Lower standards flunk test

South Carolina public schools will change from a seven-point to 10-point grade scale.

State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman described last week’s decision to lower the grading scale for public high school students as “an exciting change.”

Certainly, it might be exciting to those 13,000 additional students who will automatically gain eligibility to lottery and athletic scholarships. But that doesn’t mean the shift will give students better educations in our state’s public schools.

Mrs. Spearman, the state Board of Education, and the football coaches at the University of South Carolina and Clemson University endorsed the idea as promoting fairness, particularly considering that Georgia and North Carolina each have a 10-point scale.

However, there’s no getting around the fact that a scale that changes a passing grade from 70 to 60 is diminishing an essential academic standard. This state has long used a seven-point grading scale.

The change also could cost the state another $14.5 million in lottery scholarships, and the Legislature still has the option of altering the standards to obtain those scholarships.

But House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, is pleased with the decision. “Any time we open opportunities for people to further their education, that’s what we need to be doing,” he told The Associated Press.

In contrast, Larry Kobrovsky, a former member of the state Board of Education and the Charleston County school board, described the move as “a disastrous day for our state.”

“In a few years they will be talking about how much better things are,” with the results of the new grading system, Mr. Kobrovsky said. “But they haven’t changed; they are just dumbing down the process.”

The new grading system actually should “level the playing field” for students, as Mrs. Spearman said, at least for some athletic scholarships, and in comparison with students in other states.

But it’s hard to understand how a decision to lower the grading system will help the state to maintain “high academic standards.”

More students will pass their grades and there will be higher GPAs.

Still, any system that effectively inflates grades can’t be persuasively sold as an academic improvement — even if it increases some students’ eligibility for scholarships.

Granted, the equity argument has practical merit.

But approving a diminished grading scale can only be read as a lowering of educational standards and expectations.