The superintendent of Pasco County Schools in Land O' Lakes, Fla., is proposing revisions to the district's student honor roll guidelines after a middle school parent complained about her son's inclusion on the achievement list.
According to a Nov. 12 story in the Tampa Bay Times, Beth Tillack contacted the principal at Pasco County Middle School, in Dade City, Fla., to complain that her son, Douglas, made the school's honor roll despite receiving a D and C. But when those were grades are averaged with the four A's Douglas earned, he made the honor roll.
"I am furious and appalled," Tillack wrote to Superintendent Kurt S. Browning, according to the article. "Talk about minimum standards! So now instead of losing privileges and trying harder, he ... thinks he has done enough. I am so shocked."
Browning and his staff agreed with Tillack. Browning, a former secretary of state in Florida, said via email that Pasco County School district officials are working on revisions to its honor roll calculations. Those changes will require school board approval, he added. Pasco County Schools are about 20 miles north of Tampa.
"My plan is to go back to having honor roll by quarter, based on all A's, or A's and B's," Browning said in a Nov. 14 Times article.
Meanwhile, the Times reported that Pasco County Middle School Principal Kim Anderson met with Douglas and emphasized the subjects that needed more work, but recognized his accomplishments in other courses. The result? Douglas apparently finds civics, the course that earned him a D, uninteresting.
"I'm all for it being harder, as opposed to easier," said Tillack, who took away her son's iPod and computer privileges because of his poor civics grade. "The overall thing is, if a child knows they can do the minimum and get by, what kind of message does that send about the other areas in their life?"
Tillack's message is gaining national attention. She was interviewed on "Fox & Friends" with Elisabeth Hasselbeck on Nov. 15 under the Fox-friendly tagline "Trouble With Schools." The hosts of the syndicated morning talk show "LIVE! With Kelly & Michael" also spent several minutes discussing the story that same day.
"This is why more children in Pasco County try out for 'American Idol' than anywhere else ... too much encouragement," host Kelly Ripa joked.
Ken O'Connor, a Canadian education consultant who specializes in student grading and reporting, told the Times that letter grades are "virtually worthless" without specifically identifying areas that show growth or need attention.
Measuring school accountability using grades has come under fire in Florida and Indiana, proving that the letters A thorugh F, remain controversial whether they are used to assess the achievement of schools or students.
But let's be real. Letter grades are here to stay in most American schools. It's how letter grades are valued and explained—to both parents and students—that could be improved.
I've long cringed at the meaningless "attaboys" and "good jobs" that well-intentioned parents and teachers sometimes shower on children. (I can't stand that "everybody gets a trophy" on the sports team tradition either, by the way.)
But children still need positive encouragement. There simply is a delicate but purposeful balance needed when doling out grades and praise for children.
As the debate continues in Pasco County about what grades a student must earn to make the honor roll, there is one person who genuinely deserves the praise she's receiving. That's Beth Tillack.