Teachers complain of pressure to promote

Philadelphia teachers are pushed to promote high school students who cut class or can’t read, reports the Inquirer.

“We have to give fake grades,” said a teacher at Mastbaum High in Kensington. “The pressure is very real.”

A teacher at University City High described getting pressure from the school’s administrators to pass a student who had 89 absences over a half-year.

. . . Schools are now judged on many criteria, including the number of students who pass.

. . . Teachers also blasted a district policy that requires them to give every student at least a 50 even if he or she didn’t attend class or do the work. At some schools, teachers said, the minimum grade is 60. Passing is 65.

I guess that’s what they mean by “failure is not an option.”

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Comments

  1. I still can’t understand why there are students in high school that can’t read. So, this problem of passing students who aren’t ready seems to start a lot earlier than high school.

  2. Margo/Mom says:

    Mia–that was exactly my reaction, that we have a rather profound problem of not being able to teach kids to read, etc–which, if solved, would solve the other problem. My son’s middle school posted banners that said “failure is not an option.” I always wanted to fire back–what is it then, a guarantee? since there was so much failure all around.

    In my state, there hasn’t been much pressure to promote that I am aware of–particularly in ninth grade, since we test in tenth. Ninth grade is the largest of all four high school classes (sometimes double the tenth grade, and as much as 4 times the 12th). I was not aware that any schools are “graded” on the number of students who pass–although it is certainly among many data that can be thrown into the mix. To my mind, it could be beneficial. Passing kids who haven’t learned is likely to diminish test scores in the following grade–for those who are blinded by the numbers game–so there isn’t likely to be much of an advantage to passing kids who are undeserving. It would also look pretty bad to be passing high numbers of non-proficient kids. It would also seem as though this is the kind of data that some teachers have been clamoring for in their mantra of “the tests don’t measure everything.”

    Personally, as a parent, I am getting pretty tired of all the shell games and diversions. We know, by most measures, or any combination thereof, that some kids are not getting as much education as others. The “proficiency” bars have been set pretty low all around. And yet, rather than tackling the problem of not enough kids learning well, we are asked to consider what teachers are being “forced” to do instead of teach. And when when it’s not the fault of the government for setting standards, it’s the fault of parents for producing sub-standard children.

  3. Hmmmm….As a middle school math teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I’m not sure which is worse; this, or our district’s policy of promoting students regardless of what grades they receive. Teachers have no fear of assigning kids F’s that they earn, but this has zero effect on their promotion. I’ve literally seen 6th graders with ALL F’s move on to 7th grade, then on to 8th grade, and then on to high school without passing a class.

  4. It’s probably the graduation rate indicator that is frequently a part of AYP for high schools that drives the pressure to pass kids.

    If you give away enough high school credits, you can be certain that no students who manages to pass the minimum competency exams will fail to graduate on time.

  5. And teachers wonder why it’s tough to motivate kids.

    Obviously, there’s no importance placed on education by the administrative staff and that message does get communicated to the kids.

    Given the atmosphere, it’s the kids that are reacting rationally and the people who believe education has value who appear to be, perhaps are, acting irrationally.

  6. Physics Teacher says:

    Given the atmosphere, it’s the kids that are reacting rationally and the people who believe education has value who appear to be, perhaps are, acting irrationally

    The kids are perfectly rational. It’s the educationists who are all nuts.

  7. I teach in CA also–elementary school. The problem begins early. There are no real consequences for the kids for not doing the work. We can give failing grades ’til we turn blue, but kids are not retained after Kindergarten. To many kids (and their parents, unfortunately), an “N” or an “F” is not a consequence. It means nothing to them as long as they go on to the next grade. I have a kid every year who turns in NO work, and that kid won’t change his or her ways regardless of reward or consequence. Usually these are the kids who just want to hang out with their friends. Not passing to the next grade with their social circle might be a consequence that would work. (I’m talking about kids who are not trying or doing the work–not kids who are peddling as fast as they can.)

  8. The same policies exist at the college/university level, but the policies are self-imposed by the instructors because students are permitted to complete course “evaluations” at the end of most classes. The course “evaluations” are used in yearly evaluations and are scrutinized for tenure decisions. College professors, especially those without tenure, and adjunct instructors (at least the ones who want to keep working)are themselves perfectly rational. You assign low grades at your own peril. Makes life easier all around.

  9. “…I still can’t understand why there are students in high school that can’t read.”

    Because it happens at the elementary level also.

    I heard about a teacher at one of the schools I sub at complain that the principal overrode her recommendation to “retain” one kid.

    “Let the middle school deal with him” was the excuse.

  10. If teacher’s unions backed up the teachers who failed the non attending and non performing students I would be forced to revise my opinion of teacher’s unions.

  11. Margo/Mom says:

    Cheryl–would you believe then that a lack of consequences for teachers also leads to slacking? My state had tests with reported scores for quite some time prior to NCLB requiring that there be consequences for schools and districts. To my mind the consequences (offering options for students and improvement efforts) make sense. But then we get all of these silly sorts of things–like teachers reporting that they have to “pass” kids who haven’t learned anything.

    When my kids hit middle and high school, I was aware of a lot of kids in the hanging out with friends category. I could see them in the hallways and bathrooms whenever I was there. It was really difficult to point out that my son was particularly vulnerable to the lax response of the school to these kids (and him) who were “practicing to drop out.” As a parent, it is very frustrating to realize how hard it is sometimes to ensure that your kid is in school every day only to find that once there, nobody really cares whether or not they are in class. Even the simple act of taking and reporting attendance for every class period was too much trouble for teachers to be bothered with, and the kids who were hanging out in the bathrooms were already considered to be lost causes. My sense is that some teachers would prefer to “pass” such kids, as opposed to figuring out how to teach them. Anything but having to be bothered by them.

  12. Someday maybe we will get rid of grades altogether and actually focus on teaching children what they need to learn.

  13. Miller Smith says:

    In Prince George’s County Public Schools right outside of Washington D.C., the graduating GPA is 0.6. A single B (3.0) in a 4 quater course will pass a student for the year-in fact, if that student make 3 points at any time during the year they do not have to attend class for the rest of that year.

    We must give 50% of work never turned in for excused absences

  14. deirdremundy says:

    Miller Smith… A ‘B; isn’t that hard. If I was a slacker HS kid, I’d do a decent job in all my classes first quarter (less material to know at that point, so B comes easier!) and then do nothing the rest of the year…..

    After all, if you don’t want to go to college, who cares about grades, right?

    I think a big problem is people who expect kids to be motivated by ‘love of learning.’ For a small percentage schoolwork is fun, and those kids may stay motivazted, but for the rest?

  15. I have been a teacher for over 20 years, and I have found that retention is rarely an effective strategy for struggling students. If a student is seriously behind in reading or math at the end of third grade, simply repeating third grade is unlikely to make much of a difference. What these students need is a careful analysis of their academic problems with a focused intervention aimed at bringing them up to grade level. In Finland, one out of seven teachers is a special education teacher. As soon as a child is identified as struggling, the child is pulled and worked with intensively with the goal of getting the child back on track. Surely this makes more sense than having a child repeat an entire year of the same whole class instruction that didn’t work the first time.

    I am also surprised at the suggestion that if we just punish children enough by using harsh consequences like retention, they will somehow learn more. No child actively desires to be unable to read or do math. If you were to trace the school history of most of the students you deride as “slackers”, you would find years of failure and discouragement that left them convinced that effort is hopeless.

  16. Now the states are going to raise their academic standards….while policies let (encourage?) teachers to pass kids who have not learned the current standards. What effect will higher standards have?

  17. Ray,

    How old are the students that you teach? You sound like a college of education professor.

  18. Miller Smith says:

    deirdremundy. those students ARE gong to college!

  19. I currently teach 3rd grade. I have taught kindergarten, 2nd grade, 5th grade, and middle school students.

    Let me give an example of a student I had in my class last year. His mother had him retained and requested me as his teacher. I did not assume that simply getting another year of 3rd grade was going to solve his problems. I tested him and noticed that he was having serious problems with phonics. I dug a little deeper and found that he had a speech impediment that was probably interfering ability to understand and apply phonics to decoding. The school set him up with a speech therapist. but I knew that wouldn’t be enough. Fortunately his mother was willing to work with me. I tutored him after school, and she tutored him at home. We both used an intensive phonics/fluency program that I put together. By the end of the year he was back on track. There was nothing magic about that second year of third grade. It was the intensive, focused intervention that made the difference. Without it he would probably have become one of those discouraged students that some people want to dismiss as “slackers”.

    What if I had had an overwhelming number of students who needed that kind of intervention, or what if his mother had not been able to help? Classroom teachers are not martyrs or miracle workers. We need a system like Finland’s where specialists are trained to assess and intervene as soon as a child starts to fall behind.

  20. Cheryl wrote:

    I teach in CA also–elementary school. The problem begins early. There are no real consequences for the kids for not doing the work.

    There are no real consequences for anyone.

    Not for the students or the teachers or the administrator or the elected representatives.

    No public education professional will suffer unpleasant consequences as a direct result of not making a contribution to the overall goal of educating kids just as they won’t enjoy the benefits of doing a great job. Social promotion is merely the final expression of that indifference to the institution’s ostensible goals.

  21. Bill Leonard says:

    “No public education professional will suffer unpleasant consequences as a direct result of not making a contribution to the overall goal of educating kids just as they won’t enjoy the benefits of doing a great job. Social promotion is merely the final expression of that indifference to the institution’s ostensible goals.”

    Exactly.

    And if my kids were in middle school or high school today, they would be in private schools. California’s public schools have failed; indeed, for the most part they have been no better than second-rate, and have been failing for more than 50 years.

  22. Ray is correct. Students catch up best if you keep them with their peers and offer the support they need to get up to speed. The problem with anti-retention policies is that they omit the extra support.

    This is one of the strageties we’ve used to cut our drop-out rate to 1 – 3%. In my dept., we identify the strugglers coming into 9th and 10th and they get a class staffed by an English teacher that has the sole purpose of getting the kid through the regular class. It works for most kids. We’re often a “weak link” in the graduation chain because they need 4 English credits to graduate.

  23. Margo/Mom says:

    LS–thanks again for the reminder that thoughtful educators can do what’s right and achieve success. I would say the problem with both anti-retention and retention policies is that they omit the extra support. We operate as if each kid were pre-set at some particular “speed” that cannot be altered. If they are “behind,” we give them extra time(they stopped putting in “extra time” as an accommodation on my son’s IEP when I started asking where this “extra time” was coming from). If we started thinking instead that kids need different amounts of attention and effort, or different strategies, I think we would get further, and have fewer things to blame kids for.

  24. We operate as if each kid were pre-set at some particular “speed” that cannot be altered.

    This is more a problem with policy-makers than anyone else. It’s much easier to craft policies that require no discretion or judgment on the part of those charged with carrying them out. In education, it means crafting policies that treat kids as immutable objects that get punted through the system when they don’t fit the mold.