Monday, April 9, 2012

Grade-changing policies attracting scrutiny

It started in January in Beaufort County, where a principal was removed for changing students' grades. Turns out, districts have policies that allow for grades to be changed, but only under certain circumstances.

Now, in Hampton County, the matter of grade-changing is getting additional study -- except in this case, there seems not to be a written policy.

This, from editor Michael DeWitt of the Hampton County Guardian:

An unwritten "policy" in Hampton School District 1 - and quite possibly many other districts around the state - has prompted inquiries from a few concerned parents, teachers, and even the state Department of Education.

Following concerns expressed by teachers in the district, The Guardian recently published an article revealing two longstanding but unwritten practices at Wade Hampton High School which require teachers to pass a student with a failing final report card grade of 69, and give a grade no lower than a 60 for the first semester on report cards.

The district has stated that this has been going on for a long time and many districts use this as a way to give students the benefit of the doubt or prevent struggling students from failing too early or giving up hope too early in the year.

Critics of this policy say that this is not only unethical and unfair to other students, but also a violation of state law.

Wait a second. When did student grading become a matter of statute? Have our lawmakers actually established in law that a student shall earn a zero, opposed to a 60?

Can that be true? If the state legislature's time has actually been spent to establish a grading policy in statutes, it goes a long way toward explaining why South Carolina is in the condition it is.

But if it IS in state law, then this is an open-and-shut question, and no further speculation is needed. So, bring on the statute citation and let's get this done, right?

Following the publication of this story, The Guardian received copies of emails from local sources which were sent from South Carolina Department of Education officials that indicated senior staff members had been contacted by concerned citizens and were "reviewing these allegations" and "investigating the matter." These emails also stated that officials were reviewing the state's uniform grading policy to see if the district was violating any State Board regulations.

So there's no statute citation?

Is there, or isn't there?

According to a Dept. of Education spokesperson, while disciplinary actions are public record when final, state regulations require that investigations remain confidential and the state can't confirm or deny they are taking place.

Hampton 1 Superintendent Dr. Doug McTeer, Jr. said that this wasn't exactly what he would consider a full scale investigation, and no one from the state department has visited his district in relation to this issue. He said that he was at a conference in Myrtle Beach recently when he received a call from a state department official in relation to this matter, and has not had further conversations with state education officials since.

"I have discussed it with an official of the State Department of Education," he stated. "I explained what we're doing. I told him I didn't think it made any sense to fail a student with a 69, because no grading system can be that accurate. They are considering how our procedure, and that of other districts, meshes with the Uniform Grading Schedule. I hope they will see it our way, but if they tell us we have to change our practice, we will, of course."

"I assume at some point they will make a statement about what you can do and what you can't, but they haven't yet. I won't say that everybody does it, but I would say that it's pretty standard practice. At any rate, we'll get some clarification as to whether you can do it or not."

Sounds reasonable to me; if all our districts are using the same or similar policy, then what's the matter?

Except that in our state, nothing's ever so cut-and-dried.

Which means we should stay tuned.

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