Sunday, November 15, 2009

Texas School Districts Ignore State Law

When can a law, duly passed unanimously by the Texas State House and State Senate, be ignored and who can do that? Apparently, at any odd moment Texas state law can be ignored by its school districts.

The law in question was enacted by the 81 session of the state legislature by unanimous passage of SB 2033, a law that forbids school districts from requiring its teachers to enter a set minimum grade for their students’ schoolwork.

It came in response to several school teachers informing State Senator Jane Nelson (R – Flower Mound), a former teacher herself, of the common practice of requiring them to enter a minimum grade of 50 when the student’s work fell below that score. Nelson later learned that the practice was commonplace in the state and that the minimum score policy in some districts was to enter grades as high as 60 or 70 for work that falls below that limit.

Nelson immediately drafted what became SB 2033, a bill that passed both the State House and State Senate unanimously. A bill whose committee hearings had no one come before the committee to speak against it.

It was, in short, a no-brainer shoe-in for passage and became the law of the land.

Except it didn’t

Looking at El Paso ISD, we see that the district will comply with the law . . . somewhat . . . by letting the teachers to “use their professional judgment when it comes to not issuing a minimum grade of a 50 in the six week period.”

This complies with the spirit of the law if not the letter of the law.

At Hereford and Amarillo ISD, the boards at first interpreted the new law as meaning that the law was meant to apply only to grades of assignments and tests, and not report card grades (the only time this practice is actually applied) so did not institute policy changes.

Apparently this was so widespread that TEA Commissioner Robert Scott clarified the matter in a letter sent to all school districts in the state that the law applied to report cards and final grades. Indeed, when asked, Senator Nelson confirmed that she wrote the bill with report card grades specifically in mind.

There are two issues here that are seemingly in conflict with each other. One is the issue of grade inflation. The argument goes that this policy enables school districts to report higher mastery levels than actually exist. All of that enters into the school rating system.

In conflict is the notion that an at-risk student who receives a grade lower than a 50 on his report card will give up rather than try that much harder to improve his performance in school.

The issue is not going away anytime soon, and now it appears, from what I read in the Fort Bend section of the Houston Chronicle that a lawsuit has been filed to contest whether the state can set this policy for the districts, with the Fort Bend ISD board of trustees recently voting to join in this legal action.

I guess my only question on this is that if there is such widespread opposition to this new law where was everybody when the law was being considered? Where were these school boards last April 7th when the bill was subjected to committee hearings in the Senate? Where were these school boards last May 12th when the bill was subjected to committee hearings in the House?

Were these boards in absentia simply because they knew that in Texas there are laws, and then there are laws?


Kenneth D. Franks said...

I can speak to this issue as I have taught in grades 5-12 over 29 years for 10 different districts, from some of the smallest to a couple of the largest.
Some districts had a policy on the lowest grade a student could receive and some had informal understandings, campus by campus on how to handle low grades.
The way I handled this was if a student didn't turn in a paper it was noted and pretty much any excuse "my dog ate it", or "Daddy got drunk at uncle Mike's and my books were at my mother's house, because my sister took them home, and we spent the night over at Mikes after Monday night football," was accepted.
After three days or longer the missing work became a 50 however the student would be told sometime that he or she needed to do it and turn it in.
For 6 week grading periods I would not give a grade lower than 50 unless there was a school policy that forced me to do so.
Students today have different home lives than my generation. They may be involved in too many activities or none under some circumstances. If work doesn't get done at school, only the most dedicated students and students whose parents monitor their daily homework do very much schoolwork at home.
Having a 50 as the lowest grade keeps the student close enough to 70 that if their circumstances improve at home, and, or at school they can still pass for the year.
A student that receives a 20 for a 6 week grading period must make an 80 or above the next 5 grading periods to pass for the year [ this explanation excludes semester exams, semester grade averages etc.] but the point is that it doesn't make for a good school environment for students, teachers, or parents, to have a large percentage of students
that have no chance of going to the next grade before the first semester ends.
Also bonus advice for new teachers, avoid giving out 6 week grading reports that have 69, 79, or 89 if at all possible. At least check your work and check with the student for a missing paper before you assign one of these grades. K.D.F.

MARCSYPE said...

Grades need to be fair and teachers need to grade on what is taught. I am a parent that is currently involved in the other side of this same arguement. Can a teacher do whatever they believe is best in their sole opinion even if they violate what would be considered a contract between them and the student. I have a child at a an out of state University that failed a class. My child had a high B low A going into the 8th week of the semester. The school had two professors teaching the course. When the second took over he did not test on the material he taught. He actually tested on things he told his class he would not test them over. In the end my child flunked the class. The professor gave breaks by lowering the curve for students making a B so they could make and A but would not hardly budge on the lower end of the curve and compressed the "C" range. Resulted in my child flunking the course. This was a required course that my child had to have to progress in their chosen major. My child was in their junior year of college and now it appears they will not be able to graduate on time. In researching the facts it appears that theis University is seeing a significant decline in the enrollment in the biological sciences area where this tenured professor taught. (About 22%) The particular course is a required course that all biological students have to pass in order to get a degree and the school only offers one class a semester. Seems the only way that a tenured professor can get fired is if the enrollment declines to the point where they are not needed any longer. In discussions with the professor he stated to me that it is a difficult class and many have to take it several times. With a sucess rate of less than 50% of a class of 186 students originally enrolled, it seems to me he is trying to guarantee that he will not be let go by the University by ensuring that he is recycling enough students to keep his classes full. Even in this blatantly offensive to public policy case it is almost impossible to sue the professor or the university. It is a state institution. It has Eleventh amendment immunity to suit by a US citizen from a foriegn state. The professor is its agent and the state does not allow its agents to be sued. My child has done a grade appeal with the support of an attorney I hired and lost. The GAB didn't even review the massive evidence presented. My child is further appealing that decision and we are currently awaiting the results of that hearing. I am not encouraged. There is no pressure for them to be fair. Only the public and courts perception that the state should not interfere in the relationship between a student and a teacher. I for one believe that is wrong. All professionals, whether it is a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, an engineer or a teacher should be held acocuntable by society for their actions. If they take actions that are detremental to public policy they should be subject to action in court by the wronged party.