MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. -- Some Charlotte Mecklenburg schools are trying out a new grading policy which has sparked controversy and yanked at least one teacher from the classroom.

The new grading policy replaces failing scores of zero with a minimum score of 50.

Supporters of the change, including some administrators and principals, say it rewards effort and encourages improvement among students who might be sunk by one bad test.

Opponents, including some teachers parents and students, say it inflates grades, and pumps up graduation rates. They feel the new grading policy rewards slackers.

Mallard Creek High School outlined the change in the school newsletter last month, writing This quarter we are eliminating zeros.... 50 should be the lowest F grade given and distinguish or recognize student effort/growth above this.

Even now students just say, I ll take my 50, said sophomore Alex Perini, who objects to the change saying it undermines her hard work in honors classes by inflating grades.

You shouldn t reward failure with giving a grade for pass, said her mother Julie Perini. You either pass or fail. Life is: there s winners. There s losers.

But Mallard Creek principal Nancy Brightwell says the policy clearly spells out that teachers are to continue to give out zeros when there s no effort.

So this does not turn children who are not coming to school, not performing, not doing the work into high school graduates.

Schools are under pressure to improve graduation rates, but Brightwell says that s not the underlying reason for the grading change. It does not impact graduation rates, she said. Yes graduation is important to us; but our business is educating every child and insuring that every child that walks across that stage is truly ready.

One Mallard Creek teacher wrote an open letter to parents protesting the policy.

We are now teaching the lesson that refusal to do work receives 50% credit.

The teacher refused to follow the policy and the district pulled him from the classroom, upsetting some of his students like Alex Perini.

They re trying to get rid of the only person who is standing up for us.

Judy Kidd of the Classroom Teachers Association, accuses CMS of furthering social promotion moving students up through the grades by age rather than demonstrated learning.

It s one more step toward the dummying of America, Kidd said in a telephone interview. If (students) so much as put their name on the paper -- that is considered effort.

CMS board chair Mary McCray said the board is reviewing grading and the policy is evolving. It is to not penalize kids, she said. It s looking at the value attached for effort.

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