Grading, Reporting, Graduating…and the Law by Miriam Kurtzig Freedman

Grading, Reporting

Grading, Reporting, Graduating…and the Law by Miriam Kurtzig Freedman is a quick read that can help educators and parents learn about what the law requires so that parents can get their children what they deserve and so educators can obey the law and stay out of trouble as they provide their students with the services they are entitled to. Every school should have several copies.

Introduction: You’re kidding! Another law book for educators and parents! We’ve had enough!

  • The goal here is to bridge the gap between the worlds of law and education and I feel that Miriam succeeds. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)requires that states develop a multiple-measure accountability system for all students. Schools need to communicate in plain language about how their children are doing. It needs to include WHAT the student studies and the level of difficulty. The law also prevents the school from reveling the students’ status. Each course has its own standards, while each child has their own needs. About 80% to 90% of students with disabilities have mild to moderate needs and can be taught in the regular classroom. That is the group that this book mostly deals with. The other 10% to 20% have profound needs, have alternate assessments, and alternate standards.

What are the legal requirements for grades and report cards, and setting policy for all students, general and special education?

  • Although federal mandates have increased, education is a power that the constitution has left to local and state control. They must set clear standards, and if they do, the courts will back them up. This book contains many summaries of important court cases that help with understanding what schools must do and how to do it. Schools act as their state’s agents to provide public education and each student has the right to due process. Diplomas are property rights, but promotion and retention are not. Due process requires that high-stakes tests are also fair tests in that they measure what students had the opportunity to learn.
  • States and local schools develop policies for these issues: class selection and eligibility, grades and report cards, promotion and retention, attendance requirements, gifted/talented programs, transcripts, honors, diplomas, graduation requirements, graduation ceremonies, waivers, and whatever else the school deems necessary. They proactively define course content, difficulty, performance standards, and how students are graded.

Getting more specific about grading policies and promotion/retenion

  • Schools are in charge of determining grading Standards and policies. In order to earn regular grades, special education students need to meet the same standards even if their learning is adapted. Courts and hearing officers do not generally have the authority to change grades. Modified grades can be given if a student’s work is substantially different from general education standards even if they are in regular education classes. Such decisions are part of each student’s IEP. Weighted averages can be used if different courses in the same discipline have different degrees of difficulty. How difficult a course is for a particular student doesn’t matter. Schools must have clear course selection policies. Objective promotion and retention policies also need to be in place. Students should be retained for not doing the work, not because of a disability. Attendance policies apply equally to all students.

For students with disabilities: Section 504, ESSA, and the IDEA

  • You can’t discriminate against any student simply because of their disability. Students are “otherwise qualified” if they can meet the essential requirements of a course or program. Fundamental alterations lower the standard or requirement. They don’t level the playing field, (accommodations) they change the game (modifications).

What are accommodations and modifications?

  • You give students accommodations so they can meet regular course standards and requirements. You use modifications to lower the standards and requirements when necessary. These terms are often misused. Together they are things schools do for students with disabilities that they don’t do for general education students. Tests must accurately reflect what a student knows or is able to do in order to be valid. Accommodations provide access to students without lowering standards. They must not invalidate test scores. Schools may add accommodations to report cards, but not to transcripts. They should not result in adjusted grading and should not offer an unfair advantage.
  • Modifications provide access also, but they do so by lowering standards and expectations. Modified curricula are not allowed. Rather, modifications are made on an individual basis as part of constructing IEPs. Both report cards and transcripts should record the use of modifications. Be careful about going overboard. This idea is to assist the children to learn, not to do the work for them.

Report cards, transcripts, honors, graduation, and diplomas: What’s okay?

  • There are situations where schools do too much in the way of accommodations. An example would be giving a student a calculator rather than teaching him basic math computations. Accommodations and modifications should be designed to help the student reach his IEP goals, not pass a test or course. Students can be denied access to gifted programs as long as the criteria are objective. They cannot exclude students simply because they are classified or ELL. The same is true for school honors.
  • A student’s special education status may be revealed on the report card as only parents see it. It can not be revealed on a transcript as it is seen by third parties. Focus on what the student studied and achieved, not WHO the student is. Any deviation from course standards must be spelled out in the IEP. Parents must be informed in Plain English. IEPs and 504 plans rise to the level of federal law and districts must implement them, so don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

Graduation requirements: Graduation, ceremony, diplomas

  • Graduation requirements are set by the state and include courses, graduation tests, and attendance. Services end at graduation. All IEP goals need not be met for a school to graduate a student. Also, meeting all IEP goals does not guarantee a diploma. Parents must receive written notice prior to graduation. The contents of such notice are listed in this chapter. Transition planning must occur prior to graduation. Schools have the discretion to develop their own commencement ceremony criteria. They can also award a variety of diplomas to accommodate students who can’t earn a regular diploma.

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman

  • Miriam is an attorney and former teacher who works with people who want better schools. As an immigrant to America at elementary-school-age, she was empowered by public schools and works to help educators teach all children. She works for the Boston firm of Stoneman, Chandler, & Miller where she gives lively and practical presentations, training, and consultations. She co-founded Special Education Day, authored eight books, and has written for many national publications. If you are interested in her presentations visit and contact her at
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