Henry County Schools superintendent dodges questions - CBS46 News

Henry County Schools superintendent dodges questions about grade changes

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A Luella High School teacher is speaking out against the district concerning students with failing grades getting bumped up to passing.

The issue for Howard Lomax came to the forefront on Dec. 21 when Luella Principal Jerry Smith sent out an e-mail regarding student grades at the end of the semester.

In that email it states, "Please do not have a student fail with a final average of 68 or 69; at the very least be sure that those students receive a grade recovery contract.  You can edit and resubmit grades if you have already posted them.  Just make sure to follow the entire process again."

"I think it is wrong, I think it is cheating the kids and it is cheating the parents," Lomax said. "Somebody needs to say something about this.  Somebody needs to make this known."

School spokesman John Hardin confirmed that students with a 68 or 69 were given an opportunity to make up for low grades.  But Lomax said it goes well beyond those grades.

"I would like to see them explain how you can have somebody with a 62 or 63 pass the class with a 70," Lomax said.

Lomax provided CBS Atlanta's Mike Paluska with documents from the previous semester that show students with a 61, two 62s and a 66 were all bumped to a 70.

"I am thinking about our kids as well," Lomax said.  "This is something that is devastating our kids, and it is really bringing down the level of, I guess you could say, excellence for education.  You can't let this go on indefinitely.  You have to be responsible for what you do.  You can't simply not do the work and expect to get the grade.  You can't go to work, I can't go to work and not do my job and expect to get a pay check."

The district initially agreed to talk on camera about Lomax's concerns but decided only to issue a statement when we would not provide them with a list of questions.  We caught up with the Superintendent Ethan Hildreth for comment.

"Certainly let me just share this, certainly at Henry County Schools we take any concern seriously," Hildreth said. 

Hildreth would not answer any more questions about the grade changes.

A representative with the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the largest teacher organization in the state, said the issues raised by Lomax are concerning. 

"It is unethical, and the policy varies district to district," Tim Callahan said. 

Callahan also said teachers working with their students should make the final determination for a student to achieve a passing grade if they are failing.

"It's a case by case basis.  Some students might be doing the work but are terrible test takers, or there could be other personal issues," Callahan said.

The legal services director for the Georgia Association of Educators said the issues surrounding teachers failing students is a difficult one to tackle but there should be no coercion by administrators for teachers to pass students.

Michael McGonigle provided CBS Atlanta News with the Georgia statute put in place to protect teachers from any outside pressures to change grades.

It is the Grade Integrity Act of 2007 which states:

§ 20-2-989.20.

(a) No classroom teacher shall be required, coerced, intimidated, or disciplined in any manner by the local board of education, superintendent, or any local school administrator to change the grade of a student. This subsection shall not apply when a teacher has failed to comply with grading policies or rules adopted by the local board of education or written procedures established by an individual school that are applicable to the grading process, unless such policy, rule, or procedure would require a student be given a grade different than the actual grade achieved.  A violation of this Code section shall constitute an ethics violation reportable to the Professional Standards Commission pursuant to Part 10 of this article.

(b) Nothing in this Code section shall be construed to prevent a principal or other local school administrator from discussing the grade of a student with a classroom teacher.

(c) Nothing in this Code section shall be construed to prevent a central office administrator, superintendent, or local school administrator from changing a student's grade. Any grade change made by a person other than the classroom teacher must be clearly indicated in the student's school records and must indicate the person responsible for making such grade change.

Hardin released this statement:

"Henry County Schools is committed to ensuring success for each of its students.  Growth and success for each student is measured in mastery of class content and coursework and may not necessarily be reflected in a singular grade.  Providing students with earnest and honest ways of passing a class is not a novel concept.  Teachers are constantly aware of students who may be struggling in their class during a semester and will provide feedback to the student and their parents or guardians on the potential of failing a class.  There comes a point at the end of the semester where a student may have a failing grade, but an opportunity is recognized to provide this student with a chance to complete meaningful work geared towards further content mastery while allowing them to improve their grade.  This is done as a partnership between the teacher and the student.

"There is no mandate from the district or a school to pass a student who is failing and there never has been.  It should also be noted that teachers' and principals' evaluations are not based on pass rates in their courses. We believe that teachers and schools must provide students multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery of their work.  This opportunity doesn't always fit into prescribed time periods like a semester or a term.  We know that all students learn at different rates and the idea of offering credit recovery, learning contracts, or grade recovery options like make-up work have been a part of education for decades.  We encourage our educators to do whatever it takes to give students the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the content.  That being said, a grade should not be changed without adequate evidence that a student has demonstrated this mastery.

"We take very seriously any allegation of fraudulent activity by any of our staff members and will investigate to see if there are any violations.  We urge our staff to report to their supervisor any activity they deem suspicious."

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