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Lawsuit over grading policies

A number of school districts, mostly in the Houston area, have a policy of not giving kids a grade lower than 50 in any grading period. The idea is that by setting a floor on grades, it gives kids the chance to still eventually pass the class, which in turn gives them a reason to keep trying. A law passed in the last legislative session has been interpreted by the Texas Education Agency to disallow that practice. The school districts have filed suit to be able to keep doing it their way.

Minimum-grading policies, according to the school districts, are part of a strategy to prevent dropouts because they give students a mathematical shot at passing a course — if they earn high enough marks in other grading periods. For example, a student who received a 30 grade for the first six weeks but passed the next five grading periods with 75s, still would fail the course, with a 68. But if the school gave the student a 50, instead of a 30, the cumulative grade would be passing.

“We’re not giving passing grades. A 50 is way below failing,” Alief school board member Sarah Winkler said in defense of her district’s policy. “All we’re doing is giving them a grade that if they put forth significant effort they would be able to pass. What would be the point of a student making any effort if they cannot pass?”

[State Education Commissioner Robert] Scott, in his response to the lawsuit, characterizes the districts’ claims as illogical.

“Under the districts’ interpretation, a student could complete no assignments and still get a 50 on his or her report card,” the response says. “This interpretation would render the entire statute meaningless … and there would be no purpose to requiring actual grades on assignments and examinations.”

From the testimony given, it seems the school districts have a legitimate gripe.

According to the school districts’ attorney, David Feldman, Scott “totally jumped the gun” by sending a memo to every superintendent in the state in October 2009 explaining that the grading law applies to all types of grades.

David Anderson, the general counsel of the Texas Education Agency, which Scott runs, testified that Scott was simply explaining his understanding of the law, not overstepping his bounds by creating a new rule.

But when questioned about the actual language of the law, he conceded it did not specifically refer to report card grades or cumulative grades.

“That phrase is not in the statute,” Anderson said repeatedly.

Strictly from a policy perspective, I can see both sides on this. I don’t have a firm opinion one way or the other as to which is preferable. But based on what was reported here, it does sound like Commissioner Scott overreached. The Trib has more.

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One Comment

  1. Bob says:

    Grade inflation devalues the work of those who put forth effort and sets bad habits for achieving kids who go to college. The minimum grade is zero; why lie to kids, parents, colleges, administrators, and legislators unless it’s to artificially make Texas schools look better than they really are?

    This sort of grade inflation masks the underlying tension between the majority faction of the SBOE trying to destroy public education and those members of the Lege which don’t want Texas public education to be seen as a national laughingstock. It’s likely done only to preserve the local ISD administrators’ reputations and keep the money flowing in, but it has larger implications for both the kids and the state.

    Lying is simply bad policy.