Keller school district debates policy to limit penalties for late work

KELLER -- Class assignment a few days late? That would not be a problem in the Keller school district if administrators go ahead with a proposal to limit penalties for high school students who turn in late work.

If students miss a teacher's deadline by a few days, no points would be deducted. If the work is a week late, teachers could deduct only 10 points; if it's two weeks late, 20 points. After two weeks, the teacher could give the student a zero for missing the assignment -- provided the teacher had tried to resolve the incomplete grade.

But school board members have asked administrators to delay adopting the new policy after teachers objected.

"This does not prepare my seniors for the real world, and it undermines me," Cheryl Stanton, a senior English teacher at Keller Central High School, told the board recently.

In the past, teachers have had some discretion in setting their own policies on late work, provided they had permission from principals. Some teachers would not accept late work unless a student was absent, while others deducted 10 or more points a day.

The proposed regulation is designed to give clear guidance to students and parents and to take away the punitive side of grading, said Deana Lopez, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

"Grades are supposed to be given for mastery of a subject area," Lopez said.

Keller officials point to part of the Texas education code that states grades should be based on "academic achievement or demonstrated proficiency." A representative with the Texas Education Agency said late-work policies are completely up to local districts.

But Keller officials say giving a student a "70" on a paper that would have been a "90" two days earlier does not follow the law.

"Our high school program has never complied with the law," Superintendent James Veitenheimer said.

If a student missed a lot of assignments, that would trigger interventions such as a meeting with a parent, Lopez said. A missing assignment would also temporarily count as a zero on six-week grade checks, meaning the student could lose eligibility for extracurricular activities.

"This is not written for kids to sit back and not do work," Lopez said.

Larry West, associate director of the United Educators Association, which represents more than 1,000 Keller teachers, said he contacted local college professors about the proposed change.

"I have the dean of the College of Liberal Arts at TCU and the head of the math department at UTA going on record saying they don't want this policy because it doesn't prepare students for the rigors of college," West said.

West also surveyed more than 100 teachers in the district. Almost 70 percent said the best way to handle late work is to deduct points.

Stanton said the policy would make grading more challenging because of a greater quantity of late work. The change could also prompt more kids to procrastinate so they could benefit from the work of those who were on time.

Several trustees requested more information on the policy Thursday, although it is an administrative regulation and not something the board would approve directly.

"I'm opposed to moving forward with the [administrative regulation] before we've seen it and discussed it," Trustee Lara Lee Hogg said.

Board President Cindy Lotton and Trustees Craig Allen, Wendy Collins and Kevin Stevenson also expressed concerns.

Veitenheimer said officials would make the entire grading policy available to trustees so they could "see the whole picture."

Officials discussed the rule at Monday's meeting of the superintendent's Cabinet and are still gathering feedback from the board and teachers. The policy may be approved after next week's Cabinet meeting.

Parents differed on whether the change would benefit students.

Jennifer Bradley said she's fine with it. She has two sons, one a recent Keller High graduate and one a current Keller High student. In the past, late-work policies differed from teacher to teacher. "The penalty seemed to be at times too strict," she said. "If it is, how are they going to recover from it?"

Veronica Krath -- a mother of five, with two at Keller High and three at Texas A&M University -- said the more lenient policy would not prepare kids for college and careers.

"I would say it doesn't give them very good work habits," she said. "Why not teach them not to be late in the first place?"

Sandra Engelland, 817-431-2231