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County schools take different approaches to failing grades

Staff writer

In a countywide examination of student ineligibility, Goessel had the fewest students on its academically ineligible list the week of Feb. 7.

For both Goessel Senior and Junior High schools there were seven students failing a total of eight classes that week. The two schools have a combined enrollment of 135 students.

Principal Marc Groutt attributed this statistic to the school’s small size.

“It’s a reflection of the staff going that extra mile,” Groutt said.

A dedicated teaching staff and a small student population allows Goessel teachers to recognize a student whose grades are slipping before he or she fails a class.

If he has been alerted regarding a student who is normally successful but has been struggling, Groutt may meet with the student himself and offer to help.

Groutt said half the time students are struggling with material; the other half, students are experiencing trouble at home that has affected their grades.

“We have different resources we can use — counselor or social worker or even someone else,” Groutt said. “If we know the cause of why they’re struggling, certainly we try to work with them.”

Giving credit where it is due, Groutt characterized the students in Goessel as hungry for education. He said the students often ask to be challenged and hold high expectations for their schoolwork.

“What I see is a lot of them take academics very seriously. Some take fine arts very seriously,” Groutt said. “They have an expectation to be challenged in those areas.”

A strong student work ethic can be traced back to a parental community that Groutt said values education, supports its teachers, and generally knows what is going on at the school.

“If we have parent concerns, it boils down to ‘I think my kid is not being challenged enough’,” Groutt said. “We have a pretty high level of parental involvement; they know what their kids are doing.”

On the opposite end of the school population spectrum, the second largest school in Marion County has taken a different approach to failing grades.

Hillsboro High School — enrollment of 180 — had 35 students failing 56 classes the week beginning Feb. 7.

Principal Max Heinrichs said Hillsboro teachers are less equipped to address students who are heading on an academic downward slope.

However, academic detention, an intervention measure adopted this school year at HHS, has decreased the number of students showing up on academic ineligibility lists.

If a student does not turn in an assignment or a string of assignments, they must stay after school until 5 p.m. on Wednesdays to complete the project.

Although it was enacted to address the problem of missing assignments, academic detention has also been a mandatory study period for students who have failed tests.

“Because we know they won’t study on their own,” Heinrichs said.

While students were unhappy with the academic detention period at the beginning of the year, Heinrichs said the measure has been an incentive for students to improve their grades to avoid the mandatory work period that can cut into athletics and other activities.

Even though academic detention is new to HHS this year, the two staff members who operate the period were available before and after school last year to assist students.

Both policies have shown results.

“I did have one of my students ask to look up his grades because he was so proud,” Heinrichs said. “He had Fs and a couple of Ds. He asked to look up his grades which were Cs.”

According to Principal Brenda Odgers, Marion High School’s ineligibility policy is students are placed on probation during the first week he or she has a failing grade. If the grade is not improved by the second week, students then are not allowed to participate in sports until the student no longer has a failing grade. Odgers did not think the policy would be changed.

The largest high school in Marion County with 203 students, MHS had 65 students failing at least one class the week of Feb. 1.

Peabody-Burns Junior and Senior High schools changed from a policy similar to Marion’s this year that Principal Tim Robertson said has lowered the number of students on academic ineligibility lists.

With the two schools combined, Peabody had 27 students on the academic ineligibility list Feb. 7 failing 34 total classes. The combined enrollment of both schools is 165 students.

Principal Tim Robertson said the school’s previous policy was to give students a week of mandatory two-hour study periods after-school to bring up an F before they were declared ineligible for after school activities. This year, the penalty for an F is automatically being ineligible for after-school activities. Robertson said as long as students were attending mandatory study sessions, they could fail classes for weeks without consequence.

“I think it’s made our students more cognizant of their grades,” Robertson said. “It gave them a great sense of urgency.”

Robertson said that it takes students a period of two or three days to raise a failing grade.

While Peabody-Burns’ new policy has lit a fire under students, Robertson said PBHS is struggling to adjust from traditional teaching methods, such as repetition and memorization, to incorporating more projects that involve critical thinking.

Even though Centre High School — enrollment of 70 students — only has 11 students failing 23 classes total, Principal Jerri Kimble said Centre has also tried to incorporate more critical thinking activities.

In some instances, Centre students are taking it upon themselves to advance their education by taking video classes over the Internet. Senior students, who normally would be teacher aides, are taking classes like Latin and rocket cars, for a student interested in mechanics, during that period.

“I think that speaks against student apathy,” Kimble said.

Regardless of the method used, the goal of Marion County schools is to prepare students for post secondary education, a goal HHS and GHS feel they are fulfilling.

“I’ve had numerous students that have returned,” Schmidt-Thiessen said. “They say they were really well prepared here.”

Last modified Feb. 17, 2011

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