Detroit: D’s and F’s turned to C’s

Students who’d earned D’s and F’s were given C grades on their June report cards, charges a Detroit teacher.  The Detroit Free Press reports:

Science teacher Marjorie Pasqualle struggled in her classroom at Detroit’s Durfee Elementary last year — and so did her sixth- and seventh-grade students.

She endured taunts and threats, one student slapped her face and, in a chaotic atmosphere where students weren’t learning, she turned in 94 D’s and F’s for June report cards, records show.

But documents also show that the bad grades Pasqualle gave to students were changed to C’s on report cards and computerized student records — and without her consent, she said.

Rated “unsatisfactory” for poor class control and incomplete lesson plans, Pasqualle, 62, retired at the end of the year after 9 1/2 years in the classroom. The district is investigating the grade-changing allegations. Tracy Johnson, principal at Durfee Elementary, denies authorizing changes.

Pasqualle is not the only teacher to complain that failing grades are raised to make low-performing schools look better and to avoid retaining students in the same grade.

Teacher Mary Helen D’Angelo said a principal passed about three dozen fifth-graders who failed the MEAP test and her summer math class in 2009. “She told me, ‘It must’ve been something wrong with your teaching,’ ” D’Angelo recalled recently. “They came to me with second-grade skills.”

Altering records is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,500, up to two years in jail and suspension of a teaching certificate. Robert Bobb, emergency financial manager for DPS, vows to fire anyone who changes a grade without the teacher’s consent. Bobb signed an order last year declaring an end to social promotion. Staff training will follow, he told the Free Press.

Teachers and union officials say there’s heavy pressure to pass students along.

In 2009, Bobb fired 33 principals at low-performing schools. In 2010, he replaced the principals and staffs at most of the 51 lowest-performing schools.

Teacher Tracy Arneau said she failed four first-graders in 2006 who were struggling readers, but the principal promoted them to second grade anyway. By fall, two of the students were placed back in first grade because they were struggling.

“They weren’t successful, fluent readers,” she said. “Passing them was a disservice to the children, the next teacher and the next class. Everybody loses.”

Pasqualle submitted computerized grade sheets in the spring that contained 68 F’s and 26 D’s. All were changed to C’s. The grades in prior marking periods — often D’s and F’s — were blanked out.

As a result, a student who’d missed 20 days of class in the semester and another who’d missed 39 days in the school year were given C grades.  So did a straight F student with 37 absences who’s accused in a police report of assaulting Pasqualle.

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Comments

  1. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    A few principals in jail would clear up this sort of problem really fast.

  2. This is the same school district which got a grant for 50 million federal dollars to buy computers and laptops, but a 5th grader can’t do 2nd grade math, and a kid who is absent 37 times, and is a “F” student gets a “C”?

    Only in america do we reward failure such as this. In any other country, this kid would have been tossed out on his or her rear end.

  3. In my district, no grade lower than a 70 can be given for lower grade levels, and nothing lower than a 50 for junior high and above. There is a comment you can put on the report card which says that “Actual grade is lower than reported”, but it says nothing about how much lower. It is a lot quicker and easier to see grades than learning.

    The bottom line is that we are training kids to believe that they can succeed without putting any effort in whatsoever – raising generation after generation of people whose innate talents have been crushed, leaving no marketable skills whatsoever, and filling the void with a sense of entitlement.

  4. Schools are now being pushed to: (1) reduce drop-out rates (2) increase graduation rates (3) require college-prep for all, starting with 8th-grade algebra, (4) ensure that all kids score at “proficient” level on the mandated tests by X date and (5) ensure that suspensions/expulsions are reduced and proportional to the racial/ethnic composion of the school/district. Given the fact that America is not Lake Woebegon, where all kids are above average, all of the above are impossible for most schools. There are such schools, but they are outliers; think Scarsdale HS outside NYC, New Trier HS outside Chicago, Edina HS outside Minneapolis, Whitman HS and Langley HS outside DC etc. There are plenty of schools where essentially no one is above average and most are far below; think some of those in Chicago, DC, Detroit etc.

    In many schools/districts, given (1) and (5), it becomes impossible to ensure a safe, orderly and respectful school climate, especially when the spec ed regs are included. It is difficult to remove the severely disturbed, sociopathic and criminal elements and next to impossible to remove the chronic troublemakers. In these same schools, kids are frequently multiple years behind grade-level work, to the point that kids may enter HS without basic competence in reading and math, let alone in any other area. On mandated tests, “proficient” is defined so weakly that the term is an oxymoron. Coursework is similarly dumbed down and still kids can’t/won’t do the work to pass, but failure is not allowed. Given the impossible demands and the incentives, of course there will be cheating on the part of some admins and/or teachers.

    It won’t change until parents raise kids to be ready to start school, both behaviorally and cognitively, and schools teach the habits and behaviors that enable success; self-control and work ethic are absolutely essential and mandate their use. Public schools need to regain the right to suspend or expel those kids that pollute the school environment (which was done in my day), to ensure that they do not prevent others from learning.

  5. Algebra in 8th grade (sounds nice), but is usually EPIC FAIL when students are shown to not have the skill set needed to deal with algebra. If you don’t have a working knowledge of how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide (including fractions and percentages), you’re going to bomb miserably in Algebra (forget Trig, won’t happen).

    We’ve gone from educational achievement as defined by real grades (30-40 years ago, you got a “C”, you were considered average, and you actually earned that grade. A student who turns in no work at all gets a score of 50% (how about assign the kid the grade point of zero, and inform the student, they’ll need a grade of “C” in order to get the grade point for a “C” which is two, so that the average is a grade point of one (which is a “D”).

    When I attended school, you could flunk a quarter (regardless of percentage grade) and still get credit for the semester (we graded on fall and spring semester), but going strictly by percentage, a student earning less than 20% in a single quarter wouldn’t be able to get any semester credit at all, but if a student is doing that badly, it’s a pretty good chance he or she won’t be in school much longer at the high school level.

    When you teach to the lowest common denominator, the end result is usually pretty clear (low performing students), of course in Detroit, the president of the school board is a functional illiterate, and barely graduated from Wayne State University after 15 years.

  6. Tim-10-ber says:

    The disservice educators are doing to the children even if you are an “innocent” bystander should make them embarrassed to ever say they are a teacher. This is unconscionable! No educator is innocent if they willingly work in a school system that does this to children. We wonder why colleges are struggling? Because of the people who let this happen, yes let this happen in K-12! Please, please, please do the right thing for the children and not the foolish adults! OMG,

  7. Peace Corps says:

    The people that changed the grades were not educators as named in the article, they are administrators. IMO there is a world of difference.

  8. Teachers and teacher unions are an easy target, so we get pounded. Addressing the real problem in education today, parents and students, is much more difficult. Politicians will never attempt to address this problem, because it might offend a voter.

  9. Oh, please. “Only in america do we reward failure such as this.”

    Only in America? It’s not something done “in America”. It’s a direct violation of the law, for one thing. So how is it something done in America?

    In fact, it’s almost certainly common in any country that has put a lot of pressure on its schools to show improvement in educating its underclass–usually of a different ethnicity. So enough of the moralizing nonsense. Don’t insult America by implying this is common to anything other than the incompetents in charge of pretending to educate the underclass.

  10. Timber,

    As always, the “right thing to do” is not that easy to discern. I have a seventh grade student who operates at a first grade level. She does not understand a thing that goes on in our history class. She is sassy and hostile if anyone tries to get her to do work, or to answer a (very simplified) question. For some reason, she does not qualify for special education. What are we to do with her? Keep her in seventh grade forever (she’ll never pass)? Send her back to second grade where she probably belongs? True, her problems might not be so grave if she’d been retained and/or made to go to summer school when she was 6, but then again, her problems were probably not that glaring at that time. I suspect that ending social promotion in the lower grades will reduce the number of these situations, but I doubt we’ll never eliminate them. What would YOU do with a 13 year old student like the one I describe?

  11. Ending social promotion wouldn’t help. Some kids just won’t be cognitively ready to deal with the same material until they are much older. Better to tier education and indicate what level each student is at–except, of course, the demographics wouldn’ be evenly distributed.

    But yes, it’s very easy to be judgmental until you’re faced with kids that, through no fault of their own, are expected to take courses they can’t even spell, much less understand.

  12. Direct violation of the law, and there will be an investigation (which will probably find no one blameless), but someone (or many someones) changed the grades in that computer system, and I would agree that it wasn’t the teachers.

    While there have always been students (insert whatever ethnic group you want here) which have been low performers, we seem to have lost sight that in society, there are consequences for messing up.

    The person(s) who changed those grades from D’s and F’s to C’s (94 students) didn’t do these students any favors at all. The media in Detroit recently interviewed a woman in her early 20’s who had received a diploma from DPS, but she admitted that she couldn’t read it (or much else).

    I guess all that money the taxpayers spent, and all the self-esteem stuff didn’t help this young woman, as she’ll have to learn what should have been taught to her by her parent(s) and the elementary school system.

    The penalty for being absent 20% of the school year is to not change a student’s grade from an F to a C, but rather, to give the student the F he or she DESERVES.

  13. Ben, when I attended school (graduated in 1981), our school district didn’t BOTHER chasing down dropouts, but rather if they wanted to drop out at the age of 16, we let ’em.

    If a student is going to be disruptive, send them to the deans office, and if they want to continue to be a pain in the a**, send them to alternative schooling (ours was called ‘opportunity school’) where the student can sit with the rest of the troublemakers.

    Of course, with districts getting moola for every student who is enrolled by a certain date, and is actually present in the school, it’s not kosher to have kids not be enrolled in school (even if they aren’t learning, or don’t want to be there).

  14. Fraud, conspiracy, possibly a RICO case. Wonderful.

    Detroit, huh? Good thing this sort of thing doesn’t happen there too much, or the whole place would be in the toilet.

  15. Richard Aubrey says:

    Lou Gots.
    I think the term is “Detroilet”
    Used to live a mile from the city line. Went downtown a lot. Grand Circus had big movie theaters. You got dressed up for one of the bigs there (El Cid, ex) and went to a nice place for dinner. Last time there, decades ago, I had to punch a guy who wanted my parking spot in the underground facility. I think he wanted more than that, but that’s how he started. Don’t know how it is now, but at one time, it was like the old Times Square only sleazier.
    Recall shopping at the old Hudsons. People got dressed up to go there, too.
    High per-cap income. High employment.
    Then the dems got into government, most notably Coleman Young, and donwhill it went.
    ‘course, it’s all whitey’s fault.

  16. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    Ben F saith:

    I have a seventh grade student who operates at a first grade level. She does not understand a thing that goes on in our history class. She is sassy and hostile if anyone tries to get her to do work, or to answer a (very simplified) question. For some reason, she does not qualify for special education. What are we to do with her? Keep her in seventh grade forever (she’ll never pass)? Send her back to second grade where she probably belongs? True, her problems might not be so grave if she’d been retained and/or made to go to summer school when she was 6, but then again, her problems were probably not that glaring at that time. I suspect that ending social promotion in the lower grades will reduce the number of these situations, but I doubt we’ll never eliminate them. What would YOU do with a 13 year old student like the one I describe?

    I’ll assume that anyone can answer this question. It’s a good question. If I’m the teacher, I ignore her. Harsh, yes, but my job is educational triage for all my students, and there’s no procedure I can perform to stabilize the patient.

    If I’m the principal of the junior high or middle school, I’d sit down privately with the student and her parents (if they can be found) and explain exactly what you just said: “Sasha has first-grade reading skills and simply can’t cope with middle school work. She doesn’t belong here until she improves.”

    Then I would send her back to sixth (or fifth if it’s a middle school system) grade, with a letter to her elementary school grade principal saying “You’ve committed something like fraud: this student is obviously incapable of earning the grades and credits that you’ve given her the last few years. Please refrain from such behavior in the future, and don’t send her back until she’s at or around grade level.”

    End of my problem. I’ve got other students in my school to worry about.

    Then I’d promptly be fired by the school board, I suppose. But that’s how I’d deal with it.

  17. Roger Sweeny says:

    There are many students like that seventh grader, though usually not as bad. They have been promoted to middle school or high school even thought they don’t have the skills to do middle school or high school work.

    A large proportion of them won’t pick up the skills as they sit in a class that’s too advanced for them. But most of them won’t pick up the skills if they repeat an earlier grade either.

    What to do? My idea: Nobody gets to go to middle school or high school unless they demonstrate they can do middle school or high school work. If a student has attended 5 years of primary school or 3 years of middle school and cannot demonstrate this, they go to a turnaround specialist, someone who works with a limited number of behind students. If, after a year of this, they are good enough to advance, they do. If not, they don’t.

    Right now we just pass these kids on. They become discipline problems or they hold back the students who can do the work. Often, they drop out before finishing twelfth grade, or they become pressure to grant a meaningless diploma.

  18. Roger @ 2:41 PM:

    Nice idea, but it will never, ever happen. The main reason why? As alluded to earlier, the racial demographics of such a program would be suicide politically.

  19. Exactly. Until we are prepared to accept that the achievement gap is a fact of life, not proof of racism, we will go nowhere educationally.

    I understand why we can’t accept it as a fact of life, of course. But I wish we could get to the point of fighting hard against it, of looking for other ways to teach some level of higher order thinking to lower cognitive abilities (which would look nothing like what we do now), and of doing everything we can to be sure we are not neglecting kids capable of doing the work–while still accepting that our academic achievement will always be demographically uneven.

    But until we do get there, forget it. Any real change in our educational expectations will never happen until we can accept the demographics of it.

  20. Roger Sweeny says:

    “Nice idea, but it will never, ever happen. The main reason why? As alluded to earlier, the racial demographics of such a program would be suicide politically.”

    Sell it as what it is, a way for those who are not succeeding now to succeed. Right now the racial disparity is immense. It will help, not hurt, “underrepresented minorities.”