Wichita high school and middle school teachers could be required to update students' grades online at least twice a month if a tentative agreement is written into the teacher contract and approved.
According to a statement issued Tuesday by the district and United Teachers of Wichita, a contract negotiating team discussed "timely reporting of grades" and tentatively agreed that secondary school teachers should update and post students' grades "a minimum of every other week."
Any agreements reached during negotiations will be written into a proposed contract and must be approved by the teachers union and school board before going into effect.
The district's online ParentVue system allows parents to log in from any computer or through an app to check students' grades, assignments and attendance records. The current contract requires teachers to update grades only once per nine-week grading period, though most do so more often.
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The issue of requiring teachers to update online grade books more regularly has been raised several times over the past few years. In 2012, district officials proposed requiring teachers to submit grades online at least weekly and contact each student's parent or guardian at least once per grading period.
Tom Powell, the Wichita school board's attorney, said in 2012 that school leaders sometimes hear from parents who assume their children are doing well in a class, "and all of a sudden they get an F for the semester."
"They come to us and say, 'I wish I would have known,'" Powell said at the time. "Maybe that's what we're trying to address."
The eight-member team negotiating next year's teacher contract tentatively agreed to require first- through fifth-grade teachers to update and post student grades at least once a month.
Negotiations began last month for a contract set to start Aug. 1.
This year's talks mark a return to a process called interest-based bargaining, a collaborative approach that begins with statements of interests and objectives rather than a list of demands from each side. The process also calls for a joint written statement to be issued after each negotiation session.
Steve Wentz, president of United Teachers of Wichita, was re-elected last month to a second three-year term leading the union, which represents about 4,200 teachers. He said his group opted to return to interest-based bargaining — sometimes called win-win bargaining — because of changes in district leadership.
"We're just in the very, very early stages, but I'm cautiously optimistic," Wentz said. "We are trying really hard to have clear communication from the bargaining team.
"There are still sealed proposals that we're sending in, and if everything falls apart, we open those" and return to traditional bargaining, he said.
Negotiators haven't yet discussed teacher pay, Wentz said. As in previous years, the team is awaiting final word from the Kansas Supreme Court about a new school funding plan that would increase K-12 education funding by about $500 million over five years.
The team is scheduled to meet again May 25.