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Improved academic eligibility policy proving effective

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local Willmar,Minnesota 56201
West Central Tribune
Improved academic eligibility policy proving effective
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

NEW LONDON -- A year since its introduction, New London-Spicer High School's heightened academic eligibility policy is living up to its purpose: Improving the academic performance of students competing in athletics and other statewide contests.


Introduced during the 2007-08 school year, the NLS High School academic eligibility policy has demanded higher academic performance from its athletes and students participating in Minnesota State High School League-sponsored activities.

"The reason we changed this policy was because of some of the mentality of our kids that we were observing at mid-quarter time," said Superintendent Paul Carlson. "Their response was 'I'm not going to be held accountable for (failing grades) until the end of the quarter.' So they were just postponing getting their work in or receiving a passing grade."

NLS Activities Director John Vraa said the Minnesota State High School League holds school districts accountable for their students' progress toward graduation. According to the league's handbook, any student participating in state league activities "must be making satisfactory progress towards the school's requirements for graduation."

Vraa said most high schools responded to the requirement by introducing quarter-end grade checks for their students; a student who earned a failing grade at the quarter's end would lose eligibility for their activity during the next quarter.

NLS raised the bar in 2007 by implementing mid-quarter grade checks along with the existing quarter-end checks. Vraa said the district believed the policy would prevent failing grades by its students in competition in any of the High School League-sponsored activities.

The policy was deemed effective during its inaugural year. Vraa said the high school had 47 students cited for failing mid-quarter grades in 2007-08. By the end of the quarter, 44 ended with a passing grade in their cited class and earned eligibility for the following quarter.

"By doing a check like this and having some consequences associated with it, students now have to be accountable to get their grade up and make progress in the class whereas before they waited until the end of the quarter," Carlson said.

Under the policy, a student failing at mid-quarter may not participate in their activity for one week. To participate again, the student must prove academic improvement by obtaining a written verification from their teacher and submitting the report to the NLS activities office.

If a failing grade is received at a quarter's end, a student is ineligible to compete until the next mid-quarter check. If a student earns failing grades in two courses at a quarter's end, they are ineligible for a quarter and need to pass all their classes during the next quarter to regain eligibility.

NLS faculty members have also enjoyed the policy, Vraa said, because students are handing in assignments without repeated reminders from teachers.

Vraa said St. Cloud Cathedral High School, a school NLS competes against in the West Central North Conference, implemented a similar policy and there may be more schools doing the same. In the past year, Vraa said he passed the policy to at least three other high schools for possible inclusion in their districts.

"Schools continue to share what they're doing in terms of academic policies like this," Vraa said. "I don't think we're alone in that way, but I think we are out in front more so than other schools."

Vraa said the district plans to improve and fine-tune the policy sometime before the 2008-09 school year.