More Schools Linking Grades to Extracurricular Activities
On Friday, Oct. 8, the French (Tex.) High School Buffaloes faced the Westbrook High Bruins with a healthy varsity football squad but a devastating loss in the ranks of its half-time marching band.
The missing students did not fall to a virus that swept through the woodwinds, but to a new districtwide policy--passed in September--requiring all participants in extracurricular activities in the Beaumont Independent School District to maintain a passing grade (D or better) in all their subjects from week to week.
Beaumont is one of a small number of districts nationwide that have addressed the issue of whether athletes and other stu-dents in extracurricular activities should have to fulfill a minimum academic requirement in order to participate.
Last week, the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District--the nation's second largest--unanimously voted to require all students who participate in any extracurricular activities, including athletics, to maintain at least a C average. A single failing grade in any subject required for graduation makes a student ineligible.
Since last year, San Francisco has required athletes to maintain a 2.0 (out of a possible 4.0) average in order to remain eligible to play.
Prior to last week's vote, a student in Los Angeles only had to pass four courses with a grade of D or better in the previous grading period to be eligible, said Gordon P. Trigg, an administrator in the district. The new system should be in place by next semester.
Minimum standards for academic eligibility vary widely between states and school districts.
The only standards that could be considered "national" are those set by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (ncaa) for the small percentage of athletes who are offered college scholarships.
Currently, a freshman college athlete must have a 2.0 grade-point average upon graduation from high school to be eligible for a scholarship. That standard may be made more stringent at the ncaa convention in January.
Warren S. Brown, assistant director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, said his group recommends that students be required to maintain passing grades in three subjects required for graduation in order to participate during the following grading period.
Twenty-eight states have essentially the same standard, he said. Eleven states have a more restrictive requirement; 11 states have a less restrictive one.
Typically, state athletic or activities associations, which are often combined, set minimum standards for their member schools; the members remain free to set stricter standards on a district-by-district or school-by-school basis.
For example, under present rules established by the California Interscholastic Federation (cif), which governs school athletics in the state, a student is eligible if he or she maintains four passing grades in the most recent grading period.
Thomas E. Burnes, commissioner of athletics in the state, said he does not expect the organization to adopt stricter state standards in the future, but to continue leaving that op-tion to districts.
Most large school districts, such as New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia, do not have an additional grade policy for athletic eligibility that is stricter than the state standard.
The pros and cons of raising elibility requirements seem similar wherever the issue is raised, and most of the usual arguments have surfaced in discussions about the proposed change in Los Angeles.
Supporters say it is unfair to let students--especially student athletes--go through school first to participate in activities and second to get an education.
The board member who sponsored the Los Angeles proposal said it is "cruel" to let student athletes go through school ignoring academics under the delusion that they will become professional athletes.
According to estimates by the cif, of the 320,000 California high-school athletes, fewer than 5 percent earn athletic scholarships to college.
Opponents of stricter standards say it is unfair to make only athletes and participants in other extracurricular activities fulfill different standards; that schools with standards are at a disadvantage when competing against schools that do not have them; that--especially in the case of athletes--extracurricular activities are sometimes the only thing keeping them in school; and that such a system simply encourages students to take less rigorous courses to avoid endangering their averages.
While the Los Angeles system and many others operate from one grading period to the next, the system in Beaumont works on a weekly basis. Every Monday, students who want to participate that week in sports, band, debate, and other activities must turn in teacher-signed forms showing that they are passing. If a student is failing one course in a given week, he or she does not participate that week.
Beaumont officials believe their system is the most stringent in the state. The University Interscholastic League, which sets rules for extracurricular activity in 3,100 Texas schools, has as its minimum standard that a student must pass three academic courses in the previous semester to participate.
The first week that Beaumont's stricter system was used, it did not strongly affect either of the district's high-school football teams, but it did disqualify 22 students from the marching band.
How well the Beaumont system has worked so far is clearly a matter of opinion. Darrel Shaver, the district's director of athletics, said it has "definitely handicapped the football team," but added that students and coaches now understand that they have to make the grade to participate and are consequently working harder.
French High School's band director, Artis G. Slaughter, is less satisfied with the system. In his view, it has caused unecessary paperwork and weekly confusion.
"The earliest I know who can march on Friday is on Tuesday morning,'' he said. "You can't just move all the people down one row in a marching band. You've got to restructure the whole drill. It's an impossibility to be efficient with this system."
When he lost 22 students for the first game after the new requirements were enacted, Mr. Slaughter made no effort to restructure the drill, but "marched 22 holes." He thinks the system unfairly requires standards for students who are participating in extracurricular activities without requiring that other students meet them, and said he is ready to leave as soon as he finds a better job.
He also said that at a school that values football, it is easier for athletes to get forms that say they are passing than it is for band members.
Differences Within a State
In New York, too, eligibility standards vary widely from district to district across the state.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association requires that an athlete have an 80-percent attendance record and take at least four subjects, but it has no minimum-grade requirement. The or-ganization is opposed to having an official grade requirement, said Alton B. Doyle, its executive director, because "it would not be fair to have a requirement for athletes but not for everyone else."
Districts are free to add further requirements, however.
In New York City, the nation's largest school district, student-athletes are required to pass three subjects, in addition to physical education, with a grade of D or better. There is no grade-average requirement, according to John C. Glading, director of the Public Schools Athletic League, but schools within the system may impose more stringent standards.
"We have never been requested to increase the requirement," Mr. Glading said. "If anything, we have been criticized for having stricter requirements than schools outside the city."
The strictest policy in the state is in the Rochester City School District, where students have been required since the fall of 1980 to maintain a C average for eligibility.
Lawrence D. Perkins, director of athletics, said the policy--which affects all extracurricular participants--was slightly modified this fall. In the past, a student with even one failing grade lost eligibility even if he or she had an overall C average.
But the district this fall instituted a five-week review system. An ineligible student who maintains a C average during the first five weeks of a grading period wins back eligibility for the last five weeks.
Mr. Perkins estimates that when the system took effect in the fall of 1980, the district lost 25 percent of its athletes, a percentage that has remained roughly the same since, he said. "Everybody is pretty well used to the idea, and they know the board is not going to change it," added Mr. Perkins.