From Canada to Georgia, teachers complain of pressure to change grades to mask high failure rates

testing (Medium)Interesting AJC story on an Atlanta high school principal who resigned after accusations he bullied and intimidated teachers into raising failing grades.

Grade inflation has been in the national news as schools face increased pressure to improve student achievement, an issue Georgia knows well after the CRCT cheating scandals in Atlanta and Dougherty County schools.

Even Canada, held up as a model of effective education reform, has seen complaints from teachers of mounting pressure to alter grades so fewer students fail under a stricter accountability system.

Closer to home, teachers in a Tennessee for-profit virtual school complained of an email that directed them to drop failing grades. In a recent investigation, Nashville’s WTVF/NewsChannel 5 found that a Tennessee Virtual Academy administrator instructed middle school teachers to delete failing grades.

The case has had reverberations nationwide as the parent company of Tennessee Virtual, K12, the nation’s largest online educator, attempts to win contracts in other states.

The email advised Tennessee Virtual teachers: “After … looking at so many failing grades, we need to make some changes before the holidays,” stated the email. The email advised teachers to “take out the October and September progress [reports]; delete it so that all that is showing is November progress…If you have given an assignment and most of your students failed that assignment, then you need to take that grade out.”

The virtual charter school defended the practice in a response to the TV station.

According to the WTVF report:

“By going back into our school’s electronic grading system and recording students’ most recent progress score (instead of taking the average throughout the semester) we could more accurately recognize students’ current progress in their individualized learning program,” principal Josh Williams said in the statement.

“This also helped differentiate those and identify those who needed instructional intervention and remediation.” Williams compared K12’s grade deletions to the “common practice in traditional schools” of allowing “make-up tests, alternative assessments and extra credit opportunities.”

Yet, the internal email also suggests that Virtual Academy teachers had already attempted those sorts of efforts to boost student grades. “In early December, all teachers gave their students an opportunity to improve their grades by giving additional assignments,” it says. “Yet, we are still seeing failing grades.”

Similar events occurred in an Atlanta high school, according to the AJC:

Former B.E.S.T Academy High School Principal Boris Hurst ordered teachers to inflate students’ grades, berated teachers who questioned him, and issued warning letters to teachers with high failure rates, according to a notice of charges signed by Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis.

Hurst had been principal at B.E.S.T., a northwest Atlanta all-boys school, since it opened in 2010. The APS charge letter said he “ignored glaringly inappropriate grade changes” and allowed almost all of the school’s inaugural freshman class to advance to the next grade level, regardless of whether the students learned the required material.

The principal resigned after the school district’s lawyers presented their case against him at a disciplinary hearing Feb. 21, APS spokesman Stephen Alford said. The school system removed Hurst from B.E.S.T. in March 2012, and an interim principal has been running the school since July.

Hurst denied doing anything wrong, and said Wednesday that he resigned to avoid harming his career. “There was never any proof that I changed any grades,” Hurst told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I was just put in a bad situation. … Just because you resigned doesn’t mean you’re guilty of anything.”

Hurst’s attorney, Rosalyn Winters, said Wednesday that he resigned because has accepted a job in Florida. B.E.S.T. (Business, Engineering, Science and Technology) Academy is a 225-student high school that started with a ninth-grade class in the 2010-2011 school year and has added a grade level each year. The school will graduate its first class next year.

The Atlanta school district will monitor B.E.S.T. Academy’s performance, and all school employees are required to take an annual ethics course as a condition of their employment, Alford said. Parent Margaret McBride said students showed her progress reports filled with zeros and failing grades, and later she saw that their final report cards had passing grades.

“The kids were seeing that it didn’t matter. Whatever they did, they were going to pass anyway,” said McBride, whose son is a junior. “My child, in particular, said, ‘You know Mom, I go to school every day, I do my best, but I look around and the kids who are not even trying are passing, so why should I continue to try? Why should I continue to study?’”

Teachers told parents they were frustrated by the grade changes, and they complained that it was hard to teach when students knew there were no consequences if they didn’t learn, said Valerie Irvin, president of the school’s parent, teacher and student association. “It was like he didn’t care if they could read or write, they were going to pass,” said Irvin, the parent of a junior. “He said, ‘We’re going to pass them. We’re not going to have a failure rate at B.E.S.T.’”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

83 comments Add your comment

Private Citizen

March 21st, 2013
10:44 pm

ps Drawing from the Beck song about MTV, school boards make me wanna smoke crack.

Elizabeth

March 22nd, 2013
6:14 am

When did pressure to pass students regardless of work done start? I do not know, but I DO know that it was present in 1970 when I started teaching. We were told from day one that if we had more than 10 per cent of our students failing, that it was our fault and we needed to make “adjustments” in how we taught. That was before we had any standardized test in my system except for the yearly ITBS. I have been fighting this battle every year since I began teaching, and nothing has changed.

For me, this year is different and I am loving it. I retire in June, so there is nothing they can do to me. I am not inflating grades any more. I am teaching the way I want to and need to rather than like a robot following a script. I did not want to retire — I love real teaching which is what I am doing this year– but , in addition to the health issues I now face, I simply cannot take the pressure from parents and administrators any more, not to mention the “unruly students” described by Dr. Trotter. His artlcle was completely correct.
By the way, there is (or was?) a law in Georgia that no administrator could change a grade given by a teacher. But they do it anyway, and if you don’t follow the rule, you get a professional development plan. It is not teachers who are incompetent ( there are a few exceptions, so don’t slam me with comments), it is the grade inflation that is part of the system. Most of my failures are caused by students refusing to do the work and to attempt to learn, not students who genuinely try.

mountain man

March 22nd, 2013
6:53 am

“@mountain man. Not a single one.”

Then, Georgia Coach, you must be to ONLY ONE in the State. Bigger question: how many students were retained at your school?

Mary Elizabeth

March 22nd, 2013
8:55 am

I have previously mentioned that of the approximately 150 Advanced Reading students I received who had registered for my course each quarter, any of those students whom I assessed to be misplaced because the curriculum would have been too difficult for those students to meet with success, I took steps to ensure that those misplaced students were switched to Personalized Reading. Later, those students could re-register for Advanced Reading after they had gained the reading skills necessary to complete Advanced Reading successfully.

What I did not mention was that, after I had accounted for misplaced students and had had them transferred, I might still have had a handful of students who simply would not do the work and, in their cases, I would fail those students in Advanced Reading if they still would not do the work after I had counseled with them, and with their parents, about their failure to do the work. However, that number of students each quarter was less than 5 students of the 150 I taught, or about 3% of the total students I taught.

Had I left the misplaced students in my Advanced Reading class and failed them, I would have failed approximately 15% more of my students simply because the work would have been over their heads. But, I would not have felt right about having failed those particular students because I would have known that those students had been grossly misplaced. I would have also known that I had not done anything to get those students placed accurately, and I would have known that they had failed Advanced Reading simply because I had failed them. I could not have failed to have acted to get those students correctly placed. That is why I always started each quarter making certain that all of my Advanced Reading students were placed correctly, based on their standaridized reading test scores, their in-house Nelson Reading Test scores, and their first weekly reading/vocabulary test scores in my Advanced Reading classes.

Moreover, one of the main reasons I led English teachers to test all grade levels on the Nelson Reading Test was so that all students’ reading test scores could be disseminated to all English, mathematics, social studies, and science teachers so that they, too, would be able to recognize which students were misplaced in their classes, and adjust accordingly.

Lastly, the students who remained in my classes were those who scored within a certain range, but some of my students were better equipped to handle the Advanced Reading curriculum than others. The following is one adjustment I made to accommodate my students’ reading variances. I taught 20 SAT words daily, or 100 SAT words weekly. The students were given a weekly vocabulary test. However, I starred (*) 10 of those 20 words daily and I told all the students that if they would learn those 10 words well daily, or 50 words each week, I would construct my weekly vocabulary tests so that they would be guaranteed to score as high as 91 on their weekly tests because I would choose only 3 words from the unstarred words. In order to score 94 – 100 on the weekly tests, the students would have to learn all 20 words daily, or 100 words weekly. Those who were quite advanced in their reading skills were challenged to learn 20 words daily because they wanted to increase their SAT scores significantly. On the other hand, those students in my Advanced Reading class who were lower in their reading skills than the top students (but not so low that they could not function in or pass my class) would try hard to learn 10 SAT words daily, or SAT 50 words per week. That was an easy way for me to adjust my instruction to accommodate the range of students’ verbal skills who remained in Advanced Reading. In addition, every three weeks all students took a comprehensive test based on their comprehension of the selections read and analyzed in class, analogies and sentence completion selections covered and analyzed in class, as well as vocabulary words retained in memory over a three week period of time.

If trained to recognize the instructional variances of their students, teachers can make instructional adjustments easily enough, as I did, to accommodate the instructional needs and variances of all of their students – as well as see that those students who are misplaced are placed correctly.

Mountain Man

March 22nd, 2013
9:34 am

“any of those students whom I assessed to be misplaced because the curriculum would have been too difficult for those students to meet with success, I took steps to ensure that those misplaced students were switched to Personalized Reading. ”

So what if you had been a “regular” teacher teaching 6th grade English, and you did not have any options to transfer students who were misplaced? Then you have to deal with students that are seriously behind, while also teaching the rest of your class on grade level. I know you have posted that you should use parapros, volunteers, homeless people – but these are not always available. What then?

Private Citizen

March 22nd, 2013
10:13 am

Google “NEA” and “union”, So what you’re really saying is that we need a teacher state worker union that is not connected to the federal politics? This too is a nice idea, but it is an awful lot of policy for one state organization to write. I agree with your basic premise that the national union concept is fouled, but just as strongly I see the need for workers to be able to be treated as professionals across the state and not be tooled around by amateur managers who follow every whim from the very same people you are objecting to – the politically based “emotion based” and “change how you think” foundations. These same folk are affecting both the national union concept and also handing over policy to the state that managers are following and using to tell teachers “how to teach” but much of it is incoherent redirecting and for a professional is highly anti-intuitive.

Mary Elizabeth

March 22nd, 2013
10:41 am

@ Mountain Man, 9:34 am

“What then?”
==================================================

It sounds as if your option is simply to fail the students who are behind in mainstream courses, and I do not think that that is a conscionable choice, especially when the teacher knows that most of those students would be failing because their present skills are not sufficient to pass the curriculm in his/her class. The teacher will adjust his/her instruction to accommodate all of his/her students, or he/she will attempt to talk with administrators and counselors to persuade them to create or design more realistic instructional options for the school.

The first step in persuading adminstrators to give more and better overall instructional options for the teachers and students in the school is to analyze the reading and math test scores of all students on their standardized tests so that the teacher, or teachers together, can intelligently know what they are dealing with in terms of the instructional placement and needs of all of the students in a given grade level, and so that they can intelligently communicate those instructional facts to adminstrators and counselors.

I have an appointment and will be gone for a good part of the day.

I Teach Writing

March 22nd, 2013
10:44 am

I shouldn’t be taken aback by the consensus that this is a widespread practice, but I am. It certainly accounts for the shell-shocked reactions of my first-year university students when they learn that typical class averages are in the C range.

I Teach Writing

March 22nd, 2013
10:49 am

@Mary Elizabeth “It sounds as if your option is simply to fail the students who are behind in mainstream courses, and I do not think that that is a conscionable choice, especially when the teacher knows that most of those students would be failing because their present skills are not sufficient to pass the curriculm in his/her class.”

I’m perplexed by your logic here. “Their present skills are not sufficient to pass the curriculum” seems like the DEFINITION of failing, so why would the recognition of that insufficiency be an inconscionable choice? Either the student has mastered the skills and knowledge required by the class, or s/he hasn’t. Seems a pretty simple choice.

Mountain Man

March 22nd, 2013
11:23 am

“It sounds as if your option is simply to fail the students who are behind in mainstream courses”

We need to ask WHY they are behind in their mainstream courses. Is it becasue they arrived at that grade level already behind (social promotion)? Did they miss 30 days out of the 180-day school calendar? Did they just refuse to do their work and homework? Sometimes they NEED to fail. After that, they should get a chance to make up their failure by attending summer school – both an opportunity and a disciplinary action for not achieving during regular class time. If they refuse to show up for summer school, don’t just pass them along so the NEXT year teacher has a harder time, retain them and make them go through that grade again. A lot of the kids I am talking about are just being warehoused until 16 and they can get out to commit crimes and get sent to jail (or NOT sent to jail and allowed to be free and kill a mother and her child when they try to escape from police – see current headlines). They have no interest in trying to learn and it is impossible to force them. So it really makes no difference to them if you retain them. Put the older ones in separate classrooms (YOU CAN’T DO THAT, THAT WOULD BE “TRACKING”).

BTW, ME, it sounds like some of your ideas sound like “tracking”, did you not know that was no longer politically correct?

Mary Elizabeth

March 22nd, 2013
2:28 pm

@ I Teach Writing and Mountain Man,

I cannot keep stating over and over again what I know about instruction. What I am writing is just not sinking in, in some way. However, I will say again that when we tested 500 9th graders annually at the beginning of each school year for more than a dozen years, invariably the range of those students scores on the Nelson Reading Test ranged from 4th grade level (with a student or two or three on 3rd grade level) up through grade level 16+. Half of the 9th grade students were reading on 6th grade level or below. That means that 250 students were 3 or more grade levels behind their grade level. Again, those same approximate results were manifest for over a dozen years, That total sample of students was approximately 6,000 students, over a 12 year period of time. Those are instructional facts.

When I was in graduate school, earning a M.Ed. as a reading specialist (grades 1 -12), the professor informed the graduate students that the higher the grade level, the greater the range of students functioning levels would be. This was in the early 1970s. This is simply an instructional truth. And that truth was manifest in the late 1980 through 2000 in my years leading the reading program at the high school in which I was employed.

Another instructional truth is that students have IQs in public schools in the range of 80 to 160+. This means that all of the students in public schools will not be able to learn the given curriculum for any grade level at the same rate of learning. Time is an instructional factor that must be taken into consideration in bringing students to curriculum mastery. (The reasons students may be behind other students is not simply because of IQ variances, but IQ that is one reason for the variances.)

We must stop blaming students and stop looking simply for easy to perceive punitive answers for students’ failures. Students mask their feeling about their failures or being behind others, in all kinds of defensive ways that even they do not understand, themselves. The answer is education of instructional truths to teachers, administrators, parents, and students – which is what I am trying to do.

Please read the following links, in full ,to be better informed about instructioinal truths (the second link will be in my following post, without comment):

http://maryelizabethsings.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/about-education-essay-1-mastery-learning/

Mary Elizabeth

March 22nd, 2013
2:30 pm

Mary Elizabeth

March 22nd, 2013
2:31 pm

Mary Elizabeth

March 22nd, 2013
2:33 pm

Mountain Man

March 22nd, 2013
2:47 pm

Mary Elizabeth – you keep writing the same things, but none of it makes sense. You just wrote:

“when we tested 500 9th graders annually at the beginning of each school year for more than a dozen years, invariably the range of those students scores on the Nelson Reading Test ranged from 4th grade level (with a student or two or three on 3rd grade level) up through grade level 16+. Half of the 9th grade students were reading on 6th grade level or below. That means that 250 students were 3 or more grade levels behind their grade level”

But you NEVER said what the solution to dealing with this problem was. You have previously said that students should never be retained, so the ninth-graders have to be kept with ninth-graders. You have also said that the teacher has to teach each and every student at their own level. So that means with 30-40 students, teh teacher must adjust their teaching and teach almost individually (or at least 5-6 at a time). Maybe that worked in the old one-room schoolhouse where the teacher taught grades 1 – 7 in the same room, where every student was respectful and said “yes, ma’am”, and hands were slapped with a yardstick if anyone talked out of turn – but is certainly will not work in today’s inner city urban gang schools.

You seem to be staring at the world through rose-colored glasses, unwilling to see that kids DO NOT WANT TO LEARN, OR DO NOT ATTEND.

Yes, you need to teach students at their own levels – but they do not need to be in one classroom. You need to teach all the 3rd-grade reading level kids in one room – even if they are 16 (or maybe two rooms one for older and one for younger). The way you do that is by retention. Or you get kids up to speed in the summer as an alternative to retention. Or you address the problems in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades that cause them not to be able to be on grade level at the end of the third grade (attendance is one issue).

Mountain Man

March 22nd, 2013
3:02 pm

Sometimes I think that you and I are saying the same things, Mary Elizabeth, but yet insisting that they are different. You say that a 3rd-grade reading level student must be taught at the 3rd-grade level, whether they are in the 3rd grade or in the 7th grade. You say that lower-IQ students must take longer than 12 years to graduate. I say the same thing – if they have to be retained twice, they would take 14 years. You seem to be saying that students should be grouped by level and ability (used to be known as “tracking”) – I am in 100% agreement. Our area of disagreement apparently is that I say you should hold back students and not keep them with their age and you say this damages their self-esteem. You say that all teachers should be able to teach up to five different skill levels at the same time and I say that is impossible (as I am not a teacher, any teachers want to chime in here? – we heard from one – I teach Writing).

Mountain Man

March 22nd, 2013
3:04 pm

I read every one of your essays, ME, and in all of your posts, you have NEVER told the secret of how a teacher can teach 40 students in a classroom and teach up to 5 skill levels in one class (or even two skill levels). Explain THAT and I might have more respect for your opinions.

Mary Elizabeth

March 22nd, 2013
3:23 pm

Mountain Man, I have stated solutions over and over again, but you are not taking in those solutions -probably because you have never taught large numbers of students, if any.

I am not “staring at the world through rose-colored glasses.” I have led a model school (1 – 7), which was based on mastery learning, continuous progress and multiaged grouping, for a decade, under a principal’s direction who had himself functioned as the large school system’s Associate Superintendent of Instruction before he came to the model school.

I have led 100 teachers and 5 counselors in getting students better placed in a high school of almost 2000 students.

I have taught thousands of students myself, directly, in over a 35 year teaching span. I have dealt with all kinds of students in my own classes – from the roughest in behavior and from the lowest in achievement to the most refined and courteous in behavior and to the highest in achievement. I have handled them all effectively, I believe. I learned not only in grad school, but on the job, and I learned from my own mistakes. You simply do not know what you are talking about when you say I see through rose-colored glasses. That may be your perception, but you are simply wrong and you cannot see it.

Really, I am tired of trying to get through to you, Mountain Man. Volunteer in an elementary, middle, or high school. Take educational courses which focus on instruction. Read my links in full, which I know you have not done. You simply are not informed instructionally and that shows in what you post. I have really tried to inform you and help you to understand the full panorama of instructional needs in each grade level, but I am weary of the effort. You are stuck in your own perceptions, as I see it, which I would never be able to change regardless of how many facts and examples I were to relate to you. Not having taught, I think you are simply perceiving with stereotypical images about students. Remember I actually taught thousands of students and I led hundreds of teachers for half of my life – 35 years, in fact.

TC

March 22nd, 2013
3:42 pm

@Private Citizen. The problem with unions I have worked with in the past is that they protect poor performing employees. Teacher unions are guilty of this as well.

Not PC and a HS teacher

March 22nd, 2013
9:59 pm

The two teacher organizations in this state (GAE and PAGE) do not meet the definition of a teacher union.

Ed Johnson

March 22nd, 2013
10:23 pm

“I’m perplexed by your logic here[, Mary Elizabeth]. ‘Their present skills are not sufficient to pass the curriculum’ seems like the DEFINITION of failing, so why would the recognition of that insufficiency be an inconscionable (sic) choice? Either the student has mastered the skills and knowledge required by the class, or s/he hasn’t. Seems a pretty simple choice.”
–I Teach Writing, at 10:49 am

Yes, it is “a pretty simple choice.” And it is the kind of thinking that would dare to reduce any children’s learning competencies to a pass or fail that is the matter I believe Mary Elizabeth asks us to recognize.

The “pretty simple choice” usually requires learning nothing new; it is much like having been trained to routinely inspect the same kind of machine the same way, each and every time, no deviation. Mechanistic thinking, we might call it. Mechanistic thinking applied to children in school is, indeed, unconscionable.

I hear Mary Elizabeth asking us to let go mechanistic thinking, to boldly grab hold of the complex varieties of children’s learning competencies a particular grade level curriculum might amplify or make noticeable, continually synthesize all that complexity, learn from it, and apply the learning. Getting knowledge, we might call it.

Somebody once said something like: “Beauty and simplicity lie on the other side of complexity.”

I’d say Mary Elizabeth is with knowledge on the other side, and from there she keeps beckoning us to come on over, already.

Well, will we? Can we? Dare we do it if we could?

Mary Elizabeth

March 23rd, 2013
12:27 am

@ Ed Johnson, 10:23 pm

“Somebody once said something like: ‘Beauty and simplicity lie on the other side of complexity.’

I’d say Mary Elizabeth is with knowledge on the other side, and from there she keeps beckoning us to come on over, already.

Well, will we? Can we? Dare we do it if we could?”
===========================================

Ed, thank you so much for your knowing words. The simplicity of my perception is simply that I want no child to fail in school. I want no child to drop out of school. I think I know a simple way to get there. I know that children will not succeed academically unless they are instructed on their precise instructional levels from their beginnings in school until they receive their high school diplomas, years later. When we care enough not to lose any students along the way, we will find ways to address this vital, simple instructional need and instructional truth. “We” includes classroom teachers, principals, assistant principals, county office supervisors, superintendents of schools, members of the Boards of Education, members of the State Board of Education, governors, legislators, and parents all focused upon implementing this instructional truth so that no child will fail.

If we want meaningful reform in public schools which will address the academic needs of every student, then this is what we will reform. We will alter and improve each public school’s instructional design until that goal of addressing precise instructional placement and of teaching students where they are actually functioning is accomplished in every public school.

Educators serve the masses of students in public schools, not the few. We must reform our delivery of instruction so that we lose not one student within those masses of students. It can be done. We must start to see. We must start to change and alter instructional delivery so that no student is lost. Unless we do this, we have failed the children; they have not failed us.

I have posted a new entry on my personal blog this evening which focuses upon compiling and accruing instructional strategies which will address how to accomplish instructional precision. I have already posted the present strategies at various times on this blog. The link to my new entry is posted below. I will be adding instructional strategies to that link/entry over time, including specifically how my Dual Textbook Design for 9th graders, who were severely behind grade level in reading skills, was implemented, specifically. Other teaching strategies that classroom teachers can use to accommodate their students’ many levels of instruction within their classes will be forthcoming in the future on this same link. One of those strategies will be how content teachers can teach reading-in-the-content-area skills at the same time that they are teaching their specific curriculum area requirements, such their curriculum requirements in science and social studies, among others.

Link entitled: “Ways to Teach Students Who Are Functioning on Different Instructional Levels in the Same Grade”

http://maryelizabethsings.wordpress.com/2013/03/23/ways-to-teach-students-who-are-functioning-on-different-instructional-levels-in-the-same-grade/

Carlos

March 23rd, 2013
11:00 am

The reason that so many business require college diplomas is that most high school diplomas aren’t worth the paper that they were printed on.

Those who teach in college are a bit concerned that college degrees at many institutions soon won’t be worth any more than those high school degrees.

The same kids who got handed high school degrees without exhibiting much more than a pulse are pushing just as hard to devalue college standards — and usually winning.

The issue isn’t really whether the students can do the work. Usually they can. The problem is that they don’t want to do the work, so they don’t; but the still expect good grades. Usually, they get them.

If this trend continues, and I think that few will disagree that it is a trend, then employers will be forced to hire only from colleges who demonstrably enforce standards.

Or you just stay out of states where the school systems have no standards.

Claudia Stucke

March 23rd, 2013
12:58 pm

Along with most of the other teachers I know, I have been pressured not only by parents but also by athletic coaches, school administrators, and deputy superintendents to change grades. I have never done so. On one occasion a parent (also a DeKalb county teacher with access to his son’s grades) claimed not to know that his son was failing because I had not personally telephoned the parent to tell him so. I was floored. (The student had not turned in a major assignment, had failed tests, and had not taken advantage of several opportunities to rewrite essays.) When I produced evidence of attempted parent contact in writing, it was ignored; and both county and school administrators took matters into their own hands and allowed the student to redo the work. (Did I mention that he was a championship athlete and Daddy wanted him to get an athletic scholarship?) Although I was not allowed to grade any of it, his “redone” work was shown to me; some was substandard and some was outright plagiarism–but he still passed. The student’s grade was changed retroactively, without my permission and, in fact, over my protest. That was the year I quit teaching.

Claudia Stucke

March 23rd, 2013
12:59 pm

I should add that my principal agreed with me and had no part in this; but he, too, was overruled by the County.

Mary Elizabeth

March 23rd, 2013
1:16 pm

Carlos, addressing precise instructional placement in primary and secondary schools will ensure that more students meet the required standards for graduation from high school because time will be adjusted for all students to be able to meet those standards.

Please read my 2:28 pm post of yesterday and you will see that you are wrong about all students’ being able to do the work, and that they simply do not care to do it. The facts in my post include a sample of approximately 6,000 students, and that sample includes only the 9th graders that were tested. We also tested 10th and 11th graders, and approximately the same range of score results were forthcoming in those grade levels.

Primary and secondary education is different from college education. The state of Georgia is required to educate students in primary and secondary schools. It is not required to educate college students. Since we must educate the population, we should do so correctly and effectively.

College standards should remain as they are. Not all students will be able to meet those standards in order to receive a college degree although some – who may not appear to be college material – will be able to pass their college courses, if they organize their college classes wisely and perhaps take longer than four years to earn their college degrees. I repeat – college standards should remain as they are.

Primary and secondary teachers educate the whole child in order to ensure that not only academic standards are met for all students over time, but also that productive and good citizens are the outcome of their efforts. College professors, rightly, have the responsibility to ensure academic excellence. Educating the whole child, generally, is not the responsibility of college professors.

Teacher

March 23rd, 2013
1:56 pm

@Private Citizen We have enough lazy teachers now who don’t care and don’t teach. Get the union in here and you’ll have 100%. All unions do is ensure students do NOT get a good education, but isn’t that our governments goal anyway? Our government doesn’t want educated citizens…..it wants citizens who can’t think for themselves and who rely on the government for everything. The government teaches people to believe that everyone deserves everything for doing nothing. Why should students (and parents) be any different?’ They have the same belief….do nothing and you still deserve the same grade as the student who actually put forth the sffort to earn an A or B.

And as far as changing grade goes…..change the system and changing grades wil stop. Schools are grade or rated by the state/federal government by the number of students who pass…..the mor who pass the higher a school’s or a county’s score. Every school/county wants to look good on paper, so they “cheat” the system. This no different that the CRCT cheating scandals. We need to change the system and eliminate the pressures to cheat. If studnets earn an F, teachers should be able to give an F…….period, end of story.

The same goes for discipline…….schools are rated based on their discipline referrals. The more discipline referrals the worse a school looks. So, discipline reports aren’t accurate either. And, without discipline in schools learning will not occur.

And I don’t know who said it, but you are dead wrong. The problem in our schools and in our society are directly linked to problems in the home.

I Teach Writing

March 23rd, 2013
5:38 pm

@Ed Johnson —

I see a lot of polysyllabic abstractions in your reply, but I don’t see a whole lot of content. “[T]he complex varieties of children’s learning competencies” is fuzzy edu-speak of the worst sort. If you mean that students learn some things more quickly than others, I agree wholeheartedly; I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t. Figuring out how schools can work with that fact, rather than against it, is the real challenge.

I should clarify one thing: you seem to have taken my use of the word “class” to mean “grade level,” which was not at all what I meant. What I meant was individual classes (instructional areas, I suppose, when talking about elementary students). It’s really not that different from what Mary Elizabeth labels “precise instructional placement.” The goal is to teach students what they next need to master, something made much more difficult by a systemic refusal to recognize failure.

I believe failure’s not a bad thing. Everyone fails. Those who who accomplish much will fail often because they’ll be attempting difficult things. If we treat failure as a learning opportunity, there’s no reason not to tell students they’ve failed at a task or series of tasks, even a course of study. Sometimes, even a grade level. But we’ve got to treat that failure as instructionally generative rather than seeing it as punitive.

What if we dispensed entirely with the “grade level” box? We could use multi-age classrooms aimed at teaching certain sets of skills, classrooms with fluid boundaries. If a student masters the skills quickly, s/he might move on to another classroom that’s tackling a higher-level set of challenges in the same subject area. Students could advance at different paces in different subject areas; demonstrating mastery in all areas would allow a student to move to the next school in the hierarchy. There would be no “grade levels” within a given school. In many ways, this approach would reduce the “mechanistic thinking” about education that you rightly find offensive (thinking you’ve mistakenly ascribed to me).

Such a radical reconfiguration of the system seems unlikely to gain traction, though. It threatens teachers to a certain extent, as they’re used to thinking in terms of annual cohorts. Figuring out how to get beyond that paradigm would be scary. It threatens parents / voters because it doesn’t look like school as they’ve known it. People fear change, especially the radical kind. It threatens administrators, but they need to be threatened. It especially threatens the Testing-Industrial Complex, as there’s a ton of shareholder value riding on the mechanistic annual cohort approach. Skills-based education (as opposed to level-based education) would have to be assessed flexibly and locally — anathema to the national-standards folks.

I doubt there’s much beauty or simplicity in making education work its best. Probably more like Bismarck’s sausages. But I think we have to let go of our resistance to failure if we’re going to succeed and help students to succeed. We may have to fail productively by trying radical-sounding things, and we certainly have to allow students to fail so that all of us can learn from those failures. I just don’t have any confidence that we have the collective political will to experiment broadly in ways that don’t serve the beast cynically labeled “the economy.”

Pride and Joy

March 23rd, 2013
10:03 pm

People on the other Get Schooled blog who say the SAT requirement should be eliminated in order to earn HOPE and Zel Miller scholarships…need to read this blog.

OriginalProf

March 24th, 2013
10:29 am

A few observations here.

One is that Mary Elizabeth is talking about teaching Reading to students from grades 7-12, and I Teach Writing, about teaching first-year college undergraduates. I think that the results of classroom failure are very different for the two groups. I Teach Writing: I agree that if a college undergraduate—who is at least 18– has not mastered the material, for whatever reason, then he or she should flunk the class. There will be tears, anger, pressure from the student for a passing grade, but you should stand firm. If the student hasn’t mastered the subject, or the necessary background knowledge before taking the class, that is not your responsibility.

However, Mary Elizabeth is writing about a very different situation that is more flexible. The results of the failure in learning Reading are more far-reaching and also more correctable (as she has been trying to show). If a student does not learn Reading, it will affect all the subsequent subjects taken.

Also, as I read her interchange with Mountain Man, I think the real problem is that Mountain Man has never taught, and her proposal seems like an impossible job of multi-tasking in the classroom. The layman is confounded by what the expert can do. But in fact, even as a professor, I usually have many levels of comprehension in a class and have to manage to address all of them. It’s simply part of being a teacher.

Mary Elizabeth

March 24th, 2013
5:50 pm

@ I Teach Writing and Original Prof -

Just a few remarks about both of your comments. As a reading specialist, Instructional Lead Teacher 1 -7, and Reading Department Chair 9 – 12, I helped to oversee the entire instructional programs for grade levels 1 -12, in two different school setting. Thus, my educational background, and motivating educational interest, today, is not simply the teaching of reading alone, as I had taught to my students in my Advanced Reading classes, but in the instructional delivery in all curriculum subjects and in the overall instructional design in all traditional public elementary, middle, and high schools.

However, I do not think this instructional delivery or instructional design should be the design for course work in college. In college, I believe that the academic standards for passing the class should remain the same for all enrolled students. In other words, “The buck stops here.”

I want more primary and secondary teacher to be aware of the varied instructional levels they have in their classes so that they can either get misplaced students moved to classes which will address their instructional level skills, or teach many levels of instructional need within their own classes. Let me repeat to give you a specific example of my thinking regarding students’ failing classes in primary and secondary school. From my 8:55 am post, above, on March 22nd:
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“I have previously mentioned that of the approximately 150 Advanced Reading students I received who had registered for my course each quarter, any of those students whom I assessed to be misplaced because the curriculum would have been too difficult for those students to meet with success, I took steps to ensure that those misplaced students were switched to Personalized Reading. Later, those students could re-register for Advanced Reading after they had gained the reading skills necessary to complete Advanced Reading successfully.

What I did not mention was that, after I had accounted for misplaced students and had had them transferred, I might still have had a handful of students who simply would not do the work and, in their cases, I would fail those students in Advanced Reading if they still would not do the work after I had counseled with them, and with their parents, about their failure to do the work. However, that number of students each quarter was less than 5 students of the 150 I taught, or about 3% of the total students I taught.

Had I left the misplaced students in my Advanced Reading class and failed them, I would have failed approximately 15% more of my students simply because the work would have been over their heads. But, I would not have felt right about having failed those particular students because I would have known that those students had been grossly misplaced.”
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Thus, I did fail students in my Advanced Reading class, but only those who, I knew, were not misplaced and could have done the work had they put forth the effort. However, I could not have failed students in Advanced Reading in 11th or 12 grade who were reading on 4th or 5th grade level because I would have known that they were not capable of passing my curriculum from the “get go” in my class – no matter how hard they might have tried. Therefore, I made certain that all of my students were placed in the appropriate class before the quarter began. I do not exaggerate. I analyzed the placement of all my students and no one was left in Advanced reading who was not equipped to handle to course requirements. Even so, as I had further written, there were students left who were barely able to pass the work, and that is why I addressed curriculum variances regarding starring (*) 10 or 20 vocabulary words for the lower students in Advanced Readidng to master rather than the full 20 SAT vocabulary words, if they wanted to earn an “A” in my course.

I do not think that this is the responsiblity of the college professor. The Admission Office of colleges will “weed out” students who are not college material, to begin with. In addition, many students that public schools must teach would never apply to college. The college professor focuses on the curriculum he or she is required to teach, although as Original Prof indicated, they make adjustments too in their instructional delivery of variances among their students. It is a matter of degree.

However, one of the tragedies of public schools 1-12 is that teachers are not addressing the wide variances of instructional levels within their classes, as was indicated on the Nelson Reading Test that we administered to all 9th, 10th, and 11th grade students. Some of these students should be taking other courses and some should be in remedial classes instead of other elective classes, such as foreign language. Moreover, unfortunately, in grades 1 -12, sometimes especially high school teachers will relate to their curriculum and to their student population as if they are college professors – in the sense of demanding academic purity. A biology teacher of 10th grade students may say to herself and to others, “My responsibility is to teach 10th grade biology. If the student is too far back, then that is not my concern because I teach curriculum, not the child.” I do not believe that this is responsible thinking of teachers and supervisors of instruction for grades 1 -12. It is simplistic thinking which is not based on the realism of what I have witnessed with student populations in grades 1 -12 in the course of my role as a schoolwide instructional leader for over a quarter of a century. We must teach students where they are functioning or they will not grow academically, emotionally, or socially.

Someone earlier today told me about having substituted in a 12th grade class and one student’s writing skills were no higher than that of a 3rd grader’s writing skills. So, unlike what I would advise the college professor of freshman writing, i.e., to fail those college students who do not meet college academic standards for the freshman writing class, I would have advised that 12th grade teacher to teach that student on 3rd grade writing skills while he was in the 12th grade writing class. That way, at least, that student would grow in his writing skills instead of simply vegetating while in class or regressing. The 12th grade teacher could blame the 11th grade teacher (and they do) all the way back to the 4th grade teacher blaming the 3rd and 2nd and lst grade teachers for the student being behind in his writing skills. They are all looking through the instructional prism for primary and secondary schools in the wrong way. Students learn at different rates, but they must all be taught on their precise instructional levels whether they are in 4th grade or 12 grade in order to grow. When that is accomplished then fewer and fewer students will be in 12th grade functioning in writing on a 3rd grade level. But we must break through grade level demarcations of instruction and think of instructional objectives as a continuum (as on a ladder) within grades 1 -12 with different students functioning sometimes at levels beyond or below grade level for their years- in-schoo. Primary and secondary teachers must address those natural instructional variances. This is the responsiblity of teachers in grades 1 – 12 because we do teach the “whole child” and, moreover, we teach all students with IQs which may vary from 80 – 160+. We cannot leave any student without targeted, precise instruction simply because they do not fit into the “ideal” of students who should be in a 10th grade biology class, as one example. Teachers in grades 1 -12 have the responsibility to teach the child, not simply the curriculum in grades 1 – 12 – unlike the responsiblity of the college professor.

There are too many failures right now in grades 1 -12. The problem is not a lack of failing students. The problem is having too many failures. That is one reason so many students drop out of school, and later become incarcerated. The problem is not that we don’t acknowledge failure. The problem is that we do not understand instructional principles for students of differing aptitudes and abilities in grades 1 -12 and address those differences. And, of course, the answer is certainly not to change grades to reflect what has not, in fact, been taught or learned. We must redesign instructional models for primary and secondary public schools. Teachers can lead the way in accomplishing this end, if they first are informed about the wide range of instructional variances within their classes, and if administrators, parents, and instructional supervisors will heed classroom teachers’ thoughts on this critical area of instructional need.

Mary Elizabeth

March 24th, 2013
5:56 pm

Correction: I had starred “10 of 20 vocabulary words” – not “10 or 20 vocabulary words” – for the lower level students in my Advanced Reading classes.

FransSusan

March 25th, 2013
10:04 pm

Nothing will ever improve until it is recognized and people will admit that political correctness and affirmative action have destroyed education and are destroying society. Everyone is afraid of being called racist so no one will face facts and face the real problem.