School district scraps controversial grading algorithm after outcry

FEDERAL WAY -- Federal Way Public Schools voted Tuesday night to scrap the most controversial part of its new grading system.

The school board voted to change the system after a recommendation from the superintendent Tuesday night.

More than 80% of parents surveyed believed the new grading system was not an accurate representation of their child's work. Parents say the system was causing straight A students to fail in some cases.

An academic grade of a student comes down to a complicated equation.

“It doesn’t help having a grading system that you can’t explain to colleges, that colleges don’t even understand,” Todd Beamer High junior Nicholas Pierce said.

Students are graded on a 4 to 1 scale initially, instead of A’s or F’s and test scores are not averaged out.

“The school district is experimenting, but our students are going to suffer the consequences,” parent Jeff Odom said.

Kids are expected to meet specific standards but that is not the problem. Parents and students say the math used to reach the final score does not make sense.

“I have not heard of any single district that is applying it district-wide the way Federal Way School District is,” Odom said.

Instead of averages, end of year grades are measured by what’s called the “power law,” an algorithm that is supposed to measure progress throughout the year.

“It incentive-izes below-par performance in the beginning of the semester so that your trend shows you're exceeding in your academic success,” Odom said.

Odom is among the majority of Federal Way parents who are flabbergasted over the new grading policy. Tuesday, he and others packed a school board meeting, hoping the superintendent would turn off the power law for good.

“Students at our secondary level and high schools are stressed over this,” Superintendent Rob Neu said.

Neu told school board members exactly what so many parents have been fighting for.

The superintendent recommended the district kill the complex algorithm and use the traditional averaging system. It was a big victory for many.

“I’ve never seen so many C’s. The reason is not the equation but that you can’t have a mathematical equation define a student’s progress,” said one student.

“I want to tell Superintendent Neu that I am grateful for your recommendation of turning off the power law,” Odom said.

The power law will not be used for students in 6th to 12th grade.

Although letter grades are no longer the focus under the grading system, the numbers will translate to a letter grade for high school students for college purposes.

Some parents were willing to take Federal Way Public Schools to court if they had to, but after Tuesday’s vote those legal threats went away with the power law.