The United States likes competition. It’s a factor in nearly everything we do. Even school. The general rule of thumb is that school work gets graded on a standard scale with A being best and F being worst. C is considered average and passing, but many experts hold the view that such grades really only measure who is beating whom, not how well a child is learning. There’s also the issue of grade inflation.

Federal laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Americans with Disabilities Act and Education of the Handicapped Act approach this issue with an appreciation that every child is entitled to a “free and appropriate public education.” Within that context, the normal grading system doesn’t always provide accurate monitoring of a student’s individual progress.

Despite the legal requirements, there can be instances in which administrators direct that no special needs student on an individualized education program (IEP) should get a grade below a C. The logic apparently being that if they can’t achieve a passing grade then the problem is with the IEP goals. That, however, is a misinterpretation of the law and Alabama expectations.

Setting straight the standards

Alabama’s standards emphasize achievement of set standards. The Alabama Course of Study standards establish the game plan for studies across the broad spectrum of subjects for most students. For those needing special education, there are the Alabama Extended Standards. These define classroom content and learning goals based on each child’s individual level of performance, with the objective being to deliver education that is sufficiently challenging and also advances the student toward the broader standards.

Meanwhile, the penchant among many educators is to gauge progress on the basis of grades alone. But as has been noted, grades can be manufactured or meaningless. And holding educators accountable for delivering the required appropriate education sometimes requires enlisting the help of skilled legal counsel.