A law passed by the 1988 Utah Legislature requires that seventh- and eighth-grade students who get failing grades in key classes receive remediation.
Although the law seemed straightforward, school administrators faced with implementing it now find "there are more questions than answers," said Superintendent Raymond Whittenburg of Jordan District.He and other concerned superintendents have set up meetings with the State Office of Education to work toward guidelines for providing remedial options for students in the mid-school years.
Students in grades 9-12 were already required to obtain remediation in order to earn credit toward graduation. Legislators lowered the threshold for remediation after listening to educators who said too many junior high school students waste the years because they are not required to earn credit.
The law requires remediation for students who fail English, mathematics, science or social studies. Students may not be passed to the next class in the subject sequence until they meet required competency levels. The schools may charge for the extra class time.
Approximately 15 percent of Jordan's middle school students receive an F during each school grading period, Whittenburg said - about 2,000 students. Affected district schools were offered the option of beginning remediation on their own at the end of the first quarter or waiting until the semester, Whittenburg said.
Those schools that have begun requiring remediation report that many parents have objected both to the additional time students are required to spend in school and to the fees charged.
If students, supported by parents, refuse to take the remediation courses, or to pay the fees, can they be barred from attending school at all? Such an interpretation could increase the dropout rate significantly, the superintendent believes.
Administrators are unsure if the student must upgrade his score only in those areas of the class that he was failing, or if the entire class must be repeated.
They are attempting to determine if classes should be held in the child's regular school or if they should be asked to go to a community school class or if one school could serve students from several schools in one area.
The law doesn't indicate if students must pass remediation classes, or if they simply have to attend to meet its requirements.
There also is a hazy area in regard to students who master the academic aspects of a class, but get an F for failure to turn in assignments and otherwise not meeting class requirements.
Despite the many questions they are facing, Whittenburg believes most school administrators agree with the concept of the law. Middle and junior high school students may perform better in high school if they are made to conform to academic standards at the lower level, he said.
At the same time, the middle grades are a time of significant physical growth and emotional/psychological upheaval for many children and the added stress could be detrimental to some, he suggested.
A bill prefiled by Sen. Dix McMullin, R-Salt Lake, proposes to nullify the nullification of the 1988 legislative action.