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Fargo schools concerned by ninth-grade 'F's

Fargo Public Schools officials say too many ninth-graders are failing basic subjects.

They wonder if unconventional approaches -- such as giving students two years instead of one to complete coursework -- could one day be part of the answer.

"We need to identify ways of doing better," said Charles DeRemer, assistant superintendent for instructional services.

He pointed to district figures that show its 826 ninth-graders earned a collective 443 failing grades in math, science, social studies and language arts in the 2001-2002 school year.

Science and math, in particular, were problem areas.


At Discovery Junior High, for example, nearly one in six ninth-graders who took science failed it. About one in nine who took math failed it.

Fargo's numbers aren't worse than those of comparable districts, DeRemers said.

"I'm not alarmed that our numbers are disproportionate to other districts," he said. "But they're unacceptable."

Failing a class doesn't mean the student won't end up graduating, he said.

But an "F" shows the student didn't master important coursework and also could discourage a student from staying in school, he said.

Why do so many ninth-graders, and to a lesser degree sophomores and juniors, get failing grades?

"I suspect a reading problem accounts for much of it," Superintendent David Flowers said.

Ninth grade also is a transition from the supportive junior high environment to the more demanding high school setting, DeRemers said.


Some students struggle with the transition, he said.

That's why he's interested in establishing ninth grade "academies" designed to make the transition easier.

Another possibility, Flowers said, is someday giving students additional time to master subjects.

For instance, a student might be given two years instead of one to complete a basic algebra class.

"Students learn at different rates," he said. "The important thing is that they learn."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530

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