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No F's or D's Allowed?
What Does the Law Say About Passing Grades?

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I am a special education teacher. Our director has told us that our students are not "allowed" to make any grades below a C (no D’s or F’s are allowed).

The director said if a child receives a grade below a C, this means the IEP isn't valid and we need to write a new IEP with a functional behavior assessment because the only reason a child should make grade below a C is because of behavior. Can you direct me to the law or anything in the law regarding this subject?

From Wrightslaw
Your director's advice about giving children passing grades could get him/her and the teachers into hot water. If special ed kids always get passing grades, it won't take a lawyer or an auditor to know that someone is cooking the books.

The law does not say that children should receive C’s. However. . .

Bd. Educ. v Amy Rowley (1982)

In 1982, the U. S. Supreme Court issued their first decision in a special education case in Board of Education v. Amy Rowley ( 458 U. S. 176). Amy Rowley had a severe hearing impairment. She was also gifted. By first grade, most of her skills were at the 3rd and 4th grade level and her grades were excellent.

After wrestling with the concept of "free appropriate public education," the Court concluded that a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) must confer "educational benefit." They found that Amy was making above average progress in the regular classroom. They found that when children are being educated in regular classrooms:

"the system itself monitors the educational progress of the child. Regular examinations are administered, grades are awarded, and yearly advancement to higher grade levels is permitted for those children who attain an adequate knowledge of the course material."

"Children who graduate from our public school systems are considered by our society to have been "educated" at least to the grade level they have completed, and access to an "education" for handicapped children is precisely what Congress sought to provide in the Act." (Rowley decision in Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition , page 343)

Since the Supreme Court issued the decision in Rowley, school board attorneys have argued that if a child has "passing grades," this proves that the child is receiving an appropriate education. Your letter shows the error in this argument–teachers are being told to give passing grades to all children.

In Rowley, the Court added this important footnote:

"We do not hold today that every handicapped child who is advancing from grade to grade in a regular public school system is automatically receiving a "free appropriate public education." (from Rowley decision in Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition , page 354)

The fact that you were told to give your students "passing grades" (even when student’s don’t earn passing grades) shows why parents (and hearing officers) must be careful about relying on "passing grades."

Grade Inflation

Parents should not rely solely on grades to determine their child’s progress. The ERIC database contains an article entitled "What Do Student Grades Mean? Differences across Schools. Education Research Report."

"In spite of widespread concerns about low academic achievement nationally, parents generally have expressed satisfaction with their own children's achievement and schools, largely because their children's grades suggest that they are doing well."

"This report examines what student grades tell about achievement through the use of data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88)."

"Overall, the average grade today is a ‘B.’ Parents need to ask how grades are determined, and whether the student is receiving an appropriately challenging education."

This Reseach Report in on the U. S. Dept of Education site:

Bad Advice

From the mail we receive, it’s clear that many special educators are getting bad advice from special ed administrators. Apparently, special ed administrators are getting bad advice too. The amount of misinformation in schools is mind-boggling.

Implementing a practice of giving students "passing grades" when they don’t earn passing grades is fraudulent. Such a practice misleads parents by providing them with false information and deprives children of the specialized services they need.

Remedy for Bad Advice

There is a remedy for bad advice. You should read the law and regulations for yourself. Don't rely on what others tell you.

Maybe your director should order Wrightslaw: Special Education Law! We are pleased to report that many school districts are ordering our books for staff training.

Here is the link to the main page for the IDEA Law and Regs

Thanks for taking the time to write.


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