Setting 'grade floors' now requires Beaufort County school district approval

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comJuly 19, 2012 

School board Chairman Fred Washington Jr. discusses his motion for a districtwide grading policy.


  • In other action:

  • The board unanimously approved a policy requiring identification of areas where attendance boundaries might change. The areas will be identified each year, and parents, government officials and real estate agents will be notified. The policy also spells out "triggers" for redrawing attendance zones.

  • The board is scheduled to finish its work session today. The public session begins at about 9:15 a.m. at the district offices at 2900 Mink Point Blvd. in Beaufort.

  • The board unanimously approved doing a study of merit-pay models tying district staff salaries to student achievement. The study is expected to be presented in the fall.

  • The board unanimously agreed to join a state Department of Education grant application. If approved, the district would implement principles included in the Teacher Advancement Program, which combines professional development with teacher evaluations based on student achievement, at more district schools in the coming years.

Beaufort County public schools that want to prevent students' grades from dropping below a certain mark now must have approval from district administration.

The policy approved Thursday by the Beaufort County Board of Education keeps grades under teachers' control and requires that they follow the state's grading scale.

But if a teacher or school adopts specific grading practices -- such as the decision by half of the district's schools to give students no lower than a 60 percent on report cards -- district administration must approve the practice.

Previously, district officials have said individual schools can set their own policies on grade floors.

The change follows the resignation of Beaufort High School principal Dan Durbin, who changed grades for 33 students without following district protocol. Superintendent Valerie Truesdale has said grade floors are different from Durbin's "unilateral" actions.

The district policy, proposed by board Chairman Fred Washington Jr., was approved 6-2. Board members George Wilson and Julie Bell dissented. Board members Wayne Carbiener, Steven Morello and Ron Speaks were absent.

Washington said he proposed the policy to address community concerns that there was no district-level oversight of grade floors. District oversight could lead to schools sharing best practices, he said.

Bell and Wilson didn't oppose grade floors, but said that if they are used, they should be the same throughout the district.

"If it's not done the same at every school, it shouldn't be done at all," Bell said.

The practice, used in some or all courses at 15 schools in the district, essentially gives a student a higher "F" on a report card. For example, if a student earns a 45 percent during a quarter, it would show up as a 60 percent. The higher grade prevents the student from falling too far behind, allowing another chance to pass before semester grades are issued, principals have said.

Principals say the practices follow lengthy staff discussions, and some schools reconsider the practice each year.

At Whale Branch Early College High School, students cannot earn lower than a 62 percent on their report cards during the first, second and third quarters. Principal Priscilla Drake said Thursday that practice was adopted as to keep struggling students motivated.

But board members argued that there are struggling students at schools across the district -- it's not fair to give some students a grade floor and others not.

"We have students who have experienced no success in all of our schools," board member Bill Evans said. "We can't address this problem and say, 'At this school because of the history of the kids we should have (a grade floor).' "

Evans also argued for a consistent policy from school to school.

Truesdale told the board she didn't support such a policy.

"It's really important in my opinion that you all respect the right of teachers to come together and work with principals (on this)," she said.

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