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Originally published September 15, 2009 at 10:14 PM | Page modified September 16, 2009 at 12:16 AM

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Seattle schools may lower grade-point requirement for graduation

The Seattle School Board will consider a staff recommendation to roll back the requirement of a C average for students play on sports teams and to graduate from high school.

Seattle Times education reporter

Seattle Public Schools may do away with a nearly decade-old requirement that all students earn a C average to graduate, and an even-older policy that athletes maintain a C average to play on school teams.

If the School Board approves recommendations endorsed by Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, as well as most district high-school principals and counselors, a D average will be good enough to earn a high-school diploma. Student athletes would need to pass five of six classes with D grades or better.

District officials understand there are concerns about relaxing standards at a time when everyone from President Obama on down is pushing for higher expectations for U.S. students.

And when surveyed by the district last year, a majority of Seattle parents and students preferred to keep the C-average requirement.

But district officials, who plan to talk about the proposal at a School Board meeting tonight, insist they're not watering down expectations, and the change would mirror what most other districts require.

"We are, in fact, increasing rigor," said Susan Derse, a principal on special assignment who headed up a staff committee that made the recommendations.

One example, she said, is the fact that the district upped the ante for graduation about a year ago when it started counting an E (failing) grade when calculating grade-point averages, which it hadn't done for seven years. And for two years, students have had to pass a state test to graduate, making it less important to have a C requirement.

"All those other requirements students have to meet ... make sure the diploma isn't meaningless," said Wendy Krakauer, head counselor at Roosevelt High School.

Counselors also hope the change would encourage some students to stay in school because they would have a greater chance of graduating and some would be more willing to try challenging classes.

School Board member Harium Martin-Morris said it's also a matter of consistency. If students get credit for a class with a D, he says, then that should count toward graduation, too.

In addition to removing the C-average requirement, the staff also has proposed a number of other grading changes, including a move to an 11-point grading system, which allows teachers to give plus and minus grades. District staff also has proposed giving a grade-point bonus to students who take advanced classes, such as giving 3.5 points to students who earn a B in an honors class rather than the standard 3.

District officials say they could not find another large school district in the state that required a C average for graduation, although a number of them require students to pass more classes than does Seattle.

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The policy was put into place in 2000, one way the late Superintendent John Stanford sought to raise expectations. At the time, many feared the new requirement could keep hundreds of students from graduating.

That never came to pass, in part because the district stopped counting failing grades, and allowed students to appeal if their average fell below a C. In June 2008, the district says, it granted C-average waivers to 95 students.

In 2004, a previous attempt to do away with the C average for graduation provoked opposition from the Alliance for Education, the nonprofit that raises money for Seattle schools.

This time around, the alliance's president and chief executive officer, Patrick D'Amelio, says there are many ways to push for rigor, and while his group is watching what district leaders do, he doesn't think the move away from the C average will erode standards.

"That doesn't seem that's the way they're headed," he said.

The requirement that athletes earn a C average has been around since 1984, and is consistent with many districts' policies.

A 2006 survey by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association turned up roughly 150 schools which required a C average for athletes, said Executive Director Mike Colbrese.

The staff committee making the new recommendation, however, said athletes shouldn't be treated any differently from other students.

The School Board is scheduled to vote on the proposals Oct. 7.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com

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