SEBRING - Taking issue with one paragraph of the Student Progression Plan prompted two school board members for a third time to vote against approving the 100-plus page document.
The plan, which is updated annually, spells out all the district's academic policies from compulsory school attendance to promotion requirements to graduation requirements. Most of it is based on state requirements.
School Board Attorney John McClure noted Tuesday that most of the changes for the updated plan for the 2013-14 school year reflect changes in state policy.
But it's a district middle school grading policy that continues to concern School Board Chairman Andy Tuck and School Board Member Donna Howerton.
The Highlands Teacher Union First Vice President Tim Murphy also sounded off against the policy after the board approved the 2013-14 Student Progression Plan by a 3-2 vote, with Tuck and Howerton voting against it.
The grading policy, which has been in place for about 17 years, boosts a grade for one nine-week grading period that is below 50 percent, such as 30 percent, and makes it 50 percent in the calculation for the course's final grade. The policy applies to year-long courses in grades six and seven.
Murphy said the teacher has to be the ultimate arbiter of a student's grade. For example, he has a student from Cuba who speaks no English, but he will not fail his class. By contrast, a student will fail if they have the ability, but decide not to work in class.
Agreeing with Tuck, Murphy said, "You can't just give grades away unless there are specific reasons."
Tuck said, as he stated in the school board workshops, he doesn't believe in this "50 percent rule."
When students are helped by this policy it puts their future teachers at a disadvantage, he said. The stakes are too high for teachers now with their evaluation and pay tied to student achievement.
He believes in doing what is best for the district's students, but he doesn't believe in giving grades away, Tuck said.
Howerton said she agrees with Tuck's concerns.
From what she has heard, teachers have been using their own judgement in grading matters, she said.
Teachers Union President Carla Rice, who was not at the meeting, said Wednesday many middle school teachers have told her they are against the policy.
In her opinion, students are not only being taught reading, writing and arithmetic, but also life skills.
"When they go to a job what is going to happen if they do a 50 percent job or a 30 percent job?" Rice said. "At 30 percent they are not going to say, 'well, we are going to give you a pay raise anyway.'"
Teachers will work with students and parents who want to work toward improvement, she said.
The school board discussed the issue at length during two meetings in 2011, when the policy was proposed to be expanded to include semester-long courses.
At that time, Tuck and Howerton wanted to end the policy completely, but the board voted 3-2 against the motion. The policy was not expanded to semester-long classes, but has remained in place for year-long class.
This is the third year that Tuck and Howerton have voted "no" on approval of the Student Progression Plan due their opposition to the middle school grading policy.
Tuck said Wednesday that grading should be up to the individual teacher who is familiar with the circumstances of their students.
"To have a policy that we are going to give grades away is wrong to me and I will never support that," he said.