On Monday, January 27, 2020 the Board of Education voted to approve the 2020-2021 Program of Studies which includes an increase in the number of courses that will provide students with college credit, a music technology course and a horticulture class. During the meeting, the Board also approved administration’s recommendation to change the passing average from 70 to 65.
The decision to change the passing average was made after considering many factors. Prior to making the recommendation to change our passing average, district administrators reviewed information from other towns who are a part of our District Reference Group (DRG). There are 24 districts in our DRG. Of those districts, 20 have 60 as their passing average, two have 65 and one uses letter grades. Watertown is the only district with 70 as its passing average. We also considered passing averages in high schools that are close to us geographically. Litchfield’s passing average is 60, and Pomperaug, Nonnewaug and Wolcott have 65 as their passing average. Naugatuck is the only other high school that requires a 70 or above to pass. Because of this misalignment in passing expectations, Watertown High School students could be earning fewer credits than their counterparts in neighboring districts despite identical performance.
Beginning with the graduating class of 2023, the number of credits required by the State of CT to graduate increased from 21 to 25. In Watertown, students are required to have 26 credits to earn a diploma. With the increased credit requirement, failing one class makes it more difficult to get to 26 as readily. Administrators and Board members carefully considered the impact of the passing average change on non-college bound students who are planning to enter the workforce or military after high school and are required to earn a high school diploma or GED. Changing the passing average will require fewer students to pay for summer school or stay for a 5th year of high school. An earned high school diploma expands opportunities for students to contribute to the community as a whole.
Administrators and Board members also carefully considered the impact of the change on college bound students and reviewed grading recommendations from the College Board. According to the College Board, the organization that develops and administers standardized tests and curricula used by K-12 and post-secondary institutions to promote college readiness, 65 should be considered a passing average when calculating GPA to a 4.0 scale. We also consulted UConn’s new 2019-2020 grading policy that must be used for students taking Early College Experience (ECE) classes and earning college credit while in high school. Our shift to 65 as a passing average puts us in better alignment with the standards and expectations that students will have in their post-graduate studies.
As we shift to this new grading policy next year, we will be sure to maintain and increase the level of rigor expected of our students while also supporting students who are struggling academically. Changing the passing average does not reflect a change in the quality of work expected by our teachers, administrators or Board; rather it reflects our efforts to ensure our students remain competitive with peers across our state.