How can a student graduate in the top of her high school class and have the equivalent of a 5th grade education?

I receive a lot of e-mails that make me cringe but this e-mail sent to me earlier this summer is one of those that I think about all the time as it raises an unsettling issue.

Why are there so-called honor graduates in the very top rungs of their high school classes who seem woefully unprepared, not only for college, but for high school?

In my few years teaching news writing at college, I used to despair when I read some student work. The disparity in the quality of student performance by the high school they had attended shocked me. I could almost predict student grades by their former high school.

Students were surprised when I talked to them about their lack of writing fundamentals, telling me they earned top grades in high school. Yet, they didn’t even understand subject-verb agreement.

Here is a distressing e-mail from someone who volunteers with an APS student. I figured that we might as well get into these tough issues since we are talking about APS and especially in light to today’s story by Alan Judd.

Judd examine some of the findings of the Blue Ribbon Commission report on how cheating occurred in the 12 worse schools.

I wonder if this student is the outcome of teachers and administrators “helping” her along by improving her test scores? I imagine the problem goes beyond test scores; This was probably a good kid who came to school, did her homework and wanted to do well. And her grades reflected that effort, but not true mastery of the material.

I have taken out some identifying information from this e-mail:

I am writing you because I am thoroughly disgusted at Atlanta’s inability to fix it’s school system.  I am even more perplexed that APS, with executive offices held by African Americans, continues to allow for inequality in education based on race and financial status. I mentor an African American student.  She has done well in school and just graduated from an Atlanta high school with honors and in the very top of her class.  She, along with dozens of others, proudly stood at graduation when they asked who was off to college in the fall.

But we don’t know that she will be.  While her grades were great, her SAT scores won’t get her into any four year Georgia institutions. How many other proud honor students stood up that day to show the entire audience at the Atlanta Civic Center that they were off to college in the fall and won’t be?

In the top 10% of her class, this girl received, if lucky, a 5th grade education equivalent by 12th grade. This isn’t her fault — she is smart, the bar is clearly set so low, the standards for acceptable knowledge is so low that these new “Dr. Hall Schools” are graduating the equivalent of 10-year-olds that will not get in or likely flunk out of college.

My challenge for you is to find a graduating class that is mostly African Americans, focus on their top 10 percent of graduates and investigate how many are really qualified to attend a four year accredited college. and then, how many were given the tools and guidance needed to actually apply and get accepted.  My guess is on all counts, the story will be dismal.  Our schools are failing our students. I think that in order to graduate more students, they are simply lowering the bar  and only focusing on getting kids prepped to pass the state tests for APS’  “numbers.”

I am not a “complainer” by nature. This is just really hitting a chord with me.

245 comments Add your comment

Echo

August 8th, 2010
10:27 am

This is happening in lots of places. After reading the article I was disappointed to find out that so many teachers had cheated…not surprised though because I have seen high school teachers at my school cheat. I was also admonished by administration when I mentioned that certain teacher’s scores were the result of cheating. These weren’t even state tests but “common course tests” in our department; the pass rates and a break down of how many A’s, B’s, etc were posted in the hallway for everyone to see. For many teachers the embarrassment was too much and they cheated. If you were to throw money into the equation I think cheating gets significantly worse. I think everyone involved should be canned, including Bev Hall, she knew!

Sandi Eichler

August 8th, 2010
10:43 am

I have the opposite problem with my son. He has been in the gifted programs since first grade. He received State Honors for the Duke TIP by having the highest math SAT score in 7th grade. His grammar is much better than many of the teachers with whom I have worked. He has been reading above the 12th grade level since 5th grade. Last year, he earned a 99 on the Biology EOCT (End of Course Test), 99 on the Language Arts EOCT and an 88 on the Math I EOCT even though he failed every class he took (except Band.)BTW, these scores were earned after sleeping through all of these classes. My question is, “Why are kids graduating at the top of the 12th grade class who ‘received the equivalent of a 5th grade education’ when my son, who is clearly much more educated than they, will have to repeat 9th grade because he didn’t turn in the work?”

Nikole

August 8th, 2010
10:47 am

Schools need to treat teachers like the professionals that we are. You have to jump through ridiculous rings of fire just to have students retained or for them to receive special education services these days. You are told that you cannot give students the bad grades they may have earned. There is too much emphasis on trying to get the kids that are on the edge of passing CRCT to pass. That leaves the gifted and learning disabled students behind. I could go on and on, but I will spend my day preparing for the first day of school. Good Luck to all that still choose this profession. I pray the year goes well, and that all teacher commit to being the voice of reason and common sense for their schools and systems.

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2010
10:50 am

it’s very simple, but you won’t like the answer.
part 1

as long as the black community continues to put race ahead of
accountability in elected/public officials, you’re sunk.

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2010
10:52 am

part 2.

when parents wake up and quit supporting systems/administrators/politicians who are more focused
on promoting “self-esteem” than excellence, you might get
somewhere

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2010
10:53 am

still think Hall deserves more time, Maureen?

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2010
10:59 am

the sooner folks get it thru their heads APS cares about any kids,
especially black kids, then we can start to fix this disaster.

they don’t care. get it thru your heads.

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2010
11:01 am

Sonny? if you can work your alleged magic on Warren county, why not
APS?

catlady

August 8th, 2010
11:03 am

We believe every child can achieve highly, even with evidence to the contrary.

We believe that schools are responsible for ameliorating every home situation, for providing food, transportation, nursing care, counseling, supplies, moral training, and every other thing they don’t get at home.

We believe anything wrong is the teacher’s fault.

We believe no one should feel bad.

We believe we can do anything with no money.

We don’t believe in standards for anyone but teachers.

We believe “exposing” students to concepts equates to teaching them.

We believe mastery is an antiquated idea.

We believe education takes place M-F, 8-3, 180 days a year, for 12 years. Nothing else is needed.

THESE are the reasons we have students graduating from high school as honor grads with minimal skills.

catlady

August 8th, 2010
11:07 am

One more: We believe that people (lawmakers) who have not set foot in a public school classroom in decades can decide how is best to teach the current students.
Corollary: It isn’t important for school administrators to have significant experience teaching.
Corollary: Buying the latest gimmick will solve all problems.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by dorie turner, Maureen Downey. Maureen Downey said: How can a student graduate in the top of her high school class and have the equivalent of a 5th grade education? http://bit.ly/9RTlvt [...]

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2010
11:10 am

also:
we don’t believe in pushing kids
we don’t believe in making them accountable for their actions/inactions
we refuse to spend money wisely
we will not hold administration accountable, especially Hall.
we will not be bothered with little things like supporting out kids
we will not place the same value on grammer as we do on basketball
we will not place the same value on math as we do football

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2010
11:12 am

we believe that promoting “diversity” – whatever the hell that is -
is more important than promoting excellence

A Teacher

August 8th, 2010
11:12 am

The fact of the matter is, there are many of us out there who do care. No one goes into education for the time off (because that’s a myth) or for the money (as you’ve all seen recently). We do it because we care and we want to make a difference. But it seems as though no on will let us.

We are told what to teach with such regiment that any creativity is stifled and students who tend to “think outside the box” are left outside of the classroom mandates. Then we are told how to teach it, despite the fact that our time with our students makes us more qualified to determine how these children learn best. And then, when students don’t do what they are suppsed to, we are told that they must be given ten million opportunities to do the assigned work. This alone fails them, as it is not, as we all know, how the “real world” works. If you don’t do your job, you’re fired. Period.

Students are not held accountable anymore. Instead, teachers are ridiculed for not doing their jobs, when in reality, that’s what most of us are waiting to be permitted to do. Some of the buracrtic red tape needs to be cut, and then people will see what teachers and their students are truly capable of.

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2010
11:13 am

to be fair to the kids:
we don’t believe in holding bad teachers and administrators
accountable for their actions/inactions.

A Teacher

August 8th, 2010
11:13 am

*bureaucratic. After all that, I notice that my keyboard got stuck.

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2010
11:14 am

any time a admin type tells me to think outside the box I cringe.
what they’re really saying is mess up at something so I have something
I can hold against you in your review

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2010
11:16 am

@ A teacher:
of course we got in it for the time off.
that’s why Georiga is the only state to extensively furlough
teachers – to make sure we get that time off?

A Teacher

August 8th, 2010
11:16 am

And a simple answer to the title: because we are told to do it, and if we don’t, we may find ourselves unemployed,

d

August 8th, 2010
11:20 am

Well I don’t see anything getting better in DeKalb this year – we’re going to be overly bogged down in paperwork despite a study from the Louisiana Department of Education that shows schools with lighter paperwork loads on teachers have higher scores — maybe because they can spend their time planning engaging and interesting levels rather than dealing with bureaucracy.

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/inside-school-research/2010/05/paperwork_is_a_burdensome_part.html

That being said — I work with seniors and I love what I do but I will say 100% of my students last year said their plans were a 2- or 4-year postsecondary institution. They’re going to be in for a shock when they get there and the professors are not “station teaching,” extending deadlines, giving zeros, failing students for plagiarism, etc – in other words what we’re told we need to do to make students successful in the K-12 system.

CaRe Shanid Eichler

August 8th, 2010
11:21 am

And where is the parent accountability with your child’s performance? If he is truly having to repeat 9th grade because he “didn’t turn in assignments”, isn’t that something you own as a parent?

Frankly, we should make you pay tuition for your son’s repeat year, because you need some incentive to get involved.

HStchr

August 8th, 2010
11:29 am

I’ll throw in my 2 cents worth (okay, 1.5 cents after furlough days….). The problem is that we have become obsessed with testing. NCLB only added to that focus and increased the pressure on teachers. Many, many kids I teach are very capable, but can’t stand taking the tests we require of them over and over and over again. It goes against every bit of common and scientifically researched understanding of children’s brains to test them the way we do. Teachers, who desperately want to teach the critical thinking and writing skills that kids need, are forced by testing mandates and the wonders of Georgia Performance Standards to teach to the test. That, quite frankly, lowers “the bar”. Kids aren’t engaged in relevant curriculum, and even when we try to get beyond it, we have to justify our work based on the GPS and testing goals. And don’t even get me started on the New Math. As a parent and teacher, I cringe when I see what my kids are having to suffer through.

My sons are bright, the oldest qualifying for gifted status. They are bored with school and yet must be forced to follow the herd so that the school can prove it is teaching the GPS. Kids only get a fifth grade education because that’s where our legislators have set the bar.

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2010
11:29 am

@ A teacher:

and even when we do as told – knowing it’s a bad idea – we still face the very real possibility of being scapegoated by the same idiots who forced us to the stupid thing in the first place.

Lewis

August 8th, 2010
11:30 am

The politics of school administration have trumped all efforts to focus on what is best for the students. This has become about appearances, meeting federally imposed guidelines, obtaining federal money and racial sensitivities, while the future of the society is being put at risk. Devoted people in the schools are disillusioned and leave, those who put appearances above content are promoted and end up in positions where they decide the direction schools take. The students are being cheated, the taxpayers are cheated, and the system cannot police itself. The school superintendent shows no signs of even wanting to admit this is a massive crisis, much less seriously do something about it. There needs to be a grand jury and criminal proceedings initiated, with folks put under oath and with the threat of perjury charges for not telling the truth. Fraud has been committed on a huge scale. Instead, most of those in power want this to go away because it is embarrassing and brings in to the light too many uncomfortable facts that would require a revolution in how our schools are being run. Not unlike our mental health system which never gets fixed, or our child welfare systems throughout the state. Time makes these matters fade from the headlines and from our attention until the next upheaval.

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2010
11:31 am

the very essence of no child left behind kills education.
it – along with 10,000 other stupid ideas forced on us by
people who’ve never taught anything – forces us to dumb down
to the lowest common denominator

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2010
11:32 am

but hey – Beverly Hall is doing a good job.
the AJC & NYT say so.

George O

August 8th, 2010
11:35 am

Welcome to the new world order. Standardized people created by standardized testing and curriculum. Just functional enough to bubble the sheet, follow directions and read the job manual.

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2010
11:40 am

@ Lewis

its not the systems can’t police itself.
its that the system just doesn’t want to.

A Teacher

August 8th, 2010
11:43 am

I used to tach in NY. The union there (while MANY objected to it) ensured that we were permitted to teach as we saw fit so long as the kids were passing their state tests. So we ensured that. And by January, we had moved beyond those tests so that when kids sat for them, they were a cake walk. It doesn’t seem to be permitted here, and I truly don’t understand why. If we can get them to the test, and then beyond it, shouldn’t that be a good thing? Shouldn’t students be given the opportunity to take these stupid things and move on? I would love to give a kid an EOCT in December that do something RELEVANT for the spring!

The Responsible Conversant

August 8th, 2010
11:43 am

Maureen, I generally regard your viewpoints as valid, but I have to question the timing of publishing the letter you received. Why now? You said you had this letter since early summer, so why post now? I don’t buy your explanation about complementing Judd’s piece.

For every letter you produce about the ugly, I know there are letters about the good. In fact, educators at Atlanta Public Schools always receive letters or e-mails from former students about the quality education they’ve received.

This sky-is-falling-in-Atlanta-public-schools mentality is revolting. I work in APS and I’ve witnessed firthand the incredible work most students and most educators are doing.

SALLYB

August 8th, 2010
11:45 am

” Yet, they didn’t even understand subject-verb agreement.”
My Dear Maureen……I can only speak for Dekalb where I taught for 32 years, but teaching grammar and usage became became anathema years ago.

When I first began to teach in the 70’s, English consisted of a quarter of grammar and usage…..the craft which allows one to express oneself clearly in writing, followed by a quarter of composition, which incorporated that craft as well as the art of writing , followed by a quarter of literature which demonstrated the craft and the art .

Then some of the [ IMO ] moron DECIDERS in the EDUCATION palaces decided to trash that plan. No more grammar and usage …no more grammar and usage textbooks.

However, because some of my colleagues and I knew that all the standarized tests, [Iowa, SAT,
ACT, and later the CRCT were replete with grammar and usage questions and applications,

and we knew that colleges were complaining that freshmen were arriving unable to write a correct sentence, we would sneak old grammar books from the book room and use them, secretly , of course. . If any of the so-called “consultants” from the county office were to drop in while grammar/usage instruction was going on……OMG!!!!! Bad review for you!!!!

A Teacher

August 8th, 2010
11:45 am

And don’t get me started on their writing – it’s embarrassing. Yet we are given no time to fix it. I taught ninth graders who couldn’t write a complete sentence. And it’s not the fault of any one teacher, or any one district. As teachers, we are hired to do a job. They need to let us do it. Ask us how to fix the problems, and we will help you do it.

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2010
11:47 am

@ A Teacher

when my kid as in middle school the last two months of the year
were wasted as they did CRCT prep. the teachers hated it, the kids
were bored, and parents frustrated in their attempts to find out
why our kids time was being wasted so badly

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2010
11:49 am

I’ve got a friend who teaches remeidal english at GPC.
she’s working on about at 6-8 grade level, sometimes lower.

A Teacher

August 8th, 2010
11:51 am

@ Bootney

The sad thing is, if they coul ave just been given the test in December, or March, or whenever the teacher had gotten through with the material, the review wouldn’t have been necessary and students could have moved on to something else.

A Teacher

August 8th, 2010
11:52 am

And then teachers look, and see where those kids who didn’t pass are faltering, and they can address it. They can work more on grammar, or comprehension, on all the places where the kids are struggling. But they can do it in a way that makes it relevant and interesting to other students, and differentiate the instruction with assignments. I don’t know any teachers who wouldn’t be willing to do that if it meant not having to teach to the test.

SALLYB

August 8th, 2010
11:54 am

@A Teacher
Maybe that’s why states with REAL teachers’ unions always rank near the top of the list of high achieving schools?????

Maureen Downey

August 8th, 2010
11:56 am

@The Responsible, I thought it was relevant because of the question the mentor raised: How could a student do so well in the school, pass the required tests there and still not qualify for college?
I have seen some great APS graduates; and we have written about some recently. But I think we do need to look at the disparity in honors grades and low, low SAT and ACT scores in APS, which remains a problem today. The College Board has information on what A students typically score on the SAT; Atlanta students are not matching those scores.
If we are going to be honest about education refor, I think we have to be open about all the problems.
Maureen
PS. Historically, Georgia’s students in general score below what their grades would indicate. Our A students do not have scores as high as A students in northeastern states.

justbrowsing

August 8th, 2010
11:59 am

Teachers are attacked and made to look bad if they enforce the standards as they should be applied. It is all about appearances and parental complaints- pass the buck.

teacher2010

August 8th, 2010
12:12 pm

Since the state of GA has decided that cut off scores for actually passing EOCTs in high school are only at around the 50% mark, we are actually telling kids it is okay to fail because you are getting a passing mark anyway. A student who makes a 50 on a test in my class does fail that assignment…hmmmm, there is a problem here.

Also, allowing students (or being forced to allow such practices by administrators who really never taught….) to RE-DO assignments that they fail is also making the problem worse. The students know that they have a second chance so they may not even try as hard as they should. I know that some schools put a limit on the number of re-do assignments that students can do, so that might deter some of the apathy when it comes to completing assignments and tests.

I also agree that AYP is making school systems sometimes “pass” students who have no business passing. How many teachers have been pressured to “give a kid another chance” or been asked “what can you do to make sure that a certain kid gets to walk across that stage?” Grad coaches sometimes make it worse, I am sorry to say.

The public education system in GA and the USA is a big mess.

ScienceTeacher671

August 8th, 2010
12:24 pm

The DOE says that 8th grade students who are reading and doing math on a 4th-5th grade level are “proficient” and should be promoted to high school, so what do we expect?

It starts at the very top, Maureen.

former aps teacher

August 8th, 2010
12:27 pm

maureen thinks that Bev Hall needs more time at APS simply because of her belief that all students can learn.
Why dont we just put a new job advertisement out for a new APS superintentdent..who will be paid the huge bucks and just needs to believe that all students can learn.
Come on Maureen..you are living in a bubble and always apologizing for Bev Hall. Why dont you teach a year at one of these suspect schools at APS under Bev Hall and her cronies? That surely will make you change your tune

Devil's Advocate

August 8th, 2010
12:36 pm

Good lord, for one freaking second, could some teachers on this blog just stop and look in the mirror instead of continuously blaming outside forces? You see that kid 180 hours in a year and you can do nothing with them? This terribly defeatist mindset is what is wrong, that is why we are at where we’re at. Nothing more, nothing less. Stop thinking because a teacher is a nice person, or likes kids, that they do their job well.

And catlady, that list is just foolishness, plain hate couched in comfortable phrasing.

On being responsible

August 8th, 2010
12:51 pm

I wonder if Responsible found some Enron employees who did their jobs honorably, would Responsible ask us to extrapolate that Enron as a whole conducted themselves honorably, or that the leaders of Enron acted honorably?

@Sandi

August 8th, 2010
12:58 pm

“Why are kids graduating at the top of the 12th grade class who ‘received the equivalent of a 5th grade education’ when my son, who is clearly much more educated than they, will have to repeat 9th grade because he didn’t turn in the work?”

Sandi, when you don’t show up to work for a week and don’t do any work for a week, do you still get paid because it’s obvious you are as educated, or even more educated than your co-workers?

catlady

August 8th, 2010
1:13 pm

DA: NO ONe is saying you can do nothing with the child. They are saying you can’t change water into wine in 180 hours.

And the list you call “foolishness” and “hate” is what I call “experience.”

Dekalb County Teacher

August 8th, 2010
1:21 pm

Dekalb County has just implemented a “no zero” policy at the high school level so that I as a teacher can no longer give a zero on any assignment. Now I am forced to give students a chance to do makeup work pretty much forever. I am also forced to let students who receive a failing grade a chance to redo the work. It’s pretty pathetic on how we teachers no longer have the right to teach students that there are consequences to their actions and that life does not always give them a second chance. That is the lesson they need to learn in order to succeed in life….yet Dekalb County is not willing to impart that lesson.

Elementary and middle school teachers have told me that the county will not let them fail students. That is why I have so many general level students who are reading on the elementary school level. I truly believe that it is not the fault of the teachers, but of the county administrators who make over $100,000 a year and have to justify their job by making ridiculous rules.

To Sandi Eichler – the problem your son faced is an individual teacher issue. If the county would just fire inept teachers who are not rigorous, then this problem would not even arise. There are options for him to take higher level classes, and for the most part, he can be challenged. Volunteer at the school or find out which teachers are good teachers. Then you can make sure that he gets those teachers.

Devil's Advocate

August 8th, 2010
1:22 pm

No wonder data increasingly shows that teachers with more that 10 years of experience are ill-equipped for the challenges of the current educational landscape.

http://www.takepart.com/news/2010/06/08/for-teachers-more-experience-isnt-always-better

HStchr

August 8th, 2010
1:24 pm

@Advocate: “Good lord, for one freaking second, could some teachers on this blog just stop and look in the mirror instead of continuously blaming outside forces?”

You have to realize those “outside forces” choose curricula, write the standards, mandate testing, and evaluate how well we do the job as we are told. Unless you’re a classroom teacher, it’s hard to understand the pressure and lack of power we have to influence those decisions. They come from the top down, and we’re the last ones asked what should be done.

I understand your point, but stop and think about what all the “blaming” might be telling us. Teachers, who see these kids for the 180 hours (it’s actually less when you take out time spent testing, etc.), have to answer to the decision makers and policy wonks and are increasingly forced to do what those people have decided is correct. It doesn’t matter what the teacher knows or can prove. The decisions are less and less often made with teacher input on student ability and needs, and increasingly made by people who need to justify a job, many of whom were either ineffective teachers once or never teachers at all. It gets frustrating and no matter how much you love teaching, it is increasingly becoming a struggle to actually teach what kids need. And just wait until we get the RT3 money and pay for performance kicks in…the testing problem will only get worse.

HStchr

August 8th, 2010
1:30 pm

Advocate: just so you know, I teach upper level reading, and it is my job to diagnose and address student needs in reading. I work with the kids who get passed along and can’t read at even a middle school level. I love them, and spend many, many hours working to help them grow. But now, even I have to make sure what I’m teaching them addresses ninth grade standards, which must be posted and examples of student mastery displayed. So, even more of my time is spent justifying my work so that I can prove I’m following the program that is supposed to fix everything. Thus, less time is available for individual instruction and planning to meet the actual needs of those kids. I’ve been told what MUST be done this year without regard for what my students may actually need to help them become better readers. It’s all about looking good on the surface, and it is getting to the point that I may have to take my experience and devotion to the kids to the private schools to escape the politics in public education.