Sunday, November 22, 2009

Proposal would end minimum grade of 50 on Dallas school report cards

By DIANE RADO / The Dallas Morning News
November 5, 2009

In the latest flap over grades, Dallas school officials are proposing that teachers no longer be required to give students a grade of at least 50 on report cards. But teachers still could use their discretion to give higher grades than students actually earned.

The proposal sparked confusion and concern Thursday as some school board members questioned whether it could violate a new state law on grades and create uneven grading practices across the district.

Trustee Carla Ranger said the proposal "exhibits an attitude of defiance" of the new law.

And trustee Lew Blackburn said, "We could have 225 different grading guidelines" across schools.

No decisions on the proposal were made Thursday. A vote could happen as early as the Nov. 19 board meeting.

The controversial grading law states that district policies "must require a classroom teacher to assign a grade that reflects the student's relative mastery of an assignment."

In addition, a district "may not require a classroom teacher to assign a minimum grade for an assignment without regard to the student's quality of work."

Dallas clashed with the state in interpreting the law, saying it referred to grades on assignments and not report cards. The district refused to change its policy of requiring a numerical grade of at least 50 on six-week report cards.

But an interpretation by the Texas Education Agency on Oct. 16 stressed that the law does apply to report cards.

As a result, Dallas administrators proposed a policy that would not force teachers to give minimum grades. "Teachers, however, will have the discretion to determine whether they will assign a minimum grade for a six weeks or semester grade."

Advocates of minimum grades say they allow students to catch up and salvage their grades. That's difficult to do when a student gets a grade such as 20 or 25. Even if that student earns 100 in another grading period, it won't be enough to pass. Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said Thursday that the minimum-grades concept has helped freshmen pass more classes and stay on track for graduation.

But critics say that teachers shouldn't be pressured to give students who slack off a grade they didn't earn.

Dale Kaiser, president of the NEA-Dallas employees association, said the new discretionary language would put even more pressure on teachers. "If anything goes wrong, blame the teachers," Kaiser said.

He checked with his attorneys, who said the district's proposed policy may be out of compliance with the new law. But a TEA spokesman said, "In first reading, it [the language] does not appear to conflict with the new law."

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