Professional educators should know what it takes to get their job done, including when and how to motivate a failing student.
Some in the Beaufort County School District think establishing a grade floor so that it's mathematically possible to achieve a passing grade despite failing in an early grading period is a way to do that.
About half the schools in the Beaufort County School District have such a policy, setting a minimum grade of 60 or 62 in some classes, even if a student actually scored lower than that. That's still a failing grade, but one from which the student might redeem himself. The state requires a 70 or above to avoid an F.
The reality is that a student isn't likely to pull up that floor grade to even a passing "D." But if a student can make that kind of turnaround, why not make it possible?
Kids, especially teenagers, do dumb things. But they are smart about one thing in particular: They recognize when trying harder will do them no good, and they won't expend needless effort.
But we add this caveat: The district should not leave it up to individual schools to decide whether to follow this practice. If it's the right thing to do, all schools at the same grade levels should be doing it.
The district should own this policy, and that includes making sure it is used appropriately and assessing whether it is getting the results intended. After it established a districtwide grades policy for students participating in extracurricular activities, it insisted on standard enforcement and reporting from the schools. The grade-floor policy should be treated no differently.
The decision to leave it up to individual schools came in 2010. A committee, made up of several principals and district instructional services chief Sean Alford and district academic improvement officer Melissa Sheppard, decided there should be no districtwide policy.
A grade floor for at least some courses is in place at eight elementary schools, five middle schools and two high schools. At 10 of the schools, the lowest grade given is a 60, while the five others don't give grades below a 62. Some of the policies only apply to grades given in the first, second or third quarters.
Because teachers enter the grades as 60s, principals couldn't tell our reporter how many students these policies affect. District officials couldn't say exactly how many schools had the policy in place.
That's not acceptable.
A districtwide grade-floor policy for the county's high schools and middle schools was adopted for the 2003-04 school year. After it was established then-superintendent Edna Crews said in February 2004 that the question to be answered was: "Is (the policy) helping kids stay in school who wouldn't normally stay in school?"
The conclusion in June 2004: The grading policy did not result in any significant increase in the percentage of courses passed when compared with the previous school year.
According to a report on the policy, Hilton Head High School students, for example, took 7,230 classes in the first semester of the 2003-04 school year. Students scored 62 or below in 6 percent, or about 434, classes. In the second semester, they scored below a 62 in 10 percent, or about 690 out of 6,906 classes.
In the first semester of the 2002-03 school year, students took 6,600 classes and scored below a 62 in 8 percent, or about 528 classes. In the second semester, they took 6,366 classes and scored 62 or below in 11 percent, or about 700 classes.
The district today should know with that kind of specificity what a grade-floor policy accomplishes and whom it is helping. A policy to leave it up to the individual schools is still a policy.