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COMMENTARY: Clark County School District grading policies encourage slacker students

The Clark County School District’s “Minimum F” policies have morphed into “No F” policies. If nobody fails, then everyone graduates. What does that say about the value of a diploma?

The National Governors Association has made graduation rates a top metric in the evaluation of schools. The group has pushed schools and districts to increase graduation rates.

Because graduation rates have become a huge factor in evaluating public education nationally, states, school districts and schools are feeling the pressure to increase that rate. Teachers in the classroom are feeling pressure to pass students even if they have not acquired the necessary knowledge and skills.

For instance, some local assistant superintendents and principals, feeling heat from the state and district, are forcing teachers to floor the fail rates at 50 percent — the “Minimum F.” This means that if a student does not take a test, fails or outright cheats, the lowest grade the teacher can give that student is 50 percent on that test.

Teachers are also being pressured into allowing students to retake tests as many times as they want for a higher grade — up to the end of the semester so they pass the class. This is just wrong. This has resulted in students not taking tests on assigned days or not studying because they know they can retake the test multiple times.

This has major ramifications because secondary math teachers not only teach students, they are required to cover topics that build on prior learning that must be accomplished in a timely manner — mastery and sequencing are important in mathematics. That learning becomes the foundation for the next chapter and class.

And if that is not bad enough, teachers are also being pressured to allow students to pass in assignments as late as they want and still receive full credit. Are these really the soft skills with which we want our students entering the workforce?

Again, this becomes a pacing issue — especially in math. If students are not keeping up, they won’t be ready for the tests nor will their teachers be able to cover their assigned curriculum.

For clarity, if the curriculum requires students to cover topics in 10 chapters and the student covers only three chapters, but makes an “A” in those chapters, does the student earn an “A” in the class? How’s that going to impact the next course?

And if students are still failing even with all these concessions, some Clark County principals are calling their teachers into the office suggesting the teacher is the problem. It’s hard to move on in classes such as math when students haven’t attained the necessary knowledge. How are teachers expected to motivate students in a college-prep curriculum while they’re being forced to treat students with a slacker mentality? These policies just make a tough job tougher.

Yes, the National Governors Association emphasis has influenced schools and districts. Graduation rates around the country are increasing. Yet, interestingly, test scores are not.

If we want more from our students, we clearly have to expect more.

Bill Hanlon is president of Mathematical Systems Inc. and the former coordinator of the Clark County School District’s Math/Science Institute.

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