In 2 days, failing students pass, graduate

Three Los Angeles seniors who failed a required class, were able to transfer to a credit-recovery school for two days, pass and return to graduate with classmates, reports the Los Angeles Times. Teachers are annoyed.

 The students withdrew from STEM Academy of Hollywood as late as June 13, a Wednesday, attended the adjacent Alonzo Community Day School the next day, and checked back into STEM to graduate that Friday.

The three had failed economics or history classes taught by Mark Nemetz, who complained the fast shuffle “damages the credibility of STEM.”

“Why should next year’s seniors make a serious effort next year if they know they have this option available to them at the end?” wrote teacher Julio Juarez.

STEM Principal Josie Scibetta said she was obligated to accept the credits and  told the Times she’s concerned about Nemetz’s “rigid” grading policies.

Alonzo, the alternative school, is intended for students who are at risk of dropping out. Although it has a traditional school day, it measures credits only by work completed, not the time the students spend in class, said Principal Victorio R. Gutierrez.

It’s difficult and rare, but not impossible, for a talented student to complete in two days material that another student might need a year to master, Gutierrez said. He added that his school’s rigor does not necessarily match that of a regular high school, but his instructors teach the required material, and students have to produce work and pass quizzes to demonstrate their knowledge.

Credit recovery undermines standards, writes Walt Gardner on Ed Week.

About Joanne


  1. Looks like LAUSD is taking my plan of printing high school diplomas on toilet paper since both clearly have a common usage.

    • Based on studies I’ve read, a high school diploma from anywhere in California has been practically useless since the 1970’s. You’re better off teaching yourself than going to a California high school…

      • Mark Roulo says:

        The *diploma* doesn’t signal much (although it might if you knew the specific high school).

        But lots of kids learn a fair amount in California high school classrooms.

        The problem is that the diploma doesn’t correlate with learning. A kid with a diploma might have learned a lot. Or might not. You can’t tell from the piece of paper.

        But this doesn’t mean that the education has to be worthless. Often it is not.

        • Social promotion by any other name still stinks and this is social promotion.

  2. This article needs to be bookmarked by every teacher who reads it. It should be the first thing you post the next time you have to read someone attacking teachers……

  3. There’s something I’m not following here – these three students managed to flunk out of required econ / history classes, yet they were able to achieve the “difficult and rare, but not impossible” feat of completing a year’s worth of work in two days’ time?

    Was someone passing out talent/genius pills?

  4. Makes you wonder what the quality of the University and community college students that California contributes to America really is, doesn’t it? Scary.

  5. I’d say this is the wave of the future…there is ABSOLUTELY no way a student who has flunked an entire year’s worth of material to master it in 48 hours…

    A Fraud, Sham, and Criminal activity by the LAUSD…

  6. tim-10-ber says:

    Guys — this isn’t just “news” in CA…this happens in other districts…probably wherever you find “credit recovery”. Would hate to be a teacher…

    Couple “credit recovery” with low, low cut scores on EOC or state mandated exams that do not match with the teacher’s grade and…

    I think tax-payers are being…

    You figure it out…the kids are the biggest losers…

    When does it stop…

  7. Deirdre Mundy says:

    They were from an STEM magnet. Credit recovery was based on tests and quizzes. If the other teacher graded on worked turned in, and made homework/participation/posters+dioramas 50% Of the grade, a kid could totally master the material enough to ace the final and still fail the class.

    Heck, on several occasions in HS I had a failing grade (ADHD slacker until 10th grade, when I fell in love with the U of C and started working), and cut deals where if I made up all the work in a single weekend, I could have a ‘B’. (At the time, I felt that a loss of a letter grade was worth the reward of only working on the class for one weekend a semester.)

    I think, if they passed the test, we should really examine whether the teacher in question was grading subject knowledge, or compliance.

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      The article said two of the kids skipped class frequently, and one never turned in the work. So it’s possible that they could have passed the class in 2 days if they only needed to write a few reports and take the final.

  8. Pay your fee, get your degree

  9. I teach at stem says:

    I am not comfortable replying here as teachers can get in trouble for these things even when they’ve done nothing wrong; but being a community of educators, and STEM being a school I helped build, grow, design and mold, I feel I must say something.

    First, we are not a magnet school. Our students choose the school out of 3 others on the campus. Almost every kid walks to school and not one is bussed. This is an inner city, low income (98% or so free lunch) school. If a kid wants to be in STEM, they are in STEM. If they choose the other schools, so be it.

    Deirdre is quite right when she talks about projects, as much of this class was posters and projects. I’m not critiquing that at all but if you take projects out of the mix and count only the chapter work, as did the continuation school, it’s possible to finish – especially if they actually did learn something during the semester and were able to apply it to the rote chapter work and packets they were given at the continuation school. If the other school wasn’t so easy, the kids wouldn’t have had the option.

    Regarding the article, first, don’t believe everything you read in the papers. Yes, those 3 students did go to a continuation school, did the required work to earn higher than a D, and two did graduate on stage. The work was graded by the teacher at the continuation school. My understanding is that the student earns X amount of points for each chapter completed. If I recall, 7 chapters in Econ = C in the class. Is this right? No. Is it fair? No. Did I and other staff tell the kids this was not fair or a good decision? Absolutely. There was no social promotion. When the students’ work was questioned by the teacher at STEM, the continuation teacher was asked to bring the work down to the district superintendent’s office of instruction to be examined. The district approved the work, said it was valid, and only then were those students allowed to walk the stage with their peers. Was allowing them to walk perhaps not a great decision? Maybe. At the same time, those 2 kids had everything else they needed to graduate. Both have been accepted into 4 year schools. They found a loophole. They did what they had to. When do we stop punishing them?

    Nothing criminal happened. I think everyone, including those kids who now are worried someone is going to take their diploma, learned a lesson. My principal is absolutely amazing. She is not to blame for what has happened. Deirdre makes some valid points that I hope everyone really reads through again. Of the two kids who did graduate, one didn’t “skip” class but was going through a terrible divorce of her parents, was living very far with one parent, and then close with another. The other did not skip class but, yes, missed work.

    I think I’m rambling and all I want to say is that STEM is not the school it’s being made out to be. It’s small (17 teachers this year), 400 students. Our students take four years of either Engineering or Biomedical sciences. Students take 4 years of science and a minimum of 3 years, if not 4, of math. Our kids aren’t supposed to be going to schools (because they are poor and mostly Latino) like UC Berkeley, Creighton, University of Rochester, UCLA (to name a few), but they are. They are because they earned those grades, they worked hard, they weren’t given freebies. That is NOT what we do in STEM. We are not handing out diplomas where they are not earned. STEM is teacher run. We hire each other, we review each other, we review our principal. We also hire and choose to keep or replace the leadership each year. This is not a “same ole” LAUSD school.

    • OK…you make a valid argument defending the student’s right to a diploma. You did not defend the obvious gaming of the system by all involved (How do you even get the paperwork processed to allow the two tranfers in two days?)

      The students should have graduated from the continuation school and not STEM.

      How many of their friends are going to pull something like this next year?

      • It’s always possible to game the system if you spend enough time scrutinizing the rules. In the greater scheme of things, the truck-sized holes in the tax code for wealthy, powerful interests are far more important than whether three students found a way to graduate without attending summer school, but you know, “Look, a chipmunk! This is everything that’s wrong with teachers.”

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          Most of the commenters seem to be about what’s RIGHT with a teacher (Mark Nemetz) and what’s wrong with the higher ups.

          I would like to see my union (the NEA) do more to back up teachers in situations like this.

          • Don’t hold your breath waiting. The purpose of a union’s to secure the best possible deal for its membership. It may stray occassionally but never too far or for too long. Ultimately the membership’s not likely to let it.

  10. Chacon enrolled about a day later, followed by 17-year-old Pietro Ruggiero.

    His father, Pedro Ruggiero, who sits on STEM’s governing council, said he was unaware of any issue until 15 minutes before graduation.

    “They told me at the last minute — they said the problem they had was solved,” Ruggiero said. “I had no idea what it was…. I didn’t know that the other school existed. Now I’m learning more.”

    Anyone see a problem or two here?

    First of all, are we supposed to believe that the school never contacted a parent to tell them their minor child was failing a class? Especially a parent on their governing council? The school never called the parent to tell them their minor child was dropping out of school?

  11. Supersub says:

    The STEM principal stated that she was concerned about her teacher’s “rigid” grading policies. Who wants to bet that she arranged this maneuver after failing to strongarm the teacher into changing his grades?

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      I’ll bet that she arranged this maneuver after failing to strongarm the teacher into changing his grades.

      The better question: Who wants to bet that she didn’t?

      • Sean Mays says:

        I’d consider taking that bet Michael; but I’ll need some DARN long odds.

  12. Stacy in NJ says:

    Pause a moment and think about all the other STEM students who completed their homework on time and attended classes.

    Geesh, talk about invalidating the efforts of others. This principal just turned their efforts into a joke.

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      It would be interesting to see how many of the students who passed this teacher’s class could pass the other course in two days.

      Based on the teacher’s comment above, I’m suspecting there is an unfair system at work, and a teacher who swears that his poster boards prepare kids for ‘real world’ economics.

      Because that’s what economists do! They make pretty posters in nice handwriting!!

  13. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Actually, what she did was give students a way to avoid an unfair teacher. Because, lets face it–some teachers grade on how much they like the students. I had one in HS who would peg kids as A, B, or C on the first day of class, and then grade projects so that they got the target grade.

    A poster and presentation based class makes it easy for the teacher to play favorites–there are no objective grading standards in those cases. The other class tested content knowledge, which they obviously had going into the transfer–otherwise, they wouldn’t have been able to complete the work so quickly. (Even ‘open book’ exams take a lot of time if you don’t know the material.)

    So now, students who know this particular teacher hates them (and if it’s a small school, everyone knows who the teacher hates) can choose to take the class correspondence or at the other school, and avoid the hassle of a semester of abuse.

    If the kids were doing well in their other classes and scoring well on objective tests, which is more likely? That they failed to master economics, or that the teacher’s grading scale favored posters and compliance over true competence?

    This isn’t about attacking teachers. It’s about attacking one sort of bad teacher. Arts and crafts should not be required to pass economics.

    • SuperSub says:

      Whether or not Nemetz was a jerk, this is still an assault on the right of teachers to assign grades, which as I have been told by every administrator I know, is the sole province of the teacher. This end run around a failing grade, despite falling within the bounds of policy, is a serious challenge to the integrity of the system. Any faculty member or administrator in either school that encouraged or directly participated in this fiasco should seriously have their credentials reviewed.

      As for the criticism of projects and posters in grading and appropriateness, unless you know the grading system you cannot simply assume these are arts and crafts. I did plenty of them as a science major at Cornell, and the evaluation of them was quite rigorous. I have seem some high school teachers use them effectively also.

  14. Well, to the parent who wasn’t notified (supposedly), when I managed to fail a year of sophomore english, my parents got a certified letter from our school district informing them of this fact, so that I had to repeat the course as the only senior in a class of 10th graders.

    We didn’t have credit recovery (which IMO is a first class joke and in many cases an outright sham) in my day, so I repeated the entire year (since it was during the regular school year, it didn’t cost me any extra, but the lesson was learned).

    There are consequences for failing classes in high school…if you fail enough of them, and they’re required courses, you shouldn’t be allowed to make up a years worth of work in the span of 4 weeks or less (otherwise, why bother making students sit in class, except for the $$$ each body supplies to the district, but allow them to earn all their credits by proctored examinations).

    You pass a rigorous exam, you get credit for the class…

  15. Obi-Wandreas says:

    Posters & presentations?

    I’m sorry, I didn’t realize we were talking about kindergarteners.

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      Obi– don’t you realize that we’ve flipped instruction? K-3 is hardcore academics with hours of homework and no recess. Jr/Sr High is graded on arts and crafts!!

      This is one reason why I homeschool. “Math Project” should not even be in our VOCABULARY. And likewise, a good econ class should be poster free. Spend the time wasted on posters on some actual learning!! Save the posters for 4H.

      And for those of you who think posters are fun, and educational and no big deal, you’ve clearly never been a fine motor skills and artistically impaired 10th grader up late at night and sobbing because they won;t just let you write a research paper or take a test instead, and knowing that this stupid project actually counts AS MUCH AS THE FINAL.

      Posters and projects are a way to level the playing field, not a way to teach.