Last year, Shelly Campbell's junior English classes complained now and then about all the essays they had to write, but they turned in their assignments.
This year, hardly anyone turns in papers at all to Campbell, a teacher at John Marshall High School in northwest Oklahoma City.
On Friday, seven of her 64 students turned in their homework.
She blames one thing: an informal policy that allows Oklahoma City Public Schools students to receive passing grades in certain classes they've failed.
The Oklahoma City School Board will hear a presentation at its meeting Monday night about a proposal to formalize the process of giving D's to students who failed a class but passed the corresponding end-of-instruction (EOI) exam. High school seniors must pass at least 4 of 7 EOI exams to receive a diploma.
Campbell said she hopes the policy is snuffed altogether.
“It's disappointing,” said Campbell, a former Oklahoma City Public Schools Teacher of the Year. “We're selling our kids short. ... I'm ashamed.”
Policy began last year
The practice started last year, though it has been informal. Some teachers didn't even know grades had been changed, Campbell said.
This year, Campbell asked her students why they weren't doing their work, and they told her: They don't really have to.
“They were very respectful when they said, ‘Why would I do all this stuff when I'm smart enough to pass the EOI?'” she said.
The goal is to streamline and outline informal practices, Oklahoma City Superintendent Karl Springer said.
“I'm basically masking sure that our building principals and teachers know that they have the ultimate say on what a grade's going to be,” Springer said. “We're trying to make it as fair as possible.”
The policy wouldn't change practice that much, Springer said. Teachers and administrators always have been responsible for grades.
“We are just trying to make sure that our building principals and teachers know that they are the people with the power,” Springer said.
Grading practices are decided by local district officials, Kerri White, assistant state superintendent for educational support for the state Education Department.
“There is no state law or state board rule governing grading practices or GPAs,” White said. “We are not involved in that process.”
But White and others have heard that grade-change policies have affected student motivation and work completion in some districts.
Oklahoma City officials met with Melissa White, executive director of counseling and Achieving Classroom Excellence for the state Education Department, to talk about the grade-change policy.
Melissa White said she shared pros and cons she has heard from other districts. One of the cons, she said, is that a grade-change policy related to EOI exams only would apply to seven corresponding courses. Students in other classes, like physical science or art, would not have the same opportunity to lift a failing grade.
But state officials question whether grade-switching is a good idea.
“Policies like this are districts' decisions,” said Sherry Fair, a spokeswoman for the state Education Department.
“However, the state Department of Ed does not support policies like this, especially if they take away a teacher's ability to issue a final grade.”
Some school districts have policies that require an automatic grade switch.
Putnam City students who pass an EOI but fail a class receive a P on their transcripts instead of an F, spokesman Steve Lindley said. He said student effort hasn't declined because of the policy.
In Tulsa, students also get an automatic P on their transcripts if they pass an EOI but fail a class, said Chris Johnson, assistant superintendent for accountability. He said the policy hasn't hurt student effort because students already are working hard to pass the test in the first place.
“They really try to apply themselves in the class,” Johnson said.
Norman Public Schools does not have such a policy, spokeswoman Shelly Hickman said.
“Students must pass the courses to earn credit,” Hickman said. “We consider the grade earned in the classroom as the most accurate gauge for determining mastery.”
Campbell, the English teacher from John Marshall, said the EOI exams for English aren't a good indicator of all the skills her students learn throughout a school year.
“These are a joke,” Campbell said. “These aren't a real indicator of what a kid can do. They're just a test. They're not real challenging. I don't really think it's a good indicator of my students' knowledge.”
Last year, about three of Campbell students failed her class. This year, only about five are passing.
“It's the worst I have ever seen in my entire life,” she said.
“I'm not doing anything differently. They won't read. They won't do anything.”
She said even if they do pass the EOI, they are not prepared for senior-level English classes.
“That kid could have a zero in that class and have a D on his transcript,” Campbell said. “This is not right for kids. Not right.”