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Carefully monitor new grade system

We tried to recall how many different teaching and discipline methods have been tried in public school classrooms in recent years, but we lost count.

Some educators seem to view Texas pupils as guinea pigs instead of children — fair game for experimentation.

Advocates hail these trial-and-error methods as the system’s salvation, but many don’t deliver the desired results and quietly fade from view.

We’d like to see a study that compares education quality through the years, dating back to the little one-room school house that was once the standard in rural areas.

How would those who struggled with various versions of new math and science and language skills fare when compared with those who practiced reading and writing and arithmetic?

Were children who were subject to strict discipline more successful, or did some of the youngsters who skated through school with nary a harsh word do just as well?

Last spring, the Denton school 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. Consequences for not turning in assignments may look different at each school.

Debbie Nobles, principal at McMath Middle School, told school board members that the method her school will use campuswide this fall was previously piloted with sixth-graders. Teachers will work with students not completing work because they don’t understand it, and administrators will deal with behaviors preventing students from learning, she said.

Nobles said officials will involve parents in the process and tutor students in morning and after-school sessions.

In the sixth-grade pilot program, Nobles said, officials 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, because learning is non-negotiable.

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 the student learned but distorted “the accuracy of the grade.” Methods for how behavior is being addressed on secondary campuses will be brought to the board in the next update of grading policies, she said.

District officials say updates will be presented to the board periodically, and the public will receive updates via the district website and video and at meetings. The district will get feedback on new grading practices by surveying students and parents.

Students are obviously individuals, so we can understand the need to handle various issues differently. But we wonder how effective teachers can be if they are required to spend extra time working with students who need additional help.

We like the idea of involving parents. Most students would do better in the classroom if mom and dad made a habit of helping and encouraging them.

But we’re not so sure about some of the ideas concerning behavior. Shouldn’t students’ classroom demeanor have some effect on their grades?

We also feel that this part of an education is essential for success in college. How can we prepare kids for higher education if we don’t have this type of learning in place?

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

We urge the district to carefully evaluate all results and weigh feedback as the plans are put in place to make sure that they are on the right track.

Some mistakes can last a lifetime.