News-Sun photo by CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY School board secretary Connie Scobey talks with board chairman Ned Hancock (left) and vice-chair Andy Tuck following a discussion on a middle school grading policy.
published: Friday, November 02, 2012
Grading policy debated
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- School Board of Highlands County members Andy Tuck and Donna Howerton are concerned about the board's current middle school grading policy, and have been for some time.
The rule states nine-week grades will be averaged to determine the year-long grade.
The controversy centers on this paragraph: "For year-long courses, nine-week grades below 50 will be averaged using a value of 50 for the lowest nine-week period per course. This process does not apply to nine-week or semester course."
Tuck and Howerton say bumping up a grade does a disservice to students, passing them on when they are not properly prepared. They also say the policy is unfair to those teachers who have the students in high school, especially given how much teacher evaluations are based on student performance.
On the other hand, board member Ronnie Jackson said, "There are kids out there who are going through a crisis in their life. Middle school principals say this is an important option."
Board member Bill Brantley worried that without the policy "students might drop out sooner. It's a hard transition from eighth to ninth grade."
The idea of the rule is to keep struggling students engaged in education. Hill-Gustat Middle School principal Chris Doty has said in the past that the rule does not help students who make no effort. It is designed to support students who are going through a temporary bad time, like a family crisis, and whose overall grade point average is at risk.
"I'm very frustrated with any principal who thinks it's a good thing," Tuck said. "It's not a good thing. I support giving students what they need to succeed. I don't believe in giving to them."
The board had requested the school district to research how students promoted to ninth grade using the policy perform.
Dr. Ruth Heckman, director of secondary education, presented the findings to the board Tuesday night.
The results are discouraging, tracking 2009-10 eighth-graders through the 2010-2011 school year when they were in the ninth grade. Of the 18 students who had a 3.0 average in eighth grade, only three stayed at that level in the ninth grade. Conversely, while only 14 had below 1.0 grade averages in eighth grade, 34 ninth-graders failed.
"Maybe middle school is too easy on the kids, but one thing we know is that kids do not do as well in ninth grade," Heckman said. "The level of expectations is very different from middle school to high school. It's a huge awakening for most kids."
In an informal show of hands, Tuck and Howerton want to get rid of the policy altogether. Jackson and Brantley want to retain the policy as it is.
Board chairman Ned Hancock indicated he was leaning in favor of doing away with the policy.
A compromise option was discussed that would allow the policy in the seventh grade, but not in the eighth grade.
The board held off any decision Tuesday, waiting for a revision from board attorney John McClure.
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