District 51 denies grade inflation at Grand Junction High School
Allegations that Grand Junction High School administrators discouraged teachers from giving students D’s or F’s are “obviously not true,” according to District 51 Chief Academic Officer Bill Larsen. But he said high school teachers district-wide are encouraged to help prevent students from getting those grades.
Questions about Grand Junction High grading practices arose after District 51 School Board members deadlocked last week on deciding whether to fire Grand Junction High School math teacher Jane White after 15 years on the job. Administrative Law Judge Matthew E. Norwood’s written decision on the case, which recommended the district retain her after nearly a year on leave, said “multiple teachers testified that the administration at GJHS put pressure on them to avoid giving D’s and to particularly avoid giving F’s.”
“‘Failure was not an option’ was the message these teachers received,” according to the decision. “The administration sought to minimize complaints from parents and wanted to make sure that students remained eligible for athletic competition, marching band and other activities. Such eligibility was very important for some parents. Some parents would themselves complete a student’s homework.”
Larsen said Grand Junction High administrators have been discouraged from talking about the specific allegation or anything related to the case pending a decision from the school board on the fate of White’s job. In the meantime, he said administrators at all District 51 high schools routinely “inform teachers it is unacceptable to have numerous students with D’s and F’s.”
Each high school tracks which students are getting D’s or F’s. Students cannot graduate without a C average, or 2.0 grade-point average, so Larsen said it is part of school expectations that a teacher offer interventions for students in danger of not graduating.
Larsen said the district does not a have a specific threshold for the number of failing students before an administrator has to talk to a teacher. If a few students are failing, a teacher may be asked to offer small group teaching, additional instruction through a computer program, or tutoring before or after school. Re-teaching one or more concepts may be required if multiple students are failing and students who have failed can be sent to a computer lab for credit recovery. The goal is to allow students extra time to grasp a concept and give them a chance to improve their grades through newfound proficiency.
“You could read that as you’re raising grades until everyone gets a 2.0, but that’s not true. It’s a tremendous amount of work,” Larsen said.
Larsen said any credible evidence that an administrator was encouraging teachers to inflate grades based on anything other than student effort “would be grounds for dismissal.”
“Whenever there’s a large number of D and F students in a class we say, ‘What do we need to do to improve those grades?’” Larsen said. “There can’t be any ambiguity in how that is said with administration.”
Norwood’s decision states White was placed on an “awareness phase” plan for the second time since 2010 soon after she complained about a lack of administrative support in February 2012 for a student tutoring program. The Grand Junction High math department introduced a “math interventions” tutoring program in February 2012 “aimed at students who had been receiving D’s and F’s in math classes,” according to the decision.
On Feb. 20, Grand Junction Assistant Principal Jami Moore sent an email to math teachers telling them the program, which took place after school hours, would have to end because it would cost the school district extra money.
“I am truly speechless, as well as flabbergasted at the lack of support for the very intervention the GJHS Administrative Team asked us to plan and implement,” White wrote back, according to the decision.
Teachers are expected to offer support to students, Larsen said, but he understands they are not solely responsible for grades.
“We know students have to have motivation and be responsible as well, but the teacher has to provide support,” he said.