The can’t-fail school

New York City’s top-ranked school is under investigation for cooking the books, reports the New York Times. Theater Arts Production Company School, a middle and high school located in a low-income Bronx neighborhood,  graduated 94 percent of seniors, more than 30 points above the citywide average. The school earned a near-perfect score in “student progress,” based partly on course credits earned by students.  The school’s no-failure policy requires teachers to pass all students who attend class, regardless of their performance; no more than 5 percent of students can get D’s.

In practice, some teachers said, even students who missed most of the school days earned credits. They also said students were promoted with over 100 absences a year; the principal, rather than a teacher, granted class credits needed for graduation; and credit was awarded for classes the school does not even offer.

The school’s former Advanced Placement calculus teacher said he was pressured to pass students who didn’t deserve it.

Last year, every student passed the class even though each received a 1 — the lowest score — on the Advanced Placement test, in part because they had not taken precalculus, he said. Only one had passed the Math B Regents, a minimal standard.

Even some students complained to the Times about the no-failure policy.

Some said that it sometimes hurt their motivation to know that a classmate would pass even if he did not come to class. One said that his current average was a 30 — but that he could bring it up to a 95 with a few days of work — and that teachers sometimes handed out examples of student work that he copied from.

“You would have to be an epic failure to fail at this school,” said Deja Sawyers, a 10th grader. When students do not do their work, “there’s no consequences,” she said, adding that she did not get homework.

Another student, Luisa Cruz, said, “Everybody always passes; it’s really rare to fail.”

“It makes no sense,” she said. “You’ve got to learn from your mistakes.”

The college acceptance rate for graduates is 100 percent, but students’ SAT scores are low and many end up in remedial classes in college.

College acceptance is meaningless: It includes students who go to open-admissions or not-very-selective colleges, take a few remedial classes and drop out.  Sending graduates to college to retake eighth-grade English and math is nothing to brag about.

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