Move To Tie Extracurriculars to Academics Gains Momentum

By Anne Bridgman — April 04, 1984 10 min read

Following the lead of the the West Virginia Board of Education, which, effective Jan. 1, 1984, became the first state board in the country to require students to have a C average to participate in extracurricular activities, officials from 15 state boards of education report they have already moved to link academic or attendance requirements with participation in outside activities, or are considering proposals to do so.

Moreover, the board officials in those states and a number of others in which no state-level action to date was reported said in an informal Education Week survey that a growing number of local districts have moved to set their own requirements.

Many officials attributed the new policies to the influence of the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, which called for a more intensive focus on academic “basics” and a longer school day and year. (See Education Week, Nov. 23, 1983.)

“I clearly see a renewed view of academic time and a renewed seriousness about instruction,” said Nancy Karweit, a research scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at The Johns Hopkins University who has studied how students and teachers spend classroom time.

In Florida, for example, the legislature mandated last summer that students must maintain a 1.5 grade-point average to participate in extracurricular activities. In a variation on the same idea, the Idaho Board of Education decided last fall to require students to attend at least 90 percent of scheduled classes and specified that they be marked absent if they are out of class for an extracurricular activity.

Besides West Virginia, Florida, and Idaho, several other states have instituted minimum eligibility requirements:

Iowa specifies that a student must have earned 15 hours of credit toward graduation in the preceding semester and must be passing the current semester’s 15 hours of required courses to be eligible;

Alaska requires students to pass with at least a D all the courses of the previous semester to be eligible; and

Virginia, effective next fall, will not permit students to be excused from class for participation in outside activities until they have completed a minimum of five hours of class time per day.

Role of Activities

At least 10 other states have established state-board and legislative committees to look into the role of extracurricular activities in the students’ school days.

In Colorado, where the Governor’s Task Force on Excellence in Education proposed last month that districts discourage extracurricular activities that take time away from academics, the state board of education’s task force on time in school has recommended that there be fewer interruptions in the school day, according to Pat Berger, a consultant to the department of education. This summer, she said, the board will study the issue more closely.

Similarly, the Hawaii Board of Education has established a committee to study linking academic requirements to participation in extracurriculars. “It’s a question on which there are mixed views,” said Kay Jones, a spokesman for the board. “There are those who feel students should not be involved in extracurricular activities if they are not maintaining some sort of academic standards. But others feel that for those who are not academically inclined, [outside activities] are the only thing that keeps them [in school].”

In Kentucky, where both the state board and the department of education are considering grade-related eligibility requirements, further discussion of the issue is expected to take place at the board’s May meeting.

Public Hearings

In other states, recommended regulations on student eligibility have gone through the public-hearings stage and are expected to be acted on in coming months.

In Nebraska, the Governor’s Task Force on Excellence in Education recommended that districts improve the balance between academics and extracurriculars in order to make more efficient use of instructional time.

The department of education is currently updating its accreditation recommendations. In the area of time on task, it has proposed two provisions, according to Merlin Menaugh, director of approval and accreditation for the department: that three of five school days be scheduled as solely academic days and that students below the 9th grade not be allowed to participate in interscholastic competition.

The question has come up, Mr. Menaugh noted, as to what constitutes an interruption to the school day. Some educators think drama should be part of the academic curriculum, while others argue that it should be considered an extracurricular activity and scheduled outside the school day.

Hearings on the recommendations will be held over the next three months, Mr. Menaugh said. If approved, the provisions would have the force of law, he said, but districts could avoid compliance by choosing the recommendations as one of the three regulations they are not required to comply with to maintain their standing as state-accredited.

The Texas State Board of Education has been conducting statewide hearings on a proposed rule on student absences for extracurricular activities. (See Education Week, Feb. 22, 1984). And the Texas Select Committee on Public Education, in its preliminary recommendations released late last month, proposed that extracurricular activities be restricted to after-school hours.

In February, a panel of Texas’s University Interscholastic League recommended that participants in “minor” high-school sports be limited to five absences per year to limit classroom time lost. And effective next fall, the University Scholastic League will allow only those who pass four out of five courses with a grade of 70 to participate in most extracurricular activities.

Wyoming’s Blue Ribbon Commission for Excellence in Education, a task force associated with the state board, has recommended that districts reduce classroom interruptions, classes missed for extracurricular activities, and time lost in sports by rescheduling games on weekends. The commission held hearings earlier this year and is expected to present its final recommendations to the superintendent by September.

Task forces in North Dakota, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Utah are also studying the notion of setting state eligibility requirements that tie academic achievement to extracurricular participation.

Districts’ Decisions

In those states that do not have state guidelines on eligibility or in which study committees are still considering such guidelines, local districts and athletic and activities associations generally are given the task of deciding which students may participate in extracurricular activities. Many local districts around the country are beginning to scrutinize the question of eligibility to determine “what they can do to increase the grade requirements for each district,” said Gary Marx, associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.

In most states, the local school board devises the district’s requirements. And in many cases, accord-ing to several educators who work in states that have minimum requirements, the district rules are stricter than the state regulations.

“Most of the school districts want the latitude to make their own regulations,” said Rosemary Haggevig, assistant to the Alaska State Board of Education. In fact, she noted, in a recent survey conducted by the Alaska School Activities Association to develop a new set of bylaws, many respondents indicated they favored a more rigid eligibility system than the one established by the Alaska board. Under that regulation, students must have a grade of at least a D in a minimum of four semester courses in the preceding semester to be eligible for participation. Sixty percent of the state’s 53 districts have stricter policies, according to Ms. Haggevig.

Maryland has no state eligibility rule and most districts allow students to fail only one course before finding them ineligible. There, the Prince George’s County School Board is considering prohibiting students from participating in extracurricular activities if they do not maintain a C average.

Similarly, in South Carolina, where there is no statewide rule, a new academic regulation instituted in Charleston County has rendered almost half of the high-school students ineligible to play sports or join school clubs. The rule forbids those students who fail one required course to participate.

And in Los Angeles, where a C-average rule was recently instituted, 10,000 students, or an estimated 15.4 percent of those enrolled in the city’s schools, were dropped from extracurricular activities.

Statewide Requirements

State athletic or activities associations also set statewide participation requirements. In most cases, state associations set minimum guidelines that require that students “do passing work in a minimum of only four academic courses per term,” according to Warren Brown, assistant executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, which oversees all state associations.

In some states, such associations monitor only athletic activities. In others, the groups regulate both athletic and other extracurriculars.

“It is within their power to establish the best interscholastic athletic program possible,” said Walter Smith, executive director of the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, which regulates athletics participation and requires that students pass three-quarters of their work to participate.

Athletic Restrictions

As in Texas, where the interscholastic league recently set eligibility requirements for participation, other state associations are beginning to link academics and attendance to participation in extracurriculars.

The Alabama High School Athletic Association approved several restrictions on the scheduling of athletic events. At the request of State Superintendent Wayne Teague, the association has agreed to eliminate junior-high-school playoffs and to reduce the regular season from 10 games to 8. The group also voted to bar athletes from participating in more than one event weekly on a school night, according to a spokes-man in the superintendent’s office.

The Ohio State Board of Education last month recommended that school districts and the Ohio High School Athletic Association raise academic requirements for participation in interscholastic sports and other activities. The current ohsaa bylaws say students with a 0.6 average out of 4.0, or three D’s and two F’s, are eligible for sports. The new requirement has not yet been set.

And the Virginia High School League, which sets the standards of competition between the state’s 284 high schools, is considering requiring students to pass at least five courses during a single grading period in order to participate in sports or other extracurricular activities. The current rule requires that they pass at least four courses.

More Harm Than Good

“The idea of extracurriculars is to give students an alternate way of succeeding in the school,” said Ms. Karweit of The Johns Hopkins University. “To tie eligibility strictly to academics is counterproductive.”

She added that linking eligibility with attendance might be a better idea but said she was not sure if such measures were warranted in many school situations.

Mr. Brown of the National Federation of State High School Associations noted that state officials’ actions might do more harm than good. “In some states, there is some consideration at the state governmental level requiring, through state law or other avenues, [that students have] a higher grade-point average in order to participate in athletic activities,” Mr. Brown said.

“We don’t doubt that the nation’s schools might have some academic problems,” Mr. Brown said, “but to use athletics as the whipping boy is wrong.” In fact, Mr. Brown noted, empirical evidence suggests that “students in activities programs generally score higher than nonparticipants, and they have generally higher attention rates.” They also learn teamwork, sportsmanship, and citizenship, he said.

“Participating [in an extracurricular activity] is every bit as educational as the academic classroom,” Mr. Brown asserted.

A survey conducted by the Wake County, N.C., schools supports that claim. Comparing grade-point averages of those students who participated in extracurricular activities with those who did not, the study found that high-school students who participate in sports and other activities earn good grades, contrary to popular belief.

The study, conducted to determine whether the Wake School Board should raise academic eligibility requirements, proved what principals have said for years, according to Carlos D. Hicks, associate superintendent of schools--that extracurricular activities help keep students in school and earning good grades. “The athletes and the student-council leaders aren’t a problem when it comes to grade-point averages,” Mr. Hicks said. The study convinced the board that stiffer requirements were unnecessary.

A version of this article appeared in the April 04, 1984 edition of Education Week as Move To Tie Extracurriculars to Academics Gains Momentum