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New Grading Policy Makes It Really, Really Hard for Denton ISD Students to Fail

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Denton ISD's new grading policy rolls out today with the first day of school, to the delight of middle and high school students and the chagrin of their teachers. The district-wide policy veritably ensures that Denton students have to work harder to fail than to pass their classes. Their future college professors thank the district in advance.

The radical new policy ensures that procastinators -- i.e. every student ever -- do not receive zeros or incompletes for late assignments. Rather, teachers must accept the students' work through the end of the grading cycle. Students also have the right to retake tests, and the higher grade will be used as the final grade.

"Everything is very individualistic in regards to the campus, and per student. You work with every student differently to allow them to reach their potential," says Mario Zavala, a spokesman for Denton ISD. "We think overall, it's going back to the students being accountable. At the same time the students that need a little extra time to master the concepts will have that time." And it doesn't just affect the struggling students: Zavala suggested that a student who makes, say, an 89 on a test would be able to retake the test for a higher grade.

The district first announced the change last spring to uneasy teachers and administrators across the district. "Life lessons will be learned, and true accountability will follow," says Superintendent Dr. Jamie Wilson in a statement defending the policy. "We have to hold them accountable with more than just a grade."

While the policy may leave secondary school students with squeaky clean academic records, parents and teachers are more concerned about the consequences of allowing kids so much leniency.

Some parents suggest that kids will have no idea what to do in college and the real world, when they are not allowed an indeterminate amount of time to turn in work. One Denton ISD teacher, who asked not to be named, says the new policy was infuriating at first.

"When the new grading policy was first introduced ... I was angry," the teacher said in an e-mail. "I even went to my principal and said, 'This is it. I am retiring.' He told me to calm down and that things would be OK."

So far, the principal has been right: Individual schools are finding ways to circumnavigate the district's agenda. Each school is given the district guidelines, and they may adjust their own policies within those guidelines. One high school limits students to five days after the grading cycle to turn in an assignment, and after that point students are given a zero.

"When our high school's policy was introduced, it is really better in many ways," the teacher says. "It seems to me that our campus took all of our policies, listened to teachers, and set some very good grading practices. In other words, the bark was worse than the bite. I can definitely live with this." The teacher cautioned that the other high schools in Denton may have different policies in effect.

As of Day 1, chaos has not erupted in the halls of Denton's schools. "Students arrived today, and they expected a far different policy than we have," the teacher says. "A lot of smiles quickly faded." But then again, teachers are still weeks away from the end of the first six weeks. No feedback yet on what happens when students inevitably thrust a mountain of assignments to their teachers on the last few days of the grading cycle.

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