Grading issues questioned at meeting

Published 12:04 am Friday, June 10, 2011

NATCHEZ — Some loopholes in the Natchez-Adams School District’s grading policy might allow students to pass a class while putting in little to no effort, school board member David Troutman said.

The district’s policy sets a minimum, failing grade for any semester at 50 percent. That way, if the student performs better in the second semester, they have a chance to pass.

But, the policy has a reverse effect too, Troutman said, giving students an opportunity to slide by without doing much in the second half of the year if they know they can’t score lower than 50.

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Troutman, who currently teaches in Concordia Parish, said he has taught a student who did well the first semester of Algebra I and stopped performing second semester, and a minimum grade policy allowed him to pass without actually learning anything the second half of the year.

“That student will be a problem in Algebra II and geometry,” Troutman said.

With the policy, a student can hypothetically score an actual 0 percent one semester and still pass the course if he or she makes a 70 percent the next semester.

Troutman said he does understand the purpose and value in the policy, however.

“If a student earns a 20, and (teachers) give them a 20, (the student) is doomed for the rest of year and becomes a behavior problem because they can’t possibly pass.”

Troutman said the policy needed tweaking.

“I support the practice and do it all the time, but oppose mandating it in every case,” he said.

Another policy requires semester grades to consist of 60 percent daily class work and 40 percent tests and exams.

“Unfortunately a lot of work is copied or plagiarized. A student could copy every assignment and get 0 on every test (and still pass),” Troutman said.

Troutman said he thought the 60-40 split did work well for many classes, but that it would not work well for others.

He suggested the policy allow teachers to apply for an exception to implement their own grading scale.

Superintendent Anthony Morris said he was not sure if, according to state regulation, that the district could adjust some of the policies Troutman discussed.

Troutman made a motion to direct the administration to research ways — if possible — to include his concerns in a policy adjustment.

The board passed Troutman’s motion with a 4-0 vote, with board members Harold Barnett, Thelma Newsome and Dr. Benny Wright supporting it. Board member Dale Steckler was not present at the meeting.

In other school district business:

4Tommie Jones, the Area 7 Special Olympics director and NASD employee for 32 years spoke at the meeting to urge the board not to release Morris from his position as superintendent.

The school board voted, in the spring, no to renew Morris’ contract, which expires at the end of June. Morris is currently appealing the decision, but his appeal hearing is not complete.

“I speak as an educator, as a concerned parent and a community member,” Jones said.

She said the Southwest Mississippi Educator’s Summer Conference partially organized by Morris and hosted in Natchez this week demonstrates a continual effort on Morris’s part to acclimate the district to 21st century technology.

Jones said this year’s test results show the district has made improvements under Morris’ leadership.

McLaurin Elementary jumped from “at risk of failing” to “successful.” Morgantown Elementary’s overall numerical score improved by one point and Natchez High School’s graduation rate improved to 164 this year compared to 138 last year.

The scores Jones alluded to compared the 2009-2010 school year with 2008-2009.

“We do have growth in different areas, and we all have to work together as school board members, parents and students to achieve growth to be high performing.

“I feel a superintendent change at this point would cause us to regress.”

Jones said Morris has the knowledge to move the district forward, and he also reaches out to juvenile justice center, private schools and other partners in education.

“I sincerely hope the board allows Dr. Morris to continue his quest to move the school district forward,” she said.

4 In response to the superintendent’s request to post a librarian vacancy for Frazier Primary School, the board directed Morris to see if other district schools had a librarian on staff that could be transferred to Frazier.

NASD Business Manager Margaret Parson, at Wright’s inquiry, noted the district would save the expense of a librarian if it hired from within the district.

On Newsome’s motion, the board unanimously agreed to exclude the librarian position from the list of vacancies pending an examination of how it would affect the budget.