Tam Larnerd, principal of Miller Middle School in Henderson, talks with students during lunch. Like other school administrators in Clark County, Larnerd has been experimenting with grading policies — in his case, the penalty imposed on students for turning in homework assignments late.
By Emily Richmond
Monday, Feb. 4, 2008 | 2 a.m.
When it comes to calculating grades, some Clark County schools are using new math: 0+0 = 50 percent.
At those schools, 50 is the lowest score a teacher can put on a student’s report card, even if no homework was completed during the semester and every test resulted in a score of zero.
At Thurman White Middle School in Henderson, an effort to set a higher “minimum F” began just as report cards were being finalized two weeks ago.
Sherry Harmon, the mother of a seventh grader at the school, said Friday she has mixed feelings about the concept.
“Eventually, kids are going to have to go on to college and into the real world. What happens when someone isn’t going to give them 50 points for doing nothing?”
Gina Freedain, whose daughter is in eighth grade at White, said, “The kids would know they could slack off a little more and still get by. If they’re studying and putting in at least some effort, they should be able to pull a C. If they can’t, maybe they shouldn’t be in the class at all.”
Advocates of the more generous policy that makes 50 the minimum F say it is intended to give weaker students a better chance of passing. It is aimed at keeping them from being prematurely doomed by the numbers that are behind report card letter grades.
The district’s electronic grading system converts each student’s numerical scores to letter grades. All scores below 60 — whether they are 59, 29 or zero — earn an F. The numerical scores carry through, however, and determine the final letter grades for each semester and school year. So if a student has a very low F in the first half of a semester, it could cause him to fail the class even if he dramatically improves his performance in the second half.
There is heated debate in the education community, in Clark County and across the nation, over grading policies and which approach best motivates students to take their schoolwork more seriously.
There is no minimum numerical grade written into Clark County School District policy, and it’s unclear how many of the district’s campuses are using the minimum F in their grading formulas because the central office does not keep track.
The Sun found that some campuses have had the policy in place for years, and others are trying it out.
As principal of Silvestri Middle School, Debbie Brockett set the bottom score for quarter and semester grades at 50. She took over as principal of Las Vegas High School in August, and in early January, she told her staff she wanted to put the same policy in place there.
The ensuing debate “got a little heated,” Brockett said. “Teachers didn’t want to inflate grades by allowing kids to have points they did not earn.”
She realized the timing of the discussion — two weeks before final grades went out — wasn’t fair, so she pulled back.
“It’s hard for me because this is a philosophy I believe in,” she said. “What we have to figure out now is what will best help the kids who are really struggling. I don’t believe that handing out zeros is the answer.”
At Thurman White Middle School, the administration’s approach to grading reform was heavier-handed.
On Jan. 18, the last day of the semester, Vice Principal Jerry Cornell told teachers to raise failing grades for the first two quarters of the year to a minimum of 59 percent, sources told the Sun.
In a memo sent later that day, the school’s educational computing strategist explained how to go into the school’s electronic grade book and make the changes.
“If a student has a 24 percent for a quarter grade, adjusting that student’s grade to 59 percent is still an F,” according to the memo obtained by the Sun. “By adjusting the student’s grade, this gives the student the opportunity to improve their grades in the next semester.”
Cornell could not be reached for comment. White’s principal, Danielle Miller, told the Sun she was out of town on Jan. 18 and Cornell’s instructions did not come from her.
Miller said she had previously spoken with some of the school’s teachers about what she viewed as problems in the grading system — that one quarter’s low score could cancel out the rest of the semester’s hard work. That only leaves students discouraged, Miller said.
She could not explain why the vice principal had given teachers instructions to raise failing grades.
“This was not my intention,” Miller said. “I don’t think anyone should change their grades and I would never tell my teachers to do that.”
It was unknown whether any teachers at White raised failing grades. Teachers have already submitted their semester grades to the district, and report cards will be distributed at schools Wednesday.
Andre Denson, southeast region superintendent, said he was aware of the situation at White and planned to follow up.
“If there’s an inconsistent message within the school, it’s up to the principal to make sure everyone is on the same page,” he said.
The instruction to raise all failing scores to 59 “doesn’t make sense mathematically,” Denson said.
When he was principal at Mojave High School several years ago, Denson set the minimum F at 50. That decision came after a series of meetings, often heated, with teachers and parents.
To Denson, the logic was clear.
“What do we tell our students who are failing in October — ‘Go home, there’s no hope for you, come back in January’? With the 50 percent minimum, a kid has a chance. Some of them took it, some didn’t.”
Denson has formed a task force to look at elementary school grading, and discussions on the minimum F will likely be next. He has no intention of issuing a regional mandate, however.
The district “regulation states very clearly that below 60 percent is an F, but where the bottom is was never identified,” Denson said. “That was done deliberately so schools could have that dialogue themselves.”
School Board President Mary Beth Scow said she’s concerned there isn’t uniformity in grading policies among the district’s schools. That was the goal in 2006 when the board mandated that middle and high school teachers give equal weight to each half of each semester and not count the final exam as more than 20 percent of the final grade.
“We want schools to be empowered and make their own decisions, but some things need to be standard,” Scow said.
Resetting the scale at 50 “gives students a false sense of achievement,” said Mary Ella Holloway, president of the Clark County Education Association. ‘What do you do with the child who doesn’t do anything for nine weeks?”
Some of the nation’s larger school districts are facing similar debates.
In Texas, for example, teachers are petitioning the Dallas School Board for permission to hand out grades below 50 percent.
Douglas Reeves, an education consultant, said the first question should be whether grades are solely to rank students against one another, or to help provide motivation, feedback and encouragement.
Studies have shown that when teachers stop handing out zeros, “you have better performance and better morale,” Reeves said.
But it may take more than a new district policy to motivate students.
Whether the bottom score is zero or 50, “some kids just don’t care,” said Ryan Chahoc, an eighth grade honor student at White. “Some want to work hard. Some just don’t. I don’t think that’s going to change.”
Schoolwide Homework Policy
educational research on topics which impact our students and their families. While there has been a long-standing connection between school and homework, also connected is the difficulty in completing it. We know that negative connections often outweigh any positive impact for 3-10 year olds. (The impact for middle and high school students does show different results with respect to academic achievement.) Woolley’s school wide homework policy starting August 14, 2017 will require students to do ONE thing each night, READ! In addition, students will be asked to practice their handwriting, but that request is optional. For elementary aged students, being able to read and comprehend the written materials is the greatest indicator of their success in middle and high school and beyond. Conversely, if students are not reading at what is determined to be “their level”, the risk for continued school failure is compounded.
The expected/allocated time for Homework (Reading) is as follows:
Grades K-1: READING 10 MINUTES PRACTICE HANDWRITING 5 MINUTES
Grade 2: READING 20 MINUTES PRACTICE HANDWRITING 10 MINUTES
Grade 3: READING 30 MINUTES PRACTICE HANDWRITING 10 MINUTES
Grade 4: READING 40 MINUTES PRACTICE HANDWRITING 10 MINUTES
Grade 5: READING 50 MINUTES PRACTICE HANDWRITING 10 MINUTES
Each teacher will further explain his/her expectations for reading homework. For example, a student may
need to report back about the setting of the book/pages he or she read the previous night. Or, a student
may be asked to share about a character’s conflict in a story. Teachers will ensure that students always
have access to books which interest them and are appropriate for their current instructional level.
Additionally, teachers may ask students to keep a reading log, with a few notes, and parents’ initials
verifying the time read. Once per month, upper grade teachers (grades 3-5) may assign projects, which will require some work outside of the classroom. There will not be any “packets” or “worksheets” that you may have been familiar with in the past. If your child is not yet an independent reader, being read to (by an adult or any fluent reader in the home) is beneficial, and will be considered completed homework. Students will never be penalized for not reading after school, only praised when they do. Parents can certainly still have their child practice any skill for which he/she is struggling (ex: multiplication facts, etc.), but this will not be part of the school’s homework program or expectations. We do not want to give them impression that math or science or any other of the academic subjects are not important, nor do we want to imply that homework does not matter to being successful in school. Our goal is to focus on what matters most; Reading at Grade Level.
If you have questions please contact your child’s teacher.
- The Las Vegas-Clark County Library District offers live, onsite tutoring weekly at various branches in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, and Moapa Valley. Hours vary by site. Live tutoring and expert homework help is also available through BrainFuse daily from 1:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Students can access BrainFuse at a library location, via the Web, or using a mobile device. Families can visit http://hottopics.lvccld.org/tutors for more information and schedules for onsite tutoring.
- The Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada offers onsite tutoring at many of their locations throughout the valley. Hours vary by site. Families can call (702) 367-2582 or visit https://www.bgcsnv.org for more information.
- After-School All-Stars Programs utilize certified teachers to provide homework assistance, test preparation, and individualized tutoring in core subjects, such as English and Mathematics. Programs are available at 14 valley elementary and middle schools. Families can visit http://www.asaslv.org/ for more information.
- Khan Academy is an online resource that provides students with video instruction and practice problems to assist with learning concepts. Extensive support is available for K-12 mathematics extending past Calculus. Families can visit http://khanacademy.org for assistance.
- CK-12 Foundation provides a library of free online textbooks, study guides, videos, exercises, flashcards, and real world applications for over 5,000 concepts to assist with learning K-12 mathematics and science concepts. Families can visit: http://www.ck12.org for assistance.
- Socratic is a free mobile app that allows students to take a photo of a homework problem and get explanations, videos, and step-by-step help instantly. Socratic supports Mathematics, Science, History, English, Economics, and more.