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Some NC Grads Want Letter Grades, But State Board Says It's Too Late To Change

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You won't see many traditional graduation ceremonies in North Carolina this spring.

The North Carolina Board of Education voted Thursday to stick with the state’s special pass-withdraw grading system for seniors. Some board members argued for an option that would let seniors boost their grade-point average.

When the board approved a pass-withdraw grading system for graduating seniors in March, officials said they were trying to quickly create a system that wouldn’t keep anyone from graduating because of the COVID-19 shutdown.

In April the board approved a more complicated system for other high school students  – one that lets students choose between a pass-withdraw grade that doesn’t affect their grade-point average or a traditional grade that does.

After that, officials say they started hearing from students, parents and teachers who wanted seniors to have the same option.

"There are seniors and parents of seniors all over Union County that want the choice that their classmates are getting," says Melissa Merrell, chair of the Union County school board and the mother of a senior. She emailed the board to ask for a traditional grade option for seniors.

Merrell said that would give top students a fair shot at being named valedictorian or salutatorian. And she said that while many had already been accepted into college, others are on waiting lists for competitive universities where a higher GPA might help.

State Board Member Olivia Oxendine agreed. To a college admission officer, she says, "A B matters. An A matters more. A P (for pass) does not."

Board member Amy White said she voted for the pass-withdraw system but now believes that was a mistake. She said it’s likely to be mostly a few top students who want to pursue grades for spring semester.

"The cohort of students who deserve this choice are the very ones who know that hard work matters. They know that recognition matters," White said.

But other board members and staff said the state has already worked out the pass-withdraw system with superintendents and college admission officers.

Deputy Superintendent David Stegall said superintendents have said they want to stick with a system where "class rank, Latin honors, valedictorian and salutatorian determinations would be based upon grades through the first semester of the senior year."

The vote was 8-3 to stick with the pass-withdraw system.

"This issue comes down to timing, and it's just too late in the game to make changes," said Patrick Miller, superintendent of Greene County Schools and an advisor to the board.

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