would not ultimately count against them. Moran says she supports the principle of mastery learning.

"Failure is not an option," says Moran. "If learning, not teaching, is the goal, we as educators have a responsibility to make sure students learn to a certain standard. So if you're at a D level in Algebra I, Geometry isn't going to look much better. It doesn't make sense to promote a student with a D."

Moran, who assumed the leadership of County schools just over a year ago, says she hopes eventually to institute a countywide mastery learning system, but at this point she says, "I'm not going to implement that as a one-size-fits-all model."

Vale did not return calls, and none of the county's three high school principals were available for comment. But Pam Hufnagel, a Western Albemarle parent who was both a member of the Program of Studies committee and a vocal critic of its recommendations, says her concerns have been addressed.

"Moran and company have learned a lesson in openness of communication," Hufnagel says. "To get true input from the community you have to get people engaged. When they finally homed in and listened to parents, students and faculty, Moran became the white knight full of common sense."

While she may not arrive on a steed, she will present her recommendations– along with those of the POS committee– to the School Board February 8 at 6:30pm in the County Office Building's freshly renovated Lane Auditorium. A vote on the proposals is set for February 22 at 5:30pm.

Albemarle schools superintendent Pamela Moran chose not to recommend a countywide mandate to implement so-called "mastery learning."

Albemarle director of curriculum and instruction Don Vale, who was not available for comment, chaired the committee that originally proposed dropping weighted grades and mandating all failing grades be considered "incomplete."