Emily McPherson: New policy sends the wrong message to DISD students

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The Denton school district has made a controversial (or, as the school board called it: courageous and brave) move regarding grading policies to take effect next year. The new policy throws deadlines out the window by allowing students to turn in late work at any time and retake tests over and over. It also does away with the six-week grading periods, replacing them with nine-week periods.

The school board argues that disregarding deadlines is the best way to recognize that all students learn in different ways at different rates, but in actuality, it just encourages laziness and procrastination.

This may sound shocking, but the main purpose of school is not to educate students. The main purpose is to prepare students for the “real world” by way of not only education but also goals and deadlines. Whether a student goes on to attend college or goes straight into a career, there will be deadlines. There will always be deadlines. A doctor cannot decide to put off a surgery until later. A teacher cannot decide to wait to grade students’ finals until the end of the summer. A grocery bagger cannot wait to bag up the groceries hours after the customer has left. And so a student should not be allowed to turn in an assignment after the chapter test.

The school board stated that “meeting deadlines and turning in an assignment on time is a critical behavior that contributes to a student’s sense of responsibility, but it does not represent a student’s mastery of the standards.” Of course it’s a behavior that contributes to responsibility, but it does also represent mastery. If a student has turned in an assignment, that shows the teacher mastery. If a student hasn’t turned in an assignment, that shows the teacher lack of mastery. If a student has mastered a standard, what reason does he or she have to not turn something in other than laziness? This policy really just rewards lack of productivity.

I understand the reasoning behind this decision. Really, I do. It is true that some students learn more slowly than others. What takes one student 10 minutes to finish might take another student two days. But in Big Kid Land (also known as the aforementioned “real world”), no one stops and waits for you to learn something. The earth keeps turning and time keeps ticking by, and what you can’t prepare yourself for beforehand, you must just jump in and learn as you go.

That’s the way the world works.

Another flaw in the district’s genius plan is the allowance of infinite test retakes. Because most are written by the teacher, tests (regardless of what the school board says about accurate reflection of students’ mastery) generally directly correlate with the amount of studying done and whether or not students paid attention in class.

There are no mulligans in the real world, except in golf. Maybe if tests didn’t count for 70 percent of the grade in a regular class and 80 percent of the grade in a pre-AP or AP class, the need for retakes would not be so dire.

Perhaps the only upside of this new policy is the nine-week grading period. The current grading periods are always so hectic; between testing, finals, inclement weather makeup days, and holidays, there doesn’t ever seem to be a six weeks that actually spans six weeks. Hopefully the longer and less-frequent nine-week system will put less pressure on teachers to cram tests in at the last minute and give students more breathing room to actually study.

As my final blow to this nonsensical policy, I would like to point out that of the eight members on the Denton ISD school board, only two have ever served as teachers in public schools. As a student, I prefer the decisions about my schooling to be made by people who have actually worked in a school, not some politicians who think that coddling students will help them more than preparing us for the rest of our lives.

EMILY MCPHERSON is a junior at Ryan High School and a participant in the Denton Record-Chronicle’s “Speak Out Loud” program for student journalists.

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