At a time of heightened scrutiny of how well our public schools are preparing students for college and the workforce, it is difficult to believe that 11 Texas school districts want to overturn a state law requiring truthful grading practices.
If these districts are successful, teachers could be forbidden from assigning grades that reflect a student’s work if those grades fall below an artificial minimum set by administrators.
As a former public school teacher, I was surprised when several teachers approached me before the 2009 legislative session with their concern about grading practices. They said written and unwritten rules at their campuses prevented them from assigning grades below a 50, 60 or, in some cases, 70 percent. I could not imagine this was widespread, but when Education Commissioner Robert Scott asked for a show of hands at a teachers’ conference about these practices, half of the hands in the room went up.
The bill that I authored last year requires districts to adopt written grading policies prior to the start of the school year. These policies direct teachers to assign grades that reflect a student’s mastery of the coursework. A district cannot force teachers to assign minimum grades without regard to a student’s quality of work. However, a district can adopt policies to provide reasonable opportunity for a student to make up or redo a class assignment or examination for which the student received a failing grade.
Support from all four statewide teachers’ groups helped propel the bill to unanimous passage in the Texas Legislature.
When school began last fall, the vast majority of districts followed the law, and adopted appropriate grading policies. But a few began looking for a way around the law. They argued that the statute makes no mention of report card grades, so it should apply only to course assignments and tests.
That argument struck me as ridiculous. Report card grades, after all, are cumulative of a student’s scores on assignment and tests. Commissioner Scott agreed, and notified districts they should comply.
Unfortunately, a few districts decided that they would rather use taxpayer dollars in a court challenge instead of on classroom instruction. A state district judge in Travis County will hear evidence in the lawsuit this summer.
The districts are arguing that they must give some students higher grades than they have earned to keep them from dropping out. They also complain that the law infringes on local control.
But the real local control is between teacher and student. We should trust teachers like the professionals they are and give them the authority to fail a child who fails to master the content.
Our public school system does students a disservice by simply passing them through grade levels. Eventually, those students will hit a wall, often with high school final exams, or, worse, they will graduate with extremely sub-par skills.