The majority of Lake County schools do not give students scores of less than 50 on report cards, according to a report handed out at a school board workshop this week.
Board members could not come to a consensus at the workshop on how to modify the Student Progression Plan to prohibit the practice. They could do that by eliminating the ability of principals to make school-based grading decisions.
The progression plan currently has some flexibility.
Currently, only Cypress Ridge Elementary School does not employ such a method, requiring the grades earned to be entered.
At Leesburg High School, Mount Dora High School and Umatilla High School, the practice of giving students a minimum of 50 on report cards is recommended but not required.
Proponents of the practice elsewhere say failing grades given to students early in the school year cause them to give up hope and could cause them to drop out of school.
Superintendent Susan Moxley reiterated that she does not support the policy of giving a minimum score of 50 on individual class assignments.
Mount Dora Middle School was the only school found to have given a 50 on individual assignments throughout the year, the report cited.
Moxley previously said there are four nine-week grading periods in the school year and withholding grades of less than 50 during the first period could have benefits for the student.
“If there is no hope anywhere, we need to be prepared for a dropout rate,” Moxley said. “I believe we will see that.”
Board member Bill Mathias said he does not support the practice.
“I am not in favor of a minimum of 50 as a score,” he said. “It is what it is in the real world.”
However, Mathias said he would support dropping one test score or retesting the student if necessary.
School Board member Tod Howard said struggling students could work with staff to bring up their grades. He mentioned there could be challenges at home, such as an illness, which could impact their school work. The student could receive an incomplete until course work is completed, Howard said.
“They had a bad month but there are eight months in the year,” he said. “I am not sure we fail people because they had a bad quarter.”
Howard asked staff members at the meeting whether there were any statistics showing how many students the protocol has helped. District officials said they did not have any data collected on the issue and Moxley said collecting it would be labor intensive.
Howard said he found this troubling.
“We could be arguing over something like five students out of 42,000 when you don’t have data to make those decisions,” he said. “Sometimes you are making these decisions and you don’t know if it is affecting one student or 500 students.”
Board Member Rosanne Brandeburg said she is not in favor of giving a student an unearned grade. But at the same time, she said, “I want to see a mechanism in place where they can bring up their grade.”
School Board Chairwoman Debbie Stivender expressed frustration with the grading system, which she confirmed has been going on for years.
“There has never been a clear direction in the Student Progression Plan,” she said.
But Moxley noted that the practice is not unique to Lake County.
Indeed, Alexandra Freeze, senior director of communications and advocacy at the Association of American Educators, said in an email that the policy is in place across the country.
“Many of our educators are sensitive to giving a student a mark they don’t deserve, particularly with regard to cheating,” she said.
Stivender recommended if a student has a family member struggling with cancer, for example, the district should have a policy in place to give the student an opportunity to catch up at a later period.
“If we can’t do an incomplete, they can go back and complete their work,” she said.
While board members did not come to a consensus, they did agree that the grading decision should rest solely with the teacher.
Board members are expected to vote on revisions to the Student Progression Plan in a few weeks.