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Pass/fail standard revised, restored

One school didn't know about stricter requirements, so they won't take effect districtwide until fall.

By EDDY RAMIREZ
Published July 9, 2006


INVERNESS - Citrus Springs Middle School teacher Gregory Thomas was surprised and upset when he learned last August that students could pass his math class with minimum effort.

A middle school student who earned a C in the first nine weeks of a course could get nothing but F's the rest of the year and still pass the class.

Aware of the loophole, Mark Klauder, the district's coordinator of secondary education, decided something had to be done. He called a meeting of middle school principals to discuss raising the bar - and a slightly higher standard was set.

The same student with a C in the first nine weeks of class would now have to earn at least a D in the second nine weeks to earn a passing grade for the year.

But a few weeks before school let out, as Thomas and other teachers were deciding which students to pass and which to fail, something curious happened.

Thomas learned that the school district had gone back to the original minimum requirements for passing students.

He fired off an e-mail to superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel.

"This, to me, gives the appearance that we are more concerned with moving students out of our system than we are in preparing them academically," he wrote. "It also seems that this lowering of the bar near the end of the school year is intended to avoid any negative reaction and dialogue."

Klauder, who has been attending to other school business, acknowledged recently that the district indeed went back to the status quo just before school let out in May. But he said the decision was made for the sole reason that there was a "breakdown in communication."

It turns out, the teachers at Crystal River Middle School never caught word of the change. In the midst of principal Gina Tovine's departure from the school, it seems that someone forgot to communicate the news to her staff, Klauder said.

Klauder called the situation "unfortunate." As a matter of fairness, he said the district decided to push back the new grading system to this fall.

Klauder could not say last week how many students would have been failed had the district not reversed course. He said it would have been "very few students."

Asked if the district received any complaints from parents, Klauder answered no.

Reached by telephone, Thomas, the teacher at Citrus Springs Middle, declined to offer his thoughts on the new grading policy.

He said he would not have criticized the district for flip-flopping over e-mail had he known that e-mail correspondence is subject to public review.

In his e-mail to Himmel, he had written that he hoped to be wrong on his assumptions. But his last two lines offer insight into how teachers sometimes see decisions made by district administrators.

"I know that decisions are often made on the basis of factors that we teachers in the classroom are unaware of. If this is the case, perhaps it would be a good idea to communicate these factors to us."

Eddy Ramirez can be reached at eramirez@sptimes.com or 860-7305.

[Last modified July 8, 2006, 22:41:07]


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