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News Education Jackson schools adopt ‘no zero-grade’ policy

An administrative decision regarding the student grading process has left some Jackson County parents concerned. At the beginning of the spring semester for the 2013-14 school year, Jackson County administrators made the decision to adopt a “no-zero-grade policy.” The new procedure prohibits teachers from being able to issue any grade below a 55 to students, regardless if a student completes an assignment or not.

The new procedure, which is supported by the Jackson County Board of Education, was considered this fall when central office and school based administrators met and discussed the grading procedures. “We reached consensus on the equity for the “F” numerical range and will implement the procedure beginning with the second semester, [Jan. 2014],” said Dr. Kim Elliott Assistant Superintendent for Jackson County Schools.

The grading scale was changed in order to encourage students to continue to make an effort to improve. “The intent of the procedure is to create higher standards for the students through the ability to complete work and raise their grade,” said Elliott. “Many students give up when the “hole is so deep they can never dig out. We must never remove all hope from a student who is willing to do the work. Equity and consistency is encouraged in all grading practices. Teachers must always create the criteria for earning the A, B, C, D, or F and align the criteria with the syllabi and grade book.”

According to Elliott, teachers have voiced concern and opposition to the new procedure. “All of our teachers care about our students, let me stress this whole heartedly… Some teachers have voiced a concern and wish to give the student a zero, but most teachers understand the equity issue in the numerical grading system and agree that students need the same opportunity to move from an “F” to a “D” as to move from a “C” to a “B.” Statistically, we must ensure the ranges for grading is fair and equitable.”

The memo sent to Jackson County teachers on January 21 outlines the changes to the grading process. The changes not only include changing the lowest grade possible for completed work to a 55, but if a student fails to complete an assignment altogether, they are given an “M” and encouraged to make up the work through an extended period of time.

The memo states:

“Beginning in second semester of 2014, grading guidance is provided for all teachers using the parent portal and submitting grades to PowerSchool.

“Statistically, we must ensure the range for grading is equitable.

“Teachers will use personal judgment and discretion when applying a rubric within a grade range. The standard remains A, B, C, D, F. There are eight numerals in the “A” range, “B” range, “C” range, etc.

“We are moving toward equity in the “F” range, as well. With a range of 55-69, there remains a 15-point range as opposed to eight points.

“Students who have no hope statistically, to move to the next grade range, often “give up” and complete no tasks.

“If a student fails to turn in an assignment, the denotation in PowerSchool is the letter “M” for missing work. If work is missing, it does NOT receive a score of 55.

“We encourage students to make up their assignments in a timely manner. Conversely, if a student accumulates multiple “M” scores, this situation may result in an “F” for the course.

“We encourage consistency and fairness in all grading practices.”

Parents are questioning the policy and believe that it will allow children to take advantage of the system. “Where do we start,” said Paige Madison, who has three children in Jackson County Schools. “This is a bad policy! Teachers and parents were not involved. Are other counties adopting policy or are we the trial and error county?”

Cathy Wallis, who has two school age children in Jackson County, along with her two twin girls who will soon enter the public education system believes the new policy will create poor morale for students. “I think it's crazy. I have always taught my children work for what you want. If kids don't have to work for a passing grade they won’t,” she said. “My oldest son has already had problems at school, but I will tell you, he may not be a straight A student but he works hard for what he gets. No, it may not always be a passing grade, but I know some students who don't try and they are now not going to have to do anything at all. As a mom of two Jackson County students, I am very upset that our schools are going to be doing this. I am almost to the point of homeschooling both of my kids and the twins when they get to school age.”

One former Jackson County educator, who retired after nearly 30 years of teaching believes the new procedure will only further “dumb down” Americans.

“My main philosophy was to stop the dumbing down of American education and to try to help each child live up to his/her potential,” said the educator, who wanted to remain anonymous. “In this way they would have happier lives and our country would become stronger. Instant gratification is never the answer unless on one's death bed. It is like a Crackerjack School; everyone gets a prize. The good in every individual needs to be recognized and honored. Each should be taught to maximize that gift to benefit others as well as him/herself."

Renee Peoples, an elementary school educator in Swain County who has been recognized on the state level for her accomplishments in education, believes the procedure will further hinder the education process and is not realistic for when children leave school and enter the work force.

“This is one more step to help kids have high self-esteem. If their self-esteem is high enough they can join all the other Americans with the highest self-esteem. Sadly, those people reside in prison,” said Peoples. “55 free points, that means you only have to do half the work. Great deal. And it is so true of life, right? All employers want employees who expect to get paid 100 percent for doing 45 percent of a job; don't you think?”


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