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Preston school board criticizes administrators for not educating parents on grading switch at PHS

KINGWOOD — A beleaguered Preston County Board of Education had many questions Monday about Preston High’s switch to mastery learning.

And ultimately Board President Jack Keim gave County Superintendent Steve Wotring an ultimatum.

Board Member Bruce Huggins said he and the rest of the board have gotten many phone calls, emails and questions from parents about the switch.

“We’re taking a black eye because parents weren’t involved with it,” Huggins said.

Board Members Pam Feathers and Jeff Zigray also had many questions on how the mastery system works, after a group from PHS made a presentation on it.

Mastery learning is individualized learning that includes allowing students to retake a test as many as three times. Students who do not master a subject initially will work with software that targets the areas they have not grasped and with teachers.

Zigray said he’s concerned about all the time required of teachers. He pointed out Preston could lose funding for seven teachers next year, increasing class sizes while teachers try to take on more with mastery.

“I’m worried the numbers will get enormous next year,” Zigray said.

Keim waited until the other board members made their comments before speaking out.

“This meeting we’re holding tonight should have been held before school started, if this is what you wanted to do,” Keim said. “So that we could work on a program. Do I disagree with the program? Not really. I disagree with the way it’s being implemented.”

In the workforce, in order to teach someone a job, you have to know how to do it, Keim said “There’s some teachers that are not buying it. There’s a lot of parents that are not buying it. Will they buy it? If we go about it in a different way, I think so.”

Students are being hurt because teachers are still learning how to work with mastery, Keim said. “Every time you get in a hurry, you’re going to hurt somebody.”

Keim also said it violates school law to implement a new grading system — mastery — without updating county policy. He said he believed that he had the board’s support in that. No board member expressed opposition to his statement.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Wotring, but I believe you are going to have to instruct the high school that from now on their grades go back to the way they were in policy,” Keim said.

Wotring said if he produced a policy just on mastery learning than all schools would have to switch to it and not all are ready. PHS is in a special situation because teachers have more planning time built into their schedules, he said.

“If we don’t have a policy, it’s not legal,” Keim reiterated.

“I’ll look at the policy that we have. Because I see what’s going to happen is our policy is going to have to be reflective of multiple opportunities. And right now it is not,” Wotring said. “I will try to bring a policy that covers all of the bases.”