Second Kansas City-area school district lowers bar for grades; new bottom is 50%, ‘any effort’ earns 60%

Students in a Kansas City-area school district who do no work could end a course with 50% on their record, and with “any effort” receive a minimum of 60%.

That’s according to North Kansas…

Students in a Kansas City-area school district who do no work could end a course with 50% on their record, and with “any effort” receive a minimum of 60%.

That’s according to North Kansas City School District presentation slides and resources provided to The Lion by a district employee who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

According to the slides from this year, at Maple Park Middle School grades are based on a 4-point scale, with a perfect grade of 100% being a 4, a 3 being 90%, and a 2 being 70%. 

“If a student shows any effort the lowest grade they can receive is a 1 = 60%,” one slide reads. 

Another district school, Northgate Middle School, implemented a similar policy, with “all assignments carrying equal weight” on a 4-point scale, according to a grading policy document shared with The Lion. However, a grading scale shown in a screenshot of a staff portal page for the same school appears to show a student could earn as little as 12.45% to score a D and still pass a class.

It’s unclear whether various schools in the district are allowed or encouraged to use varying grading scales. A message to the district seeking clarification went unanswered by time of publication. 

What is clear is examples from both middle schools similarly reveal students can do very little work to pass a class. 

In its 2022-27 Strategic Plan, the district commits to “cultivating relevant learning opportunities that commit to high expectations, respond to student needs, and focus on life-ready skills.” The Lion also asked the district how its grading policies help serve this stated plan. 

The Northgate grading policy document does contain a “Goal Statement.” 

“At Northgate Middle School, we ensure student academic progress is clearly communicated through an equitable proficiency scale as opposed to a traditional points-based system,” it reads. 

Equitable grading strategies often assume traditional merit-based grading systems are inherently racist or otherwise unfair. 

Is the new system working? 

Not really, according to a second district employee who spoke with The Lion on condition of anonymity. 

That employee says students have already learned to take advantage of the grading system. For example, to get a C in a class, students only need to do about 20% of the work, the employee said, adding that the whole system is “broken,” with classes “impossible to flunk.”  

“This affects everything from grading to classroom management,” the source told The Lion. 

The grading policy also potentially affects graduation rates and student participation in extracurricular activities, which are usually dependent upon grades. 

For example, the Maple Park Student Handbook states that students who wish to participate in athletics “must not have failed more than two classes the previous semester.” But based on the grading policies, it appears a student could fail two courses and receive barely passing grades of 60% in the others, and still be eligible to play sports. 

North Kansas Schools isn’t the only area district to lower the proverbial bar. Nearby Kansas City Public Schools recently changed its grading policy to make 40% the lowest possible grade, as reported by The Lion

“Students will not receive a grade lower than 40% on attempted or missing assignments, assessments and activities,” reads a KCPS PowerPoint obtained by The Lion. “This adjustment will prevent students from having grade percentages that are so low, students are unable to improve their overall grade.” 

Both districts have been struggling with poor academic outcomes of students in recent years. According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, only 43% of North Kansas City students are proficient in math; 48% are proficient in English Language Arts; and 39% are proficient in science.  

KCPS is even worse, with only 24% of its students proficient in English Language Arts; only 19% proficient in math; and only 20% proficient in science.