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nobody really thought Texas wanted to “prevent dropouts” anyway

April 26, 2010

LOTS of it.

Eleven Houston-area school districts are suing for the right to continue giving Fs to students who technically deserve F-‘s.

No, seriously. A law that took effect this school year (sort of) states that schools must give grades that accurately reflect students’ “relative mastery of an assignment.” Meaning no inflated grading, by law. Now, the districts are contending that the law refers only to assignment and exam grades, not report-card grades, meaning that they can give out all the semi-inflated final scores they want.

The reason this isn’t totally stupid is that these districts have adopted “minimum grading policies” in an effort to keep students in school. If you’re halfway through the year and you’ve got a rigorously accurate zero in three of your classes, why bother showing up at all? BUT, if you’re halfway through the year and you’ve got a 50 in three of your classes, you could theoretically work your ass off and pass. The Houston Chronicle uses better math:

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.

And, as school-board member Sarah Winkler points out, it’s not like a 50 is some big gift to lazy students–“A 50 is way below failing.” It just serves as a step out of the hole for the motivated students who choose to climb it.

The bill’s author, Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound*, claims she meant to refer to both assignment/exam and report-card grades. Which is…kind of hilarious, actually. If you have to later explain something like “which grades I was talking about when I WROTE A LAW,” maybe you should get someone to copyedit that ish. Like, say, someone familiar with the various kinds of grades given to students. (Oh wait, she’s a former public school teacher! IRONY TIME.) But rather than snarking all day, let’s take a look at it:

Sec. 28.0216. DISTRICT GRADING POLICY. A school district
shall adopt a grading policy, including provisions for the
assignment of grades on class assignments and examinations, before
each school year. A district grading policy:
(1) must require a classroom teacher to assign a grade
that reflects the student’s relative mastery of an assignment;
(2) may not require a classroom teacher to assign a
minimum grade for an assignment without regard to the student’s
quality of work; and
(3) may allow a student a reasonable opportunity to
make up or redo a class assignment or examination for which the

student received a failing grade.

Um, okay. This makes explicit mention of both class assignments and exams, and is totally dead silent on the issue of semester grades. Is “a grading policy” supposed to mean “semester/year grades”? Because it doesn’t.

Furthermore, saying that a district grading policy “may not require” teachers to give minimum grades (of, say, 50) doesn’t mean teachers can’t do it if they want to. If that’s the language you’re looking for, Sen. Nelson, you need to go with something like, “a district grading policy may not allow a classroom teacher to assign a minimum grade for an assignment”.

Teenagers are stupid. Not just in the sense that lots of them can’t pass their classes, but also in the sense that they can’t necessarily be trusted to come to class. Which is why adults don’t allow them to make those kinds of choices: teenagers can’t buy cigarettes, they can’t sign contracts, and they have to come to school. Failing classes has much broader consequences than we can expect 15-year-olds who spend every English class behind the gym defacing things to understand. Someday those 15-year-olds will be adults, and those adults will either be literate, because schools enabled them to pass and graduate, or not, because they didn’t. That’s why it’s important to give them every chance to succeed.

That and so they don’t grow up to write really, really poorly-written laws.

*PS: “Flower Mound” is about the sweetest-sounding euphemism for ladyparts I’ve ever heard. Let’s all adopt that one, shall we?

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