PORTSMOUTH School Board Chairman Patrick Ellis said members of the public don't often show up to speak at their meetings, but on Tuesday night, dozens of parents and students turned out to address the high school's grading system.

A recent online petition brought attention to the school's 7-point grading system, with parents expressing concern in regards to the system disadvantaging students when applying to colleges and for merit scholarships, as opposed to a 10-point system. Last week, school district officials, including Superintendent Stephen Zadravec, Assistant Superintendent George Shea, and PHS college counselor Shanyn Grenier, addressed the parents' concerns to the Portsmouth Herald. Grenier said in her work with college admissions officers, she has found no proof that PHS students are hurt by the current grading system.

A grading committee established by the Student Senate had been examining these issues for much of the year, Shea previously said.

During public comment Tuesday night, parents and students asked the School Board to launch a rigorous community conversation about the grading system, and requested it be formally addressed at a later meeting.

The 7-point scale, which designates a 93 to 100 percent as the A range, has been in place since 1978. A 69 percent or below is considered an F.

"Given the increased competition for colleges and skyrocketing teen anxiety, what is the justification for making it harder to get an A at Portsmouth than one of the neighboring schools, and easier to fail?" said Alison Forbes, a parent and private college consultant. She said she believed the 7-point scale "offers no benefit to our students."

"Some colleges have the resources to identify and adjust for grading scales, some simply do not," she said.

Parent Elizabeth Rakaseder said she thought the 7-point scale to be misleading, and changing it to a 10-point system would level the playing field.

"Imagine a child that consistently receives 70s and could now be a C student, instead of a D student," she said. "Or someone who is always getting 90s and now will see As instead of Bs. I have to believe the change to a 10-point system would raise self esteem, lessen anxiety and encourage students to work harder. Since there doesn't appear to be any compelling reason to keeping the status quo, why not move to a grading system that is in the norm nationwide and one that benefits all students?"

Of the top 12 ranked high schools in New Hampshire, according to U.S. News and World Report, Portsmouth High, at No. 12, is the only school that does not operate on a 10-point system. However, college admissions officers say schools have become accustomed to recalculating GPAs, as high schools around the country have varying systems.

Parent Jess Lozan, who started the online petition, urged the School Board, at the very least, in the interest of time, to change the presentation of transcripts to display a numerical grade rather than a letter grade.

"The problem I'm finding now as we look at colleges is on our transcripts, my child's grade says a B+, it doesn't say a 92," Lozan said. "So student B that we're going against to get admission, to get merit scholarships, they might look better on paper than my child does and they're actually the same."

"If someone could give me a reason, I think a lot of us would be open to why," she added. "There's no reason we're handicapping our kids as far as the college review."

Scott Marion of Rye, an SAU 50 representative to the School Board, was not in agreement, and cited his experience in educational measurement and evaluation, for which he has a PhD, as qualifying experience to contest the parents' claims.

"The harder challenge is trying to explain to people what they think is correct is either wrong, or much more complex than they understand," he said. "And we're dealing with this issue tonight." He said high schools around the country use a variety of grading scales, not just Portsmouth.

"The petition and the Herald article make it sound like there are only two scales, a 7-point and a 10-point," Marion said. "That's not the case."

PHS student Jake Macdonald, who serves as one of the chairs on the Student Senate grading committee, said the committee's findings were more in line with Marion's sentiments. He gave the example of "student Tommy." Tommy, he said, is in algebra class. Tommy doesn't pay attention, has behavioral problems and distracts the class. He receives a C, Macdonald said.

"He goes back to the same class the next year, with a 10-point scale, and gets the same grade on his test and gets a B," Macdonald said. "Did our school system help Tommy out, or did they fail to teach him a valuable lesson about education?"

Stephen Erickson said he has three sons who will eventually attend PHS, so his presence at Tuesday's meeting was to get a "presumptive, early" start on the issue.

"What if it was your child who couldn't get into a school because of some administrator somewhere who had eight minutes to look at a transcript and didn't know about Portsmouth's reputation," he said. "I would just urge you to take a very careful look at this."

"This is a very forward-thinking town and we should really be leading the charge as far as grading goes," added Steve Lozan. "If we leave money on the table, or they can't get into a school because somebody has a misunderstanding in the admissions office, that's crazy."

At the end of the approximately one hour of public comment, during which board members and school administrators do not speak, Ellis said the School Board "fully intends" to receive a report from the grading committee and expects the board will hold a broader discussion with parents at a future meeting.

"I anticipate there will be some outcomes from the discussion on what path we take from there," he said.

The next School Board meeting is scheduled for July 10 at 7 p.m.