Zero-grade policy decision delayed

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The policy of giving a zero grade for schoolwork missed due to an unexcused absence is still controversial in Marshall County, but a new program may offer a way to motivate students who don't care if they get a zero grade.

The School Board's policy committee spent time discussing the zero grade at their meeting last week, and got input from school principals, some of whom attended the session, while others sent written statements to the central office.

"A consensus of my teachers is in favor of keeping (the policy) exactly like it is," Cornersville High School Principal Bob Edens said.

The policy helps teach the students life skills, he said.

"Where else are they going to learn you've got to do what the policy says?" Edens asked. "The rules have to be followed whether you're in school or the work force."

Lewisburg Middle School Principal Randy Hubbell wrote that at LMS students were not allowed to participate in extracurricular activities until they had made up all work.

Patty Hill, who teaches at LMS, expanded on that, mentioning ICU, which stands for Intensive Care Unit as described in "The Power of ICU," a new book by Tennessee educators.

"I was a rule follower until we had our ICU training," Hill said. "We were offering free after-school tutoring, and some of the students who had failed the first three nine-week periods passed the fourth -- all by not accepting a zero."

Tennessee educators Danny Hill and Dr. Jayson Nave wrote "The Power of ICU" and explain on their Web site, "ICU stands for Intensive Care Unit, just like in a hospital. ICU is a communication tool, a shared, school-wide document that tracks missing student assignments."

The authors give instructions for setting up a spreadsheet of student names and assignments that all teachers can access and update.

"On June 14, the ICU consultants are coming back to Forrest," said Becky Hill, supervisor of elementary instruction.

"I'm going on the 14th," Oak Grove principal Judy Rickman said. "It would be a good idea to start implementing it in our school."

"I'm really interested. It's a great program," Cornersville Elementary School Principal Bonnie Reese said. "We'll implement it in 5th and 6th grades this fall."

Board member Kristen Gold said, "If we were truly following our policy, you all couldn't be doing what you are doing. Should we table this until we get more information?"

Chapel Hill Elementary principal Dean Delk said, "In the '90s we had the best attendance in the state. Our policy was fine. We enforced it. Our policy's still fine, we just don't enforce it."

All the principals agreed that unexcused absences were a constant problem with a small portion of their school population, and that the current policy lacked "bite" as far as the parents were concerned.

"Judge Bowden can fine the parents (who don't get their kids to school) or put them in jail for 30 days," Edens said.

Marshall Elementary Principal Deborah Wade suggested inviting Bowden to a policy committee meeting, and Edens liked this suggestion, "If he doesn't know we have an issue it's not going to improve."

The policy committee, chaired by Ann Tears, decided not to propose any changes to the zero grade policy until members had more information.