Wake school board concerned about grading changes

Members say they, not staff, should decide about controversial changes

khui@newsobserver.com June 14, 2012 

— Wake County school board members are clashing with staff over the extent of sweeping grading changes that would affect how all of the district’s 150,000 students are evaluated on their report cards.

School administrators back an overhaul that’s supposed to make teachers issue more consistent grades, with the marks reflecting a student’s knowledge as opposed to his behavior. But school board members say they, and not staff, should have the final say on controversial grading changes governing extra credit, late assignments, retests and student behavior.

“We’re the ones who are going to be held accountable for the changes,” said board member Jim Martin at a committee meeting Thursday.

The dispute is raising the issue of what should be a board decision and what should be a staff decision. The board adopts policy, then the staff develops the guidelines for implementation.

Following a review dating back several years, staff wants the board to change the grading policy to say that attendance and “non-academic related behaviors” will not be included in what they’re now calling the “academic grade.” In conjunction, staff is proposing to administratively implement several changes, including:

• Grading middle school and high school classroom behavior, such as work habits and conduct in a new, separate grade.

• Reducing how much homework is counted for the academic grade.

• Prohibiting K-12 teachers from handing out extra credit.

• Requiring teachers to allow students to have up to five days to hand in late assignments, with the penalty capped at 10 percent of the grade.

• Requiring teachers to allow students to redo assignments and tests that can replace the original grade.

The proposal predates the tenure of Superintendent Tony Tata, who has not publicly taken a position on the issue.

Some board members have raised concerns about the proposed administrative changes. Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore said that while school officials will listen to the board’s concerns that the changes are up to the staff.

But school board attorney Ann Majestic said the board can decide whether something is “non-negotiable” and move it from the administrative guidelines and into board policy.

Moore cautioned against the board trying to get around a disagreement with staff by changing policy. But Martin said it’s a two-way street and that the staff shouldn’t try to circumvent disagreements with the board by putting it into the administrative guidelines.

Board members said Thursday they agreed with staff that behavior such as wearing a hat in school or playing around with a cell phone should not be included in the academic grade. But they told staff to come back with a list of what they would consider to be academic and nonacademic behaviors.

Board members said they also want to eliminate the wording that would drop attendance from being considered in the academic grade. Staff said that attendance shouldn’t be used to lower a student’s grade.

“We should be encouraging students to be good citizens,” said board member Susan Evans. “We shouldn’t be encouraging them to play hooky from class but say it’s OK if they do well on the test.”

Martin, a professor at N.C. State University, cited how he’ll bump up a struggling student who shows up for class and participates and not someone “on the border” who is regularly absent.

Board members also objected Thursday when staff didn’t include changes agreed to at a previous committee meeting to move to a 10-point grading scale in elementary and middle school. Under that scale, an A would be a 90 to 100. Staff recommended having an A be 93 to 100 to be consistent with what’s in high schools and what’s used in other North Carolina school districts.

“Our job as the largest school system in the state is not to be based on the smaller systems, but to determine the best way to be effective for our students,” said board member Debra Goldman. “We’re Wake County. We need to do it the Wake County way.”

No final decisions were made Thursday. Any changes would not go into effect until the 2013-14 school year.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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