On Brownsville I.S.D. grading policy

by Wm. Robert Johnston
5 December 2000

Dear Editor:

What is the average of 45, 45, and 0? If you said 50, you could work for BISD.

This year, BISD implemented a policy for high schools under which no average grades below a 50 will occur. If teachers report such grades, they will be changed to a 50 by central administration. Regardless of how little work students might do, they can now have a grade of a 50 so they don't feel too bad.

This policy says that a student who is struggling to perform at 50% of requirements is doing as well as a student who does absolutely nothing. The district says it has high expectations, but this policy caters to the lowest of expectations. In these extreme situations, grades will no longer be informative to parents.

The standard excuse for the policy is so that a student who does little or no work for the first half of a course will have hope of producing a passing grade in the end. What is ignored is the possibility that stu-dents who anticipate performing poorly will recognize that they can do no work at all and still receive a 50.

What may be an underlying reason is that the district hopes to promote more poorly performing students to the next grade level. This will artificially reduce the number of students failing so that the district at least looks better. Similarly, BISD now has a policy whereby students who fail all classes in sixth, seventh, or eighth grade can still be promoted simply if they are old enough--a provision which contradicts Texas Education Code 28.021(a).

Regardless of whether the grading policy is right or wrong, it deserved wider review before implementation. In 1997-98 and 1998-99, BISD's central administration proposed similar policies. Both times, they were submitted to teachers and campus administrators for input where they received mixed reviews. Both times the policies were rejected.

However, this time review by teachers was limited or non-existent. In fact, communication regarding this policy even after implementation is so poor that many teachers are confused about the policy.

Teacher understanding is apparently irrelevant under the current policy. It specifies that the district will change the grades reported by teachers. BISD feels it cannot trust teachers' judgment when it comes to determining grades. This reflects a trend in the district toward micromanagement of teachers.

The more damaging trend--with a greater impact than this policy alone--is the lowering of standards for students. Some will pat themselves on the back for making students feel better, ignoring the fact that the students will be less prepared to succeed in the real world after graduating or dropping out of school. Parents, take charge!

(printed in The Brownsville Herald 10 December 2000)

© 2000, 2003 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 8 March 2003.
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