Lying to children

John Stone of the Pacific Research Institute is dead right in this oped: “It is a disappointment when a child performs poorly in school. It becomes a tragedy, however, when the child and his parents are not told the truth.” After years of grade inflation, students who’ve passed all their courses are finding they can’t pass basic skills tests; “B” students are stuck in remedial classes in college.

California’s universities admit only the top third of high school graduates, but 37 percent are required to take remedial math and 48 percent remedial English.

Recently, researchers took a closer look at the letter grades awarded in a Florida school district. Judged by the scores students earned on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), only 9 percent of the “A”‘s assigned to third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students were deserved. Of the students who performed at a “D” or “F” level on the FCAT, 17 percent had earned an “A” from their teacher. Many had been taught by teachers whom the study called “easy graders.” On average, these teachers assigned an “A” to those who were in reality “D” or “F” students 32 percent of the time.

Grade inflation benefits teachers and administrators, Stone writes.  

High grades are more comfortable for everyone involved — including educators. Teachers, administrators and school districts can bolster constituent satisfaction and their public image — or they can do the opposite — depending on the grades they assign. The incentive is obvious.

Parents who are poorly educated themselves tend to believe their children’s report cards are genuine. Eventually, students realize they lack the skills they need to meet their college and career goals. By then, their years of free education are over, and it may be too late to recover.

About Joanne


  1. Teachers who are found to have done this should be FIRED.

  2. I (math major; secondary ed) am now teaching 00 level (remedial) math classes at my university. When I say remedial, I’m talking maybe as high as 7th grade level. It is truly pathetic. Some of these kids will take two years of college classes before they receive any credit. Assuming they aren’t so discouraged they quit.

  3. The really sad thing is children don’t understand they can be helped, and there are other people in the same position. It’s a wonderful thing when a child struggles and rises. How bitter they must be to discover they’ve been lied to, by someone as trusted as a teacher.

  4. My teacher friends and I were very frustrated with our district report card, which obfuscated any understanding of how a child was doing in school. It was a “standards-based report card” with a million tiny boxes for each of the “power standards” that my district found to be the most important. Children received one of three markings: Meeting standards; Progressing toward standards; At-risk of not meeting standards. That “Progressing toward standards” was a h-u-g-e catchall that encompassed an enormous range of student understandings. There were no grades, so the only way a parent could tell how well (or not) their child was doing was to meet in a conference. However, our district cut back our conference days to only once…at the end of the first trimester…so any other time we wanted to conference wasn’t paid for. It was very disappointing how little the district wanted parents to know, and my team and I made an agreement to mark nearly all kids in all areas as being “progressing” because otherwise many children would never, ever show any growth, and the way this parent population worked, that would. not. do. Unfortunately, our principal could have addressed this by supporting us, but he had a spine of jello. The end result was that most parents never read the report card (many said it was too big and too wordy, go figure) and my suspicion is that those who didn’t have a teacher willing to meet with them on her own time (or unable to meet with them on her own time) never really knew what was going on in his child’s mind.

  5. Teachers who are found to have done this should be FIRED.

    Odd, I suspect that *not* doing this is much more likely to get you fired.

    It was one thing to maintain these standards when teachers where *the* authority. It’s another in a much more consumer-oriented society where failing to please the customer (= student’s parent) can be fatal to your career.

    Realistically, we need to reform parents and society before we can hope to succeed in anything more than a limited sense in our educational system. Education is not going to be a bastion against societal pressures. If it was capable of prevailing against society’s general direction, we’d have torn it down and replaced it with something else.

  6. It’s a wonderful thing when a child struggles and rises.

    The trouble is that it’s not so wonderful when a child struggles heroically and fails.

    As a society, we’ve chosen to reward effort in our children, rather than results. The cost of that is evident.

    However, I’m pretty certain that as a society that we’re not yet willing to fail children who may try but due to various circumstances (general ability, lack of educated role models, lack of English proficiency, lack of support outside school, etc.) are unable to meet the standards we’d like to see.

    If we’re to have real standards, then we must prepare for lots of real failures, and accepting those that those failures will be concentrated by economic status and race. We’re not yet at that stage, and as a society, we do just about everything we can to avoid confronting that reality, no matter what the cost.

  7. In CA, the majority of public school teachers graduate from one of the CalState Universities (as opposed to the University of California at LA, Berkeley, San Diego, etc.) The majority of incoming freshmen at the various CalStates(having graduated from public schools in CA), need remedial classes. See the pattern?

  8. only 9 percent of the “A”‘s assigned to third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students were deserved.

    You know, that sounds about right. 10% should get As, 35% Bs, 35% Cs, 10% Ds and 10% Fs.
    Now THAT would cause a ruckus by parents. But it beats ignoring a problem.

  9. So why is it that kids themselves don’t know how they’re doing?

    Imagine a sports coach doing the same thing: drilling kids for a year, working on skills, then handing out report cards that say ‘great job!’
    How would the kids know whether that meant anything?
    In fact kids *do* know, with athletics, because they use those skills. They play the sport. They have organized games and pickup games and they measure themselves against their actual competition. They can see what ‘good’ is, and how to get there, and they have a reason to work.

    Whereas academically, kids spend years drilling with no apparent payoff, working on ‘skills’ that somebody has decided should be useful for something, someday. That’s a long time to go without practical feedback. Sure, there are grades and gold stars, but that’s like giving out ribbons for dribbling the ball well in a practice.

    Until kids have a reason to do whatever’s on the curriculum, it will not only be difficult to make them do it, it will be difficult for them to measure their own progress. As it is, they go for years and years without even a glimpse of the goalposts–if in fact there are any goalposts. Of course the teacher is going to sugarcoat things, and of course the kids won’t know that’s what’s happening.

    The teachers who do this are a problem, but they aren’t the only problem.

  10. Anonymous Coward says:

    The increasing need for remediation at the college level isn’t caused by grade inflation.

    In mathematics, the primary cause for increased remediation demand has been the uncritical embrace in the K-12 arena of “reform” mathematics. For the last 15 years, give or take, the mathematical analogue of the now discredited “whole language” movement (from English/Literature) has been working its way through the K-12 machine.

    At my college, it is routine for me to see recent high school graduates who have taken a trip through two or three years of “integrated” math courses take our assessment/placement test and land in pre-algebra or elementary algebra. The attrition rates in those classes are staggering: more than 50% often fail.

    When a high school grad is placed into pre-algebra at the college level, they may have experienced grade inflation, but that’s not what placed them in pre-algebra.

  11. I’m not sure that it’s entirely the fault of the newest fads in math
    curricula that current college freshmen aren’t ready to take calculus.
    (Although the current fads are horrifying — it was the math curriculum at
    my daughter’s public elementary school that resulted in her getting
    transferred to a private school at the end of kindergarten.)

    I was a math major as an undergrad at Ohio State back in 1972-74, and on
    occasion I tutored some remedial math students there. OSU had a course
    called Math 101, which was an *introduction* to Algebra 1, and for which
    students could get college credit. And as if this wasn’t bad enough, they
    had a version of the course that covered this same material over 2
    quarters, called Math 101.A/101.B. And if this wasn’t bad enough, they had
    a sequence called Math 101.A.01/101.A.02/101.B.01/101.B.02 that covered the
    material over 4 quarters — that is, you could get 12 units for learning
    the material that, at the time, a typical Algebra 1 class covered in the
    first 2 months in 9th grade. The grad students I knew that taught the
    course said that it was really painful to teach because the material didn’t
    change perceptibly from day to day — one said that it was like trying to
    watch the hour hand on a clock move. It was the case that the average
    student at OSU was pretty bad in those days, even by Big 10 standards, but
    I doubt that these kids had encountered “whole math”, so their ignorance 30
    years ago stemmed from some other source.

    One funny thing about this class is that a few years after I left I ran
    into a guy who had been a new Asst. Prof. at OSU my senior year, and he
    told me that the university had eliminated credit for the horribly slow
    version, A.01/A.02/B.01/B.02, and some students had protested vigorously. So the university
    came back and told them, “You can get 12 units for Math 101, but if
    you do, you need 6 more units to graduate.” The protesting students were so
    stupid that they were satisfied by this “compromise”.