Chris Ardis

I have wonderful news to share with teachers as we spend this week preparing for the return of our students. Parents and students need to be aware of the news, too.

On June 28, Travis County State District Judge Gisela Triana-Doyal rendered a decision I would love to shout from the highest mountain (though I realize in the Valley that may be on the South Second Street overpass). In response to a lawsuit filed by 11 Texas school districts (Aldine, Alief, Anahuac, Clear Creek, Deer Park, Dickinson, Eanes, Fort Bend, Humble, Klein and Livingston), Judge Triana-Doyal ruled that school districts across Texas must put an end to minimum grading policies.

In case you are unaware of this controversy, hereís some history. Stunned when she learned that school districts across the state were demanding that teachers “give” students a minimum grade (often a “50” or “60”) on class assignments and on report cards rather than the grade they actually earned, Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) got to work to end the practice. A former teacher who served two terms on the State Board of Education before becoming a legislator, Sen. Nelson authored SB2033, which went into effect during the 2009-2010 school year. This bill made minimum grading policies a legal issue. The bill reads:

Sec. 28.0216. DISTRICT GRADING POLICY. A school district shall adopt a grading policy, including provisions for the assignment of grades on class assignments and examinations, before each school year. A district grading policy:

(1) must require a classroom teacher to assign a grade that reflects the studentís relative mastery of an assignment;

(2) may not require a classroom teacher to assign a minimum grade for an assignment without regard to the studentís quality of work; and

(3) may allow a student a reasonable opportunity to make up or redo a class assignment or examination for which the student received a failing grade.

SECTION 2. This Act applies beginning with the 2009-2010 school year.

(I would like to add here that #3 reads “MAY” allow not “MUST” allow. We must remember our goal of making students COLLEGE and CAREER READY. But I digress…)

On her Web site, Sen. Nelson clearly explains why she pushed for this law: “Students will live up to the expectations we set for them. Minimum grade policies reward minimum effort. Teachers are in the best position to judge a studentís work and should have the freedom to assign grades that reflect the merit of a studentís performance.”

Immediately, some districts in Texas decided to circumvent the law by interpreting it to mean teachers cannot be forced to give students a minimum grade on individual assignments, but districts could enforce a minimum grading policy for report card grades. Sen. Nelson fired back, asking the Texas Education Agency to clarify the law. TEA sent a letter to districts across the state last school year. I received that letter. Part of it read, “…TEA understands this legislation to also require honest grades for each grading period including six weeks, nine weeks, or semester grades for two reasons. First, if actual grades on assignments are not used in determining a six weeks grade, the purpose of the legislation has been defeated. Second, since 1995, Texas Education Code §28.021 has required decisions on promotion or course credit to be based on Ďacademic achievement or demonstrated proficiency.í If the six weeks grades do not reflect the actual assignment grades, they would not reflect academic achievement or demonstrated proficiency.”

On Nov. 18, 2009, the lawsuit was filed. In its text, it read that the commissioner of educationís “de facto rule poses a ripe and justiciable case controversy and poses a threat of immediate irreparable harm to Plaintiffs, students and other school districts.”

In June, Judge Triana-Doyal disagreed. Her decision and Sen. Nelsonís persistence in doing what is right for our students resulted in great news for the start of a new school year. As one of my friends, a local business owner and strong education proponent said, it is imperative that we teach our children that they get what they earn. The districts involved in the suit may appeal. Letís hope they donít.

Chris Ardis is in her 27th year of teaching, 26 of those with McAllen ISD. You can visit her web site at www.chrisardis.com for more information and links to reports on this to

pic and others.