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Stories Added - July 2010
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Minimum grades ended by Austin judge Monday
Polk County Enterprise
LIVINGSTON — When school bells ring in the fall, Livingston High School students will no longer have the guarantee of a minimum grade of 50, no matter how poor their academic performance may be in a six weeks’ grading period. Livingston was among several school districts who set policies to assign an alternative minimum grade as an incentive for students to continue striving to master subject matter — even if their coursework may yield an extremely low average. A subsequent interpretation of a “Truth in Grading” law by Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott threatened to penalize districts who had a minimum grade policy. Eleven Houston-area school district, including Livingston, filed a lawsuit contesting Scott’s opinion and an Austin District Judge sided with Scott on Monday. Livingston’s policy did not force teachers to alter grades and the results of students’ efforts on coursework remained on school records. However, at the district level, the six weeks grade was adjusted to a 50 if the course average fell below that. LISD Superintendent Dr. Darrell Myers said Monday’s ruling and the Truth in Grading law are disappointing on multiple levels. “I find it perplexing that our elected state officials hold local elected school boards accountable for student dropout rates, yet they pass state laws which may promote student dropouts,” Myers said. “This law and ruling will no doubt have an adverse effect on thousands of Texas children. It has the potential of eliminating a students’ abilities to overcome mistakes or adverse situations which resulted in a period of poor academic performance,” Myers said. Myers has repeatedly said LISD trustees meetings that extremely low academic performance very often is tied to behavioral or family troubles, even homelessness. Clear Creek ISD Superintendent Greg Smith testified in Monday’s hearing. He said his district’s minimum grading policy had been an effective strategy to reduce the number of dropouts over the last 13 years. More than 30 students benefited from the policy and were able to pass. Without the policy, “I think you close the light at the end of the tunnel for some students,” Smith told the Houston Chronicle in Tuesday’s edition. Smith cited an example that a student who earns a 20 during one six weeks and then earned a 90 in the subsequent two six week periods would still fail for the semester. The American Federation of Teachers argued that minimum grading policies take authority away from teachers and are not in the best interest of students in the long run. Texas Sen. Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, a former teacher, said the decision is a victory for Texas teachers, students and parents because grades will reflect how well students have mastered course work. Goodrich ISD Superintendent Dr. Guylene Robertson said her district had not enacted a minimum grade policy due to the impending lawsuit. Myers said the decision continues to erode local control over public schools. “It allows greater control of our children’s education to a centralized state and federal education system,” Myers said. “I find it extremely disturbing that we are losing our ability to control the education of our children at a localized level while there is growing authority of state and federal agencies over our children,” Myers said. Richard Morris, an attorney for the school districts, said he would consult with the superintendents about pursuing an appeal or lobbying the legislature for a change. Nelson said she doubts her colleagues would change the law after unanimously passing her bill last year.