Bennett’s grade changed to F

Tony Bennett has resigned as Florida education commissioner days after AP reported he’d raised the grade of  a donor’s charter school when he was Indiana’s education chief.  Leaked emails showed Bennett pushed his staff to ensure a school he’d repeatedly praised earned an A, rather than a C.

“They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal. The grade was raised by changing the way high-school scores are counted in schools without a senior class.

Bennett said Christel House’s C revealed a flaw in the accountability system penalizing schools that combined a middle and high school. However, earlier he’d refused to adjust failing grades for two district-run Indianapolis high schools, Arlington and Howe that had added middle school grades, reports the Indianapolis Star. Both were taken over by the state.

In the case of Christel House, emails unearthed by The Associated Press show Bennett’s staff sprung into action in 2012 when it appeared scores from the recently added grades could sink the highly regarded school’s rating from an A to a C. Ultimately, the high school scores were excluded and the school’s grade remained an A.

But in 2011, after IPS’ then-Superintendent Eugene White demanded Bennett consider the test scores of high school students separately from those of middle school students so the high schools could avoid state takeover, Bennett was unmoved.

Howe and Arlington have been failure mills for many years, writes Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle, who worked for the Indianapolis Star.

Arlington’s officially-reported four-year graduation rate barely increased from 49.6 percent for its Class of 2006 to 55 percent for its Class of 2011. Much of that increase was due to IPS allowing the many students who failed Indiana’s battery of graduation exams to receive diplomas through the state’s waiver process; two out of every five graduates in Arlington’s Class of 2011 got their sheepskins through that loophole, a rate that has been steady for more than a decade.

Bennett’s fall could strengthen the movement to pull Florida out of Common Core, adds Biddle. Bennett was defeated for re-election in the Indiana race for superintendent in part because of his strong support for Common Core.

Education Gadfly has more reaction to Bennett’s fall.

Teachers lay blame for finals failures

In a suburban Maryland county known for high-performing schools, 62 percent of students flunked their geometry finals in January, 57 percent failed their Algebra 2 exams and 48 percent earned F’s on the precalculus final, reports the Washington Post.

Montgomery County high schools give the same math exams:  For the last five years, results have been poor countywide, though worse at some schools.

Under county policy, students can fail the final but pass the course.

For example, with C’s in each of a semester’s two quarters, an E on the final exam would still result in a C for the course. A student with two B’s going into the final exam needs only a D or better on the test to maintain a B for the course, according to the chart. The exam, worth 25 percent of a course grade, holds sway but can be greatly outmatched by daily classroom performance over time.

“Maybe the teenagers are blowing it off because the district is blowing it off,” said Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies student achievement. “If the district doesn’t take the exams seriously, I don’t understand why they give them.”

Failure rates are high in biology, English and history finals as well.

Math teachers at Poolesville High school start their list of causes with acceleration of students through math to meet “unrealistic targets.”  Too many students don’t fully understand math, the teachers write.

Honors math courses are not substantively different from regular courses (to allow greater upward mobility), and as many students as possible have been placed in honors.  The result is that higher-performing students lack sufficient challenge and the small percentage of students not in honors find themselves in classes with no peer role models and a culture of failure.

. .  .The ubiquitous use of calculators in the early grades has resulted in students who lack number sense and basic skills and thus struggle to make the leap to algebra.

In all content areas, Montgomery County has undercut students’ motivation to work hard, the Poolesville math teachers charge.

High school students know they can fail the final and pass the course. They can skip assignments and receive the minimum grade of 50 percent.  Absenteeism is up because students face no consequences for cutting class.

UK study: Female teachers give boys lower grades

At least in Britain, female teachers mark boys more harshly than outside examiners, according to a London School of Economics study.

Expecting lower grades from female teachers, boys worked less in their classes, the study found. Girls think — incorrectly — that male teachers will favor them and work harder for them.

“Students from low-income families and minority ethnic backgrounds do not believe in systematic teacher biases,” researchers reported. They found no evidence of grading bias based on socioeconomic or minority status.

Crowdsourcing Sociology 101

Millions of students around the world are enrolled in hundreds of MOOCs (massive open online courses), reports the New York Times. To evaluate students’ progress, Princeton Sociology Professor Mitchell Duneier is crowdsourcing his Introduction to Sociology class, which enrolls 40,000 students.

 “It was really intimidating at the beginning to do these lectures with no live audience, no sense of who was listening and how they were reacting,” Professor Duneier said. “I talk about things like racial differences in I.Q., Abu Ghraib and public bathrooms, and I worried that my lectures might come across as examples of American ethnocentrism.”

Feedback came quickly. When his first lecture went online, students wrote hundreds, then thousands, of comments and questions in online discussion forums — far too many for Professor Duneier to keep up with. But crowd-sourcing technology helped:  every student reading the forum could vote questions and comments up or down, allowing him to spot important topics and tailor his lectures to respond.

Each student must score the work of five classmates to get their own score, which is an average of what classmates have given them. To see whether peer grading matches traditional grading, Professor Duneier and his assistants graded thousands of midterms and finals.

“I had to announce to the students that some had gotten scores that were higher than they should have been,” he said. “And as data, the midterm scores are useless. But it helped us learn more about writing rubrics.”

. . . So far, he has found an impressive correlation of 0.88. The average peer score was 16.94 of 24 possible points, compared with an average teaching-staff score of 15.64. Peer graders give more accurate scores on good exams than bad ones, they found, and the lower the score, the more variance among graders.

About 3 percent of students copied from Wikipedia.

Princeton doesn’t offer a certificate of completion for MOOCs and less than 5 percent of sociology enrollees took the exams. That added up to 2,200 midterm exams and 1,283 final exams, still a heavy scoring burden without crowdsourcing.

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.

To pass or not to pass

Elena drifted into sophomore English class without any materials and spent class time texting or socializing. She didn’t complete assignments.  Yet she reads and writes — when she bothers to do so — at grade level.  Occasionally, she made intelligent comments in class discussions. Her average is just below 60 percent. Should she fail?

She remained blissfully unconcerned as I cajoled, teased, chided, scolded, and threatened her into completing work. Calls home were unproductive, and other teachers indicated that English was not the only cause for academic concern. The school year was maddening.

Now, as the grades are totaled in June, I wonder: Do I hold her accountable for work left incomplete? Can she be exempted from the assignments that all her classmates completed? What is the minimum number of assignments that are the most important to determining student performance? If I exempt her from less important assignments, am I reinforcing her lack of responsibility? Finally, is passing her fair to the students who did complete the assigned work?

Elena doesn’t really need another year of 10th-grade English. She needs to learn to be a responsible student. But how?

Grade the work, not the behavior

Grade the Work, Not the Behavior, writes Cindi Rigsbee on Education Week Teacher, hitting a topic that Cal has raised in the comments. A middle-school English teacher, Rigsbee no longer gives a zero for cheating, she explains.

I now respond by reassigning the work or re-administering the test by making it different and, if possible, more rigorous. For example, what was at first a multiple-choice quiz may become an essay when I retest the student. Yes, it’s more time-consuming than ripping up the original work and giving a zero — but it’s worth it to me to actually be able to assess whether or not my students have met my learning goals. I can’t determine that if they never do the work.

When students aren’t doing homework, she calls them to her desk for a “grade conference,” and lets them make up late assignments — up to a point.

My mantra of “I just want them to do the work” has to be balanced with “I can’t grade 97 late assignments, some from the first week of the grading period, the night before my grades are due.” Determining how much late work to accept is, of course, a personal choice driven by individual teaching philosophies (and in some cases, schoolwide policies). But it is important that makeup work requirements are communicated early and often to students and parents.

She also takes away privileges, such as eating lunch with friends, if students fail to complete their work. “After all, who wants to sit with me, completing work that should’ve been done three days ago, when they could be solving middle school dramas with their friends?”  Her philosophy is “harass till they pass.”

Rigsbee also warns students that other teachers may not give  them a second chance and that cheating in college or work will have dire consequences.

This sounds like more work for the teacher. Is it worth it?

 

Learning from Mrs. G

As a night student at Howard University, Thomas Sowell was inspired by Marie Gladsden, his English professor, and kept in touch over the years. Years later, when he returned to Howard to teach economics for a year, he was still learning from Mrs. G.

A young African woman who’d studied under Mrs. Gadsden in Guinea failed the first two weekly econ tests. It seemed hopeless he told his mentor.

“So you think she’s going to fail the course?” Mrs. G asked.

“Well, she’s not going to learn the material. Whether I can bring myself to give her an F is something else. That’s really hitting somebody who’s down.”

“You’re thinking of passing her, even if she does not do passing work?” Mrs. G said sharply. She reminded me that I had long criticized paternalistic white teachers who passed black students who should have been failed — and she let me have it. “I’m ashamed of you, Tom. You know better!”

He met with the student  for an hour before every class. Eventually, she caught on and began doing B work.  Averaging in her early F’s, she earned a C for the course.

She was overjoyed, Mrs. Gadsden told him. “She was proud because she knew she earned every bit of it.”

Dr. Marie D. Gladsden died recently at the age of 92.

 

Teachers can learn from tests

Once a foe of standardized testing, Ama Nyamekye improved her teaching by analyzing her students’ scores on New York’s Regents exam, she writes in Ed Week.  When she asked her sophomores to take the English Regents exam a year early, she discovered “holes in my curriculum.”

I once dismissed standardized testing for its narrow focus on a discrete set of skills, but I learned that my self-made assignments were more problematic. It turned out they were skewed in my favor. I was better at teaching literary analysis than grammar and punctuation. When I started giving ongoing standardized assessments, I noticed that my students showed steady growth in literary analysis, but less growth in grammar and punctuation. I was teaching to my strengths instead of strengthening my weaknesses.

Grading is subjective, she writes. Emotionally invested in her students’ success — and implicitly judging her own effectiveness — she was quick to see signs of achievement.

By contrast, her students’ Regents essays were graded by English teachers who didn’t know them and who used detailed rubrics.

When I “depoliticized” the test, I found a useful and flawed ally. The exam excelled where I struggled, offering comprehensive and standards-based assessments. I thrived where the test fell short, designing creative, performance-based projects. Together, we were strategic partners. I designed and graded innovative projects—my students participated in court trials for Shakespearean characters—and the test provided a rubric that guided my evaluation of student learning.

All her students who took the exam passed it. Most earned high scores.

Grading exams: The staircase method

Daniel Solove, a law professor, offers A Guide to Grading Exams on Concurring Opinions. It starts with a stack of exam papers. Then comes the toss down the stairs, which provides a spread for the grading curve.

This is an example of a toss of considerable skill — obviously the result of years of practice.

Exam-Grade-2a.jpg

Solove believes the papers that travel the farthest deserve the highest grades because they obviously have more heft. But an outlier that requires the professor to walk too far should be downgraded to a B.

Is he joking? Yes, he is. Or so he writes.

Via Instapundit, who also is a law professor.