IN the sometimes Orwellian world of politics, the meaning of words can be twisted beyond recognition. In the Oklahoma House of Representatives, some lawmakers are translating “local control” to mean school administrators have a right to require teachers to engage in grade inflation. Failure to turn in an assignment would be no cause for a student to get a zero.
House Bill 1313, by Rep. John Enns, R-Enid, requires schools to adopt a policy mandating that grades reflect “the relative mastery of an assignment by the student.” The bill would forbid administrators from setting a “minimum grade for an assignment without regard to the quality of work by the student.”
In a nutshell, grades would be based on actual classroom performance — things like homework assignments and tests. This probably doesn't sound revolutionary to most Oklahomans, let alone necessary. Sadly, many schools now have either formal or informal minimum-grade policies requiring teachers to give students at least a 50 even when a student doesn't turn in homework.
Supporters of minimum-grade policies argue the psychological impact of a zero is simply too devastating for students, that those who bomb a few tests will become more likely to drop out. Thus, accommodation must be made.
We suspect most Oklahomans think schools should instead prepare children for adult life. Minimum-grade policies don't do that. In the adult world, a person who fails to show up for work day after day won't get half a paycheck.
A variation of the minimum-grade policy recently occurred in Oklahoma City schools, where an unofficial policy changed grades for students who had an F in class but passed a corresponding state end-of-instruction exam. As we've noted, state graduation exams are meant to ensure minimal competency in core subjects. They're an academic floor. Oklahoma City officials turned them into a ceiling. Teachers reported students stopped turning in all homework as a result.
After The Oklahoman reported on the policy, Oklahoma City school officials were shamed into dropping it. However, variations of the grade-changing policy reportedly are occurring elsewhere, including Guthrie, Midwest City-Del City, Millwood, Putnam City, Tulsa, Western Heights and Yukon. Enns notes minimum-grade policies undermine teacher authority and morale.
Yet when HB 1313 was brought up on May 8, House members rejected it. The legislation failed 48-43; it needed 51 votes to pass. The bill may be brought up again for reconsideration.
Enns said opponents argue the bill infringes upon local control of schools. And, of course, Oklahoma school administrators furiously lobbied against it — which suggests minimum-grade policies are relatively widespread. Sadly, opposition among administrators isn't surprising.
When a similar truth-in-grading law passed in Texas, 11 Houston-area districts sued. The Texas AFT, a teachers' union, was among those who successfully defended the law. Texas AFT member Mary Roberts, a veteran teacher from one of the suing districts, said minimum-grade policies forced her to give inaccurate, unearned grades to students, which devalued real effort and achievement. She said struggling students could be helped without sacrificing educational standards.
“Getting something for nothing is not a lesson I care to teach,” Roberts said, “and I believe many educators feel the same.”
Lawmakers should approve this bill and send it to the governor. Those opposing HB 1313 aren't increasing local control. They're undermining local teachers.