Friday, December 04, 2009

School districts fight TEA laws

School districts fight TEA laws
Law removes teachers' right to independently control student grades

By Alex Geiser

Several Texas school districts have taken issue with the Texas Education Agency’s interpretation of a new law to curb grade inflation, and they are responding with litigation.

The law, passed during the 81st legislative session, states that a district’s grading policy may not require a teacher to assign a minimum grade for an assignment but allows students who make failing grades an opportunity to redo those assignments or tests.

The TEA has argued that, to carry out the spirit of the law, districts should be prohibited from telling teachers to assign minimum failing grades for the semester. Texas school districts previously exercised independent control over their grading policies.

Six Houston-area school districts filed a lawsuit last week against the Texas Education Agency over its proposed interpretation of the grade inflation law.

Joy Baskin, the director of legal services at the Texas Association of School Boards, said the majority of Texas districts mandated a minimum failing score for assignments, tests and grading periods. Most schools that enforced this policy settled on a 50 as the minimum grade.

She said this gives students who receive low failing grades on assignments a chance to make up for their mistakes and pass the class.

“Teachers could possibly enforce minimum grades,” Baskin said. “As a result of this change in the law, districts are wanting to examine the grading guidelines they give to their teachers.”

The six districts involved — Fort Bend, Aldine, Klein, Alief, Anahuac and Clear Creek independent school districts — have filed the lawsuit in hopes of gaining clarity on the issue, Baskin said.

She said more districts are expected to join in the lawsuit.

According to a statement released by Nancy Porter, spokeswoman for Fort Bend ISD, the district is complying with the law.

“However, the district does not agree with the Texas Education Agency’s interpretation of the law, and the board authorized the district to join in litigation regarding the TEA commissioner’s interpretation on Senate Bill 2033,” according to the statement.

Rob D’Amico, the spokesman for the Texas American Federation of Teachers, said that while many districts oppose the TEA’s interpretation of the law, the majority of teachers support it, as they want the authority in the classroom to grade as they please.

“Teachers are upset because they feel that they shouldn’t be told how to assign a grade for particular work that isn’t accurately represented,” D’Amico said. “You can’t tell a teacher to assign a grade of a 50.”

D’Amico said a minimum failing grade isn’t an accurate reflection of a student’s course mastery.

“It needs to be carried out as it was intended to be,” he said. “Also, there are multiple opportunities that districts have to ensure that students who are trying and working won’t be hurt by low grades.”

The Texas Education Agency would not comment, as the litigation is still pending.

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