Section 28.0216 of the Texas Education Code states that “a school district shall adopt a grading policy” and that the policy:
- Must require a classroom teacher to assign a grade that reflects the student’s relative mastery of an assignment. Simply put, a grade should accurately reflect how well the student demonstrated that he learned the material.
- May not require a teacher to assign a minimum grade for an assignment without regard to the student’s quality of work. In other words, the policy cannot set a minimum grade, such as a 50, as was common in many districts.
- May allow a student an opportunity to make up or redo a class assignment or examination for which the student received a failing grade. The law allows for but does not require an option of make up work. It is a local decision.
While this law requires that grades be determined by the student’s work, teachers should note that these provisions refer to grades on assignments—not final grades. As explained below, what constitutes sufficient mastery of the subject matter to pass a course is largely a local decision.
Teachers are given a large amount of professional deference in determining the appropriate grade for an assignment or course—as long as the decision is consistent with local policy. Section 28.0214 of the Texas Education Code provides that a grade issued by a teacher is final, unless the grade is arbitrary, erroneous or not consistent with district policy.
- A grade is arbitrary if it is extremely unreasonable. An example would be a teacher counting a student essay as failing for a single misspelled word, or a test as failing for a single wrong answer.
- A grade is erroneous if it is simply wrong—a result of a miscalculation, such as accidentally counting 15 wrong answers when there were really only 12.
- A grade is not consistent with district policy if the policy sets a requirement, standard, or expectation, and the grade is inconsistent with it. The significant issue here is that the law clearly states that “district policy” refers only to official policy approved by the local school board, not a policy determined by a particular administrator, unless the official local school board policy provides for such campus-level decision making.
Section 28.021 (a) of the Texas Education Code states that “[a] student may be promoted only on the basis of academic achievement or demonstrated proficiency of the subject matter of the course or grade level.”
The law goes on to provide in Subsection (c) that in determining whether a student should be promoted, the district must consider the recommendation of the teacher, the student’s grades, the student’s score on state testing instruments, and any other relevant information. The law does not require that districts consider these factors in any given way, other than establishing detailed requirements related to state testing.
Finally, Subsection (e) provides that the commissioner of education will provide guidance to districts based on best practices. However, because the law refers to “guidance” rather than requirements, districts ultimately have a great deal of flexibility in determining how a student’s achievement and mastery needs to be demonstrated and can, to a very large extent, determine grading policy locally.
Published/reviewed: November 23, 2020
The legal information provided here is for general purposes only and is accurate as of the date it was published or reviewed. Individual legal situations vary greatly, and readers needing individual legal advice should consult directly with an attorney. Eligible ATPE members may contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department.