Can’t fail, won’t learn

Since the post on special-ed inclusion generated so much debate, here’s Mr. W on trying to teach Algebra B (the second semester of Algebra 1)  to a girl with poor math skills, a pushy parent and an IEP (Individual Education Plan).  He recommended she transfer to lower-level class after learning she’d failed Algebra A the year before, failed Algebra 1 in summer school and scored “far below basic” in general math on the state exam.  She’d earned a D on the first test and was getting 0’s on the daily work.

. . . the parent emailed the dean, counselor, special ed teacher, and principal and said my recommendation was an “easy-out remedy” for me instead of enforcing the IEP.

. . . So now it looks like the parent is going to modify the IEP and potentially make me change my grade scale for one student. At what point will parents realize that these kind of actions hurt the student more than help?

Earlier, Mr. W was forced to pass a student with a 34 percent average, “because the parent didn’t want the student to fail.”

He predicts this student’s IEP will be changed so she can’t fail — and won’t learn. Next year, the IEP will guarantee she “passes” geometry and so on until college. What then? “We are creating a generation of students who think they are ready for the real world and aren’t,” Mr. W writes.

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Comments

  1. This isn’t unusual. I’ve had to pass students that showed up to less than half the class and had a 20% average. Actually, what happens is the case carriers create “directed study” classes secretly and simply give the students credit in whatever class they need if they don’t pass the mainstreamed class. I’ve been furious to look out at graduation and see students that have no right to a diploma walk the stage.

    I don’t blame the case carriers though. They do it because the IEP has become a method to threaten teacher jobs if a vague interpretation of the Plan is not followed. Pass kids or be host to a lawsuit. Pretty simple what’s going to happen in that case, especially when past practices support parents of kids with “Special Needs”.

    You’ll love this. We’ve even had parents threaten the school district during expulsion hearings because smoking marijuana on campus multiple times was a “manifestation of their disability”, and therefore the student couldn’t be punished. Special education is a dangerous animal.

  2. These poor students wind up in college classes that they are completely unprepared for. It makes it hard to convince students that at some point it really does matter that they learn the material. My current crop of cc students has tried to convince me that I’m unreasonable for expecting them to learn the metric system and conversions between units. They’re pre-nursing…no need for a grasp of mg, kg, and ml there!

    I ran into an acquaintance who is a nurse and she asked what was up with these new nurses – they lack the fear that new nurses should have that if they screw up it can kill people. They think they know it all. Wonder where they get that….

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Without a genuine risk of actual failure, there can never be real success, and the fleeting thrill of false victory shall ever taste like ashes.

  4. And then college professors get them, and wind up tearing their hair out.

  5. And then college professors get them, and wind up tearing their hair out.

    Or, in the STEM majors, making them take a Calculus class taught by non-tenured lecturers. A brutal solution, but probably a fairly effective one, in general.

    -Mark R.

  6. First off thanks for posting my story to get the word out there.

    I have some more news to share. The parents were able to use the IEP to change the math department’s grading policy from 75% for test & 25% for homework to a 50/50 split. Once I changed the student’s grade to the new scale they went from a 64% to a 76%. Then once the student took a modified test (less questions, less choices, and the ability to use notes) the student scored a 75% on it, so now the grade is an 82%.

    So in theory anyone with an IEP can come in and change the grade scale for their child. Is this a problem?

  7. Coach Brown,
    I think I might have one that is up there with you. Supposedly, there was a special ed student last year that had it written in his IEP that the school couldn’t look in his bag without call the parents first. The reason “he forgetful, so he might not realize what he puts in there”

    Let’s hear it for safety.

  8. oh, we heard about that special ed student from one of the administrators. So that’s pretty reliable.

  9. So in theory anyone with an IEP can come in and change the grade scale for their child. Is this a problem?

    I don’t actually have much of a problem with this as long as it doesn’t screw up class for the rest of the students.

    Is it an option to just ask the parents what grade they would like their child to have and give this as a grade? It is pretty clear that learning the material isn’t a priority here for anyone except you, and I think you have better ways to spend your time …

    -Mark Roulo

  10. Actually Mark, the parents expect their daughter to go onto a 4 year university straight out of high school. It’s not like a student who isn’t going to college, this is someone who has plans to move on. And the parents actually believe that the grade they will get, will mean they understand the material, despite what I told them.

    How many stories have we read about college professors complaining about high school students not being ready? Could this be the cause of it?

    Teachers are on the verge of having their state test scores dictate their evaluations and pay, at what point are we allowed to say “no, it’s not fair to us.” At most schools teachers are at the bottom of importance. It goes students, parents, administrators, and then teachers, yet we are the ones dealing with these issues on a daily basis. When do we get heard?

  11. My God… Our society is falling apart. As the education system goes, a society goes. ‘Special Education’ has made cheating legal and drugs mantatory. (Who’s not on ritalin, Prozac or Paxil these days? Especially if you’re under 18.)

    And teachers – who are supposed to have one of the most valuable and revered jobs in a society – are treated like trash. Our society is literally regressing into a backwards society, a 3rd world nation.

  12. I’m in exactly the same position Mr. W right now. The parents think that they are advocating for their student, but you’re right, reality will have to set in when the child’s in college. I don’t know how colleges and universities are able to deal with this problem. It’s been happening for 5-10 years now so they’ve got to be feeling the effects. The only thing a teacher can do is follow the mandated IEP laws and wish the child the best. I try not to loose too much sleep over it or I wouldn’t be at my best for the rest.

  13. As far as I know regarding colleges, accommodations are mostly limited to instructional and assessment changes (teacher notes, preferential seating, separate location and extra time for exams). I have yet to hear of a college student able to modify a course’s grading policy.

    That being said, I’m not a professor or a SPED guru, so I could be wrong.

  14. Actually Mark, the parents expect their daughter to go onto a 4 year university straight out of high school. It’s not like a student who isn’t going to college, this is someone who has plans to move on. And the parents actually believe that the grade they will get, will mean they understand the material, despite what I told them.

    It sucks to be the daughter. If the parents refuse to interpret “she’s failing” as “she doesn’t understand the material,” and keep insisting that some sort of change in the grading scheme will mean that she has learned, I just don’t see what you can do. My “solution” just takes this to its logical extreme and (maybe) frees up time for you to spend on the rest of the students.

    You are providing honest feedback on the child’s current abilities. The parents pretty clearly don’t want to hear it. At some point, I don’t see the point in continuing to try when you have only a certain amount of time each week to spend on all the kids you teach.

    If I tell my boss that a given piece of software doesn’t work and he insists that I change the tests until it does, the software is still broken. And my boss has very clearly signaled to me that he doesn’t want the truth (NOTE: this is a hypothetical. My boss is much too smart to do this). The parents are signaling in the same way, even if they don’t know it.

    Sorry about your situation, though.

    -Mark Roulo

  15. thanks Mark.

    It’s sad for the student because he/she will leave in 4 years with a high school diploma that is pretty much worthless in terms of math. The parents think they are helping, but they aren’t and we all see it.

  16. Roger Sweeny says:

    Mr. W,

    A good state test would fail that student and keep her from graduating. The parents may be able to get to you but they can’t get to the anonymous graders working for the state education department.

    IEPs and 504s are mandated by various federal laws. Why are no politicians campaigning on promises to change them? Why are our unions not making it an issue?

  17. I have just the opposite problem. My 9yr old who is ADHD and LD is reading on a 1st grade level and his math is a 1st grade level as well. I have tried for the last two years at least to get the school to consider holding him back and they won’t! They keep promoting him! He has an IEP but there is nothing in it about passing him or making it easy. I’m furious with the school and besides taking him out of the school and homeschooling him or sending him to private school (both not doable) there’s little we seem to be able to do. I’m at my wits end.

    When will schools see that they are doing NO service for the child when they simply promote him so they’re not accountable for him to the state. This is one area where NCLB definitely failed. They are going to graduate 1000s of kids with little abilitiy to read or do math.

    And yes, we do work with him at home.

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