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Officials refine grading details

Profile image for By Britney Tabor
By Britney Tabor

One model for handling behavior presented to Denton school board

As Denton schools prepare for changes in how middle and high school students are graded, officials say consequences for not turning in assignments will look different at each school.

Last spring, the district announced it would be moving to a nine-week grading period for sixth- through 12th-grade students. Starting this fall, students’ class grades will rely less on homework or extra-credit assignments.

Students will receive grades for final drafts, tests, quizzes and projects. However, grades will no longer be penalized for poor behavior, late, missing or incomplete work. One model for handling behavior was presented to the school board during its meeting Tuesday.

Debbie Nobles, principal at McMath Middle School, talked about the method her school will use campuswide beginning this fall. The model was previously piloted with sixth-graders.

Behavior issues brought on by students who don’t complete their work will be categorized into two groups, she said. Teachers will work with students not completing work because they don’t understand it. Administrators will deal with behaviors preventing students from learning. Nobles said they will look to handle the issues by involving parents and tutoring students in morning and after-school sessions.

Oftentimes students don’t complete work because of defiance, boredom or lack of confidence, Noble said. She told the board that in the sixth-grade pilot program, they found that some students were gifted and others needed additional help. Students won’t get away with coasting by not completing work under the new grading guidelines, she said.

“You have to learn. [It’s] non-negotiable,” Noble said. “It’s a lot of just going back to good old family values. The kids, we need to communicate to them that they need to know that we care enough about them, that we will not allow them to behave in a way that’s harming them, and not doing their work is harmful.

“Not participating in the learning is not OK.”

Vicky Christenson, director of secondary curriculum, instruction and staff development, said inflating or deflating a student’s grade for behavior did not accurately reflect what they learned but distorted “the accuracy of the grade.”

Methods for how behavior is being addressed on individual secondary campuses will be brought to the board in the next grading practice update, she said.

District officials say updates will be presented to the board every two to three months. The public will receive updates in a number of ways, including the district website, meetings and video. Throughout the year, the district will get feedback on new grading practices by surveying students and parents.

The grading changes will take some adjusting to, Christenson said. The process is messy, she said; there will be mistakes and adjustments will be made.

School board members on Tuesday expressed support for the grading changes.

The new grading procedures drew mixed opinions from teacher and parent groups when first announced last spring.

Some state teacher organizations argued that the changes restrict teachers’ control in the classroom.

Grading change provisions according to the guidelines include:

Grades will be reflective of what a student learns.

Students who miss deadlines will be expected to master the content. However, “expectations for student learning will not be compromised for failure to meet deadlines,” the guidelines state.

Students will be required to complete entire assignments on time. Zeros will be recorded only when a student demonstrates they did not master the content.

With the exclusion of semester exams, students will be given additional attempts at quizzes, tests and research papers if they can prove they deserve to be reassessed. A reassessment will be determined by whether a student can prove they’ve made improvements through tutoring, meeting with a teacher or alternative assignments.

The district intends to phase in its new grading procedures over the next school year, with full implementation by 2015.

Superintendent Jamie Wilson has said the practices are administrative regulations and require no school board approval.

District officials have also said middle and high school students will still receive traditional report cards with numerical grades, which the University Interscholastic League requires for participation in sanctioned events.

In other action Tuesday, school board members voted 6-0 in approval of a change to the instrument usage fees for students using school-owned musical instruments.

The change now requires that students who qualify for free lunch pay a fee of $25 to use school-owned instruments. Fees were previously waived for those students. Officials say the additional revenue will offset increasing expenses for maintenance and repair of district instruments.

The board also denied a grievance requesting a change to a district policy in place for students who transfer to another school within Denton ISD for athletic purposes.

The district’s certified property values were presented to the board Tuesday, showing a growth of more than $1 billion compared to last year. In coming weeks, the board intends to discuss the benefits of a 50-cent per $100 valuation debt tax rate versus the current 49-cent rate. The board will also consider a 2 percent pay increase for all employees.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.