School policy changes debated

Proposals on drugs, promotions questioned

reworking urged

May 12, 2000|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

At a public hearing last night, parents, community members and educators questioned proposed revisions to Howard County Board of Education policies governing drug and alcohol violations, promotion and retention of students, and participation in sports and activities.

The board wants to make changes in the promotion and retention and activity- participation policies to make middle school children more accountable for their performance in school and on standardized tests.

The changes in the drug and alcohol policy are meant to make the county's rules about drugs and alcohol more meaningful to high school seniors.

Last night, most speakers said many of the proposed changes were admirable, but that more work should be done before they become final.

"Raising the standard of academic excellence for every student is a marvelous proposition on paper," parent Deborah Tolson said about the proposed changes in the promotion and retention policy. "However, until techniques have been implemented to guarantee quality control over instruction in each classroom, and until we remedy the very prevalent concern of inexperienced teachers, this proposition really becomes an oppressive scheme against too many of our youth."

The proposed changes in the promotion and retention policy include:

In advancing from sixth grade to seventh grade, or from seventh grade to eighth grade, a child must pass all courses and cannot receive a final grade lower than C in the core subjects of language arts, social studies, reading, math and science.

If the requirements aren't met, the child will "automatically be considered for retention," says the proposed change.

In advancing from eighth grade to ninth grade, a child must pass all courses and receive no final grades lower than C in core subjects. The child also must pass all Maryland functional tests in reading, writing and math.

If a child does not meet those requirements, he or she may be required to go to summer school before being promoted, and may also be required to take "supplemental academic courses." Pupils who do not attend summer school will be retained.

Natalie Woodson, education chairwoman of the Howard chapter of the National Assocation for the Advancement of Colored People, said the organization has concerns about parts of the three policies.

"The proposed revisions seem punitive," Woodson said. "These punitive measures, when used disproportionately, are counterproductive to student achievement and can contribute to student alienation and disenfranchisement."

In particular, Woodson said, the requirement that eighth-graders pass the Maryland functional tests to be promoted is "premature and punitive."

"The tests were not written to ensure promotion of students from grade to grade," she said. "To use these tests for purposes not intended is not, I think, good education policy."

Vince Catania, principal of Murray Hill Middle School, said children who are retained tend to drop out of school earlier than they might have if they were not held back. He also said teachers might inflate students' grades because of the new policy.

"Because every teacher wants to be successful and they want their students to be successful," Catania said.

Under a proposed change in the activity-participation policy, pupils, when advancing from eighth grade to ninth grade, must have a final grade of C or better in core courses and have no final failing grades in eighth grade.

Howard County has no academic standards for eighth-graders who want to participate in high school activities.

One parent, Diane Chesley, said her son might have been punished by such a policy because he found middle school boring.

"My son is now a sophomore in high school and he has found a new lease on life," Chesley said. "That new lease came in the form of a release -- sports. How can you take away what a student has yet to experience?"

The drug and alcohol policy is proposed to be changed so that graduating seniors who violate the policy could miss activities such as graduation or prom. It also strengthens the punishments for violators who participate in school activities.

Some parents said that policy was unfair to active students.

The board is scheduled to vote on the changes May 25.

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