FARMINGTON – A new policy that requires all seniors to attain a cumulative average grade of 70 to graduate from Mt. Blue High School is being opposed by high school teachers and administrators, who say it could discourage kids from taking challenging classes.

The school board and superintendent defend the new policy, saying the bar needs to be raised as an incentive for greater student achievement.

The 70 grade raises it from the previous 60. The change was approved by directors in June 2009 and is set to go into effect this school year.

“Those students are doing unsatisfactory work,” said Regional School Unit 9 Superintendent Michael Cormier at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

“A Mt. Blue High School diploma should show minimally-successful work,” he said. “Kids need 24 credits to graduate,” and if they do not get a 70 average in four years, ” that bothers me.”

Guidance director Ben Milster said the new policy was well-intended but, as an advocate for students, he disagrees with it.

“I strongly believe that this policy will not prove to be the motivational tool as intended,” he wrote in a memo.

Milster and Mt. Blue Principal Monique Poulin are asking the board to revisit the policy. If the board votes to retain the 70 grade, Milster and Poulin are recommending the minimum passing grade for all courses be raised from 60 to 70 to mirror the new graduation requirement and avoid confusion.

They also would like a greater “safety net” with academic probation that would make it mandatory for students with grades below 70 to attend a learning lab or other tutoring program.

And they suggest a formalized system to involve parents when their children balk or don’t show up for a remedial session.

Milster also noted transition work needed to be continued with incoming freshmen unaccustomed to the greater academic rigors of high school.

The nearly hourlong discussion was tabled until next month when teachers and the board’s two new student directors could be present.

Milster said changing the graduation requirement might encourage students to take less challenging courses. Or, a student with poor grades may even quit school if there is little hope of ever reaching the cumulative grade average of 70 for all four years.

In a memo, he said high school staff do not support the new graduation requirement and are in favor of moving the passing grade to 70.

Director Iris Silverstein of Wilton said if the teachers don’t support the new policy, that needs to be taken into account.

She is concerned about the data Milster provided of the numbers of students in each grade who have a 70 or lower grade. Over the past three years, the highest figures have been among freshmen and sophomores.

At the end of the 2009-10 school year, 20 freshmen had an average grade of 70 or less, as did 37 sophomores.

At mid-year, 31 juniors had an average grade of 70 or less. Their transcripts were reviewed in the spring for potential “grade replacement” by the student retaking a course and by the end of the year, that number had dwindled to 21.

Five of those were retained as juniors and the remaining 16 are being offered opportunities to bring their grades up, according to the report.

The data also shows that over the past three years, of the 54 seniors with average grades of 70 or less, 11 went on to college after graduation and two entered the military.

The numbers of students graduating with an average grade of  less than 70 are relatively low, Milster said.

“It is interesting to note, however, that if this (new policy) had been in place for the previous classes, 13 students would not have been able to gain access to their desired post-secondary aspirations,” he said.

Students and parents can track the grade average on each student’s personalized  PowerSchool web page.  

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