Schools director wants to remove 'zero' grades

Friday, April 24, 2009

Grades of zero will no longer be given in Marshall County schools, if the policy committee and the director of schools get their way when presenting this policy change to the full board for approval.

The committee was discussing Policy 6.2001, attendance in middle and high school, which states, "A grade of zero will be given for any work missed due to an unexcused absence."

"I want to remove 'grade of zero'," said chairwoman Ann Tears.

"Yes," said Stan Curtis. "I would love to take out any policy where 'zero' is involved. It removes motivation. We want them to work harder. 'Zero' doesn't tell us if they have attained the skills."

Furthermore, Curtis added, "You can't come back from a 'zero' grade:" one "zero" pulls the average for the semester down to an unacceptably low level.

"Won't it be extra work for the teachers?" asked committee member Randy Perryman.

"The whole point is we're here to teach children," answered Curtis. "We need to make if difficult to fail. 'Zeros' are only conducive to teachers getting their grade books done.

"Once we get out that 'zero' is not part of our culture, we can build on that," he added.

"When I have a policy I can hold people accountable."

The committee went on to discuss the assignment of students to classes (Policy 6.205). It states, "The principal shall be responsible for assigning all students to classes. Elementary students shall be assigned to teachers based on random selection."

"We need to do a better job of enforcing this," said Tears.

Curtis has been aware of problems with class assignments for some time. In his controversial January memo to principals he wrote, "Principals pick and choose certain students for friends who are teachers. We cannot use TVAAS because of this. We will implement a matrix for determining student placement."

TVASS is the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System. Value-added analysis takes the gains each student makes from year to year and compares it to the gains made by a normative sample for that same subject between those same grades. Thus, if the normal gain from 4th to 5th grade in math was 15 points, a 5th grade teacher's students who averaged a 15-point gain for the year would score 100 percent, or normal gains. A teacher whose students averaged an 18-point gain would score 120 percent, and so forth. Obviously, if a teacher has all the brightest students in his or her class, the teacher's score will be higher, but will not give a true picture of their teaching ability because they are working with a select group.

"I've been working on it all year; I'm going to have to make sure this happens," said Curtis. "The state of Tennessee has more data than any other state. I want to build up a district-wide matrix until every class is balanced for ability levels, race, and gender. I don't know if it will be as successful as I want it to be this first year, but we'll evaluate it again at the end of the year."

"I think we've gone a long way," encouraged budget director Janet Wiles when Curtis admitted that progress toward his goals was slower than he had expected.

"What were you expecting?" asked Tears.

"To have all our administrators on board by now," replied Curtis. "We have some administrative issues we'll have to address."

In other business, Curtis revealed that he has asked middle and high school principals to give some attention to a standardized dress code. He reported that a code had been successfully implemented in Maury County, resulting in improved behavior by students, and lower costs for parents. He cautioned against referring to a school "uniform" because then, legally, the uniform has to be provided free of charge for students getting free or reduced-price lunches.

The policy committee is reviewing one section of the policy manual before each meeting, and this month's assignment was Section 5 "Personnel." Committee member Dee Dee Owens had been through all the policies and asked some good questions. The group decided to try and ask teachers to give 30 days' notice of when they plan to retire.

Human resources director Mitchell Byrd was asked for his input on personnel policies and said, "I didn't really see anything to change. I don't think there's anything major at this time, but we need to hold the option open to change personnel policies in the future."

At their next meeting on May 19, the policy committee will consider Section 4 "Instructional Services."

Marshall County school board polices can be viewed online at Click on "School Board" and then "Policy On-line."