Last year, concerns about grade changing surfaced at a small San Diego school called the Met. Students there can improve grades they earned earlier by doing additional work.
But school district internal auditors argued that the alternative school located on the Mesa College campus couldn’t alter grades given by other school districts.
Beyond the investigation over changed grades, I got interested in the bigger picture: What were grades like at the Met? How did its different approach to grading shape the marks that students got?
So I decided to analyze how grades and test scores at the Met compared to other local schools. I asked San Diego Unified for data on grade point averages for all local high schools and compared it with readily available test scores. Here were some of my key findings:
- The Met has a higher percentage of students in grades 10-12 who received a B average or higher than any other San Diego Unified high school. It also has the lowest percentage of students receiving less than a C average.
- Grades at the Met are better than schools with similar or slightly better state test scores. For instance, Serra High got slightly higher scores than the Met last year, yet only 41 percent of its students in grades 10 to 12 had a B average or better, compared to 73 percent at the Met.
- The Met has lower state test, SAT and ACT scores than other high schools where lots of students got good grades. For example, only 14 percent of Met students who took the SAT got a 1500 or better out of a possible 2400. At the San Diego High School of International Studies, 55 percent of test takers did that well, but their grades were lower than the Met.
- The Met has unusually high participation rates in the SAT and ACT, which could dilute its scores and skew the results. But even when the Met is compared to other schools with high grades and high rates of students taking the SAT or ACT, its scores are relatively low.
- The Met scores extraordinarily well on the high school exit exam in math compared to similar schools and to schools with high grades, something that Area Superintendent Mike Price, who oversees the school, chalked up to extra attention to math. The exam is tied to sixth and seventh grade math and Algebra I.
As my article about the grading gap at the Met explains, there could be lots of reasons why grades at higher at the Met than at similar schools. It might not be a bad thing — just a sign that grading works differently at the Met.
But it points to a larger issue: No one knows what grades really mean.
Our analysis of Met grades and scores had some shortcomings: The state tests span from ninth to eleventh grade, while the GPAs we analyzed were from tenth to twelfth. We couldn’t compare grades and test scores for individual kids. High school GPAs also include subjects that aren’t on state tests.
Some of the test results are slightly out of date because the most recent results aren’t available. And the Met is very small, which means it is vulnerable to big changes in scores or grades if just a few kids slip up. But the biggest issue in analyzing this data is just trying to decipher what grades mean, since they can mean just about anything. Different teachers and different schools have different grading.
While I focused specifically on the Met in this article, I’m interested in exploring the issue of grading more. Spot something interesting in this data that I should explore? Please let me know.
You can also read our full analysis, which also includes other measures of school success, such as how graduates who went to San Diego State University performed on college readiness exams, here.