AISD principal says to give ‘grace’ and a 70 to students if teachers haven’t exhausted all measures


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The principal of Gorzycki Middle School in south Austin sent a letter to her teachers last week telling them to pass students with failing grades if the teachers haven’t exhausted all measures to work with children and their parents during the pandemic.

In the letter sent to KXAN, Principal Dr. Cathryn Mitchell said she felt it was important to talk about the “elephant in the room: grades,” and goes on to explain what she calls a “campus-wide dilemma.”

“We currently have 200 students that are failing more than one subject and 150 more that are failing just one subject,” wrote Mitchell. “That means almost 25% of our students are currently failing in some areas.”

For more than a week, KXAN has been asking the Austin Independent School District if there’s been an increase in failing grades districtwide. Grades from the first six weeks were due Monday, which are mostly a reflection of what students accomplished during virtual learning.

The district has yet to comment on the question or share any data, but provided the Executive Director for Middle Schools Kenisha Coburn for comment on Friday.

“I can’t off the top of my head give you a piece of quantitative data that represents every single campus, but I can say in general all the time there’s not a failure that’s an acceptable one,” said Coburn.

Gorzycki MS pandemic 101620
Gorzycki Middle School students get back to in-person learning during the pandemic (Courtesy: Gorzycki MS website)

In the letter, Mitchell listed a few factors contributing to the failing grades:

  • the technological learning curve
  • lack of access to reliable Chromebooks and WiFi
  • inefficiencies in BLEND
  • a shortened grading period
  • a small window of time between receipt of progress reports and due date for final grades
  • No Kids’ Day held on the Friday after progress report submission
  • shifting guidelines and directives on the phase-in plan
  • uncertainty and anxiety over the health risks of on-campus learning

The Gorzycki principal goes on to ask teachers if they’ve done one of the three things to help students with failing grades: worked with them one-one-one, emailed or called their parents or set up a virtual parent conference.

“If the answer is ‘no’ to any of the above questions by Monday’s deadline, we would request that you gift the student with a 70,” said Mitchell.

Coburn commended Mitchell for challenging her staff to reexamine every single practice. District leaders have been meeting with campus principals to offer guidance on the grading issue, and are telling them to grade themselves on how they’re communicating with students and parents when a student is faced with a failing grade.

Education Austin President Ken Zarifis, who leads the union representing hundreds of AISD teachers, said he supports any administrator or teacher who looks at ways to help students be successful.

“We don’t want to see grades handed out,” said Zarfis. “We don’t want to be directed to hand grades out, but we do want to be flexible.”

KXAN will continue asking the district for data regarding grades during the pandemic.

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