Failing grades will mean flunking

"Here's what the new Coupeville School District advancement policy requires:• Pass all classes according to district policy or have a plan for remediation on file. This plan must include a commitment to Learning Partner program/tutor and a commitment to summer school.• Demonstrate attendance and conduct in compliance with Washington State law and Coupeville School Board policy.• Demonstrate competent level of performance on assessments as defined by the district. •Demonstrate contribution to the school and/or community through service learning participation.• Demonstrate reading competency at or above grade level (from third-grade through Certificate of Mastery) or have a learning plan on file which will include a Learning Partner/tutor and may include summer school.Fifth-graders, eighth-graders and high school juniors have additional requirements.New policy means students won't pass without passing gradesCoupeville schools are sending a strong message to students this year - pass your classes.If not, the choice is either summer school, tutoring or being held back.District officials hope a new advancement policy, being tried with fifth through ninth-graders, will make sure students are ready before they are moved up to the next grade level.We wanted a policy that made advancement based on more than just because the kids were a year older and outgrew their chairs, said Coupeville Middle School principal Phyllis Textor. I think we have to do a better job of sending kids to the high school who are prepared academically and emotionally.In a couple weeks semester grades will be released. Along with them will come special letters to the parents of students who received Ds and Fs on their report cards. The message will be clear Textor said - their grades need to improve by the end of the year or their advancement to the next grade will be in question.Textor said she also plans to meet personally with parents and students to work up a plan that will put the student back on track. That could include getting together with after-school tutors through the district's Learning Partners program and signing up for summer school. If they do not do well in summer school or refuse to go to summer school they won't be passed on, she said.Students in fifth- and eighth-grade will also have to present a transition portfolio that demonstrates their readiness to take the step to a new school.The new advancement policy was put together after more than a year of planning by staff, administrators and parents on the district's K-12 Articulation Committee. The policy document went through 11 drafts before being finalized. Students, staff and parents have been aware of it since the beginning of the school year and Textor said no one should be surprised by the action the district is taking. School Districts across the state are all looking at tougher advancement policies in the wake of new education reforms designed to raise the knowledge level and thinking skills of students. It's expected that by the year 2008 all students will have to pass a Certificate of Mastery test in order to get a high school diploma.School district officials know where the biggest problems are. Often students have the most difficulty changing from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school. Ninth grade, the first year of high school, is well known for its high failure and dropout rate.But the policy has always been to promote kids to the next grade level unless there was an overriding reason to keep them back. Textor said research has shown that making students repeat the same class usually doesn't work and the stigma attached to it can actually be harmful.In addition, many schools have also been ill-equipped financially and facility-wise to handle the load of retaining large numbers of students or offering full summer school programs. Textor said there have been times when she has reluctantly sent students off to the high school who were failing multiple classes.Much of the problem, Textor said, is that the vast majority of students are capable of passing their classes but don't try. The new policy is aimed primarily at them. It's clear they know how to do the work. They just choose not to, she said. That's particularly true of middle school students. Under the new policy failure to do the required work will not be tolerated. This is where they learn to make decisions and learn that there are consequences to their decisions.Textor said as many as 39 percent of Coupeville Middle School students and about 45 percent of high school students are currently working at D level in at least one class. Those currently failing classes make up about 10 percent of the student body. She said grades are being posted on a weekly basis so that everyone is fully aware of where they stand.Generally we're saying they have to pass their classes. We hope they will, said Textor. Otherwise we're going to have a very big middle school."

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