Grading, the Gazette way

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UPDATE, 1:00 p.m., Friday: Well, it took almost a week, but Daniel Chacón has agreed that his reinterpretation of Penny Culbreth-Graft's "grade" on her performance review is inaccurate.

May we suggest that next time, the Gazette consider the possibility that the "average reader" may be smart enough to understand how a three-point scale works?

——-

UPDATE, 7:30 p.m., Tuesday: Gazette editor Jeff Thomas wrote me an e-mail last night, explaining that once he got a chance to talk with Daniel Chacón, he would comment about Chacón's blog post. But so far, no word, and no change on the G's site.

——- What follows was posted on the afternoon of Monday, March 29. ——-

"Outgoing city manager got a C- in performance evaluation."

The headline over Daniel Chacón's blog post Friday would have you believe that all the business you heard about Penny Culbreth-Graft scoring well in her annual performance review last week was pure BS. As would Chacón’s breathless opening lines:

"Four days before announcing her resignation, City Manager Penelope Culbreth-Graft walked out of her performance evaluation with City Council members in good spirits. Was it a facade?"

Here's Chacón's big, uh, scoop: According to her annual review documents, Culbreth-Graft scored a 2.12 on a 3-point scale. Because 2.12 represents 71 percent of the highest grade possible, it would follow that she "scored" a 71.

And as anyone who's ever worried about passing geometry knows, 71 is totally C-minus territory. Below average. Seven points away from outright failure.

Except ...

"There’s no way you could interpolate that on a 1-to-100 grading system," says Vice Mayor Larry Small. "It takes a little more thought and consideration than that."

As long as it looks good, who cares about whether its right or not?
  • As long as it looks good, who cares?

As Small points out, on the city's review forms, 1 is considered "needs improvement"; a 2 is "meets expectations"; and a 3 is "exceeds expectations." So despite Chacón's grading scale (which the reporter himself later labeled as "up for debate"), it appears Culbreth-Graft actually scored higher than the "expectation" for someone in her position.

While Small says it's "totally inappropriate to try to use [Chacón's] methodology," he also notes the Gazette has been down this road before.

In March 2007, Pam Zubeck (now the Indy's senior reporter) wrote a piece on Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte having earned a score of 3.66 on a performance review that used a 5-point scale. Working with editors there, she OK'd classifying Forte's score as a C — and all hell broke loose. Apparently upon hearing complaints from city leaders who felt that the comparison was unfair, Gazette editor Jeff Thomas wrote what I remember as a long-winded retraction, saying it was wrong for a reporter to interpret the numbers that way. (I'd link to the retraction, but it doesn't seem to exist online — even though the original piece does, without any corrections made.)

We e-mailed Thomas on Friday night to get his take, but have yet to hear back.

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