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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Schools file lawsuit over new minimum grade ban

By APRIL CASTRO Associated Press Writer © 2009 The Associated Press
Nov. 19, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — Five Houston-area school districts filed a lawsuit against the state education commissioner over his interpretation of a new law prohibiting minimum grading policies, a lawyer said Thursday.

Commissioner Robert Scott told districts last month that the law applied to grades on assignments as well as six-week or nine-week grading periods.

The schools — Fort Bend, Aldine, Klein, Alief, Anahuac and Clear Creek — assert in the lawsuit filed Wednesday that the law only specifically applies to assignments and should not be applied to grading periods or semesters. The lawsuit, filed in Travis County, seeks to have the minimum-grade ban only apply to single assignments.

"Even though the language of the bill does not address in any way minimum grading policies for report cards or grading periods, that is the way the commissioner is interpreting it," said attorney David Feldman, who is representing the school districts.

"Well over half of the school districts in the state have minimum failing grade policies," Feldman said Thursday.

A spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency did not immediately return a call to The Associated Press seeking comment.

"It is a sad state of affairs when school districts are willing to go to court for the right to force their teachers to assign fraudulent grades," said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who sponsored the new law earlier this year. Administrators "are willing to waste precious education resources on a misguided lawsuit to continue these policies, which undermine the authority of our teachers and reward minimum effort from students."

In the lawsuit, the schools argue that not allowing students a grade below 50, for example, gives them room to improve and eventually receive course credit. Otherwise, they argue, failing students would be more inclined to drop out.

"Anything lower than that effectively acts as a deterrent to a student staying in the course because their opportunities to pass for the year and receive course credit are limited," Feldman said. "The rationale for these policies is to give kids an incentive to remain in school, to not give up."

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