Educators playing games with grades

The point of this post is to point out a very potent reason
for the need for standardized tests.
How on earth can universities have confidence in grades from at least some secondary schools
when practices like those mentioned below are being carried on?
We need the SAT, or its equivalent, as a check on the high school teachers,
and as a way of seeing whether an "A" from school district A
is equivalent to one from school district B.
There have been plenty of stories about educational fraud in recent years.
While its critics accuse the SAT of being culturally biased
(and of course it is, towards the culture represented by its subject areas),
we must worry that at least some of the teachers have their own biases,
all too often towards political correctness
and giving students they consider "disadvantaged"
grades and recommendations they really haven't earned.


Teacher assails practice of giving passing grades to failing students
By Jay Mathews
Washington Post, 2015-05-17

Caleb Stewart Rossiter, a college professor and policy analyst, decided to try teaching math in the D.C. schools. He was given a pre-calculus class with 38 seniors at H.D. Woodson High School. When he discovered that half of them could not handle even second-grade problems, he sought out the teachers who had awarded the passing grades of D in Algebra II, a course that they needed to take his high-level class.

There are many bewildering stories like this in Rossiter’s new book, “Ain’t Nobody Be Learnin’ Nothin’: The Fraud and the Fix for High-Poverty Schools,” the best account of public education in the nation’s capital I have ever read. It will take me three columns to do justice to his revelations about what is being done to the District’s most distracted and least productive students.

Teachers will tell you it is a no-no to ask other teachers why they committed grading malpractice. Rossiter didn’t care. Three of the five teachers he sought had left the high-turnover D.C. system, but the two he found were so candid I still can’t get their words out of my mind.

The first, an African immigrant who had taught special education, was stunned to see one student’s name on Rossiter’s list. “Huh!” Rossiter quoted the teacher as saying. “That boy can’t add two plus two and doesn’t care! What’s he doing in pre-calculus? Yes of course I passed him — that’s a gentleman’s D. Everybody knows that a D for a special education student means nothing but that he came in once in a while.”

The second teacher had transferred from a private school in a Southern city so his wife could get her dream job in the Washington area. He explained that he gave a D to one disruptive girl on Rossiter’s list because, Rossiter said, “he didn’t want to have her in class ever again.” Her not-quite-failing grade was enough to get the all-important check mark for one of the four years of math required for graduation.

Rossiter moved to Tech Prep, a D.C. charter school, where he says he discovered the same aversion to giving F’s. The school told him to raise to D’s the first-quarter failing grades he had given to 30 percent of his ninth-grade algebra students. He quit instead.

Tech Prep officials indicated the F’s would have violated special-education rules. A D.C. schools spokeswoman said that Rossiter is not a credible source and that D.C. academic progress is shown by rising standardized test scores.

I share Rossiter’s view that such rule-bending is common in many D.C. schools overloaded with struggling students. The trend has been aggravated by computerized credit-recovery courses that take a few weeks and allow students to escape high school lives they loathe. Former D.C. history teacher Erich Martel has done much research on this. I have pointed out that the educators enabling such grade inflation might have the students’ best interests at heart. The students won’t stay in school, so giving them a diploma, no matter how fraudulent, might provide them with a chance to get some kind of job and, eventually, as they mature, sort themselves out.

It is very hard to maintain that Pollyanna-ish take on grade inflation after reading Rossiter’s book. He wrongly overlooks or discounts evidence of improvements in teaching and learning in many schools here and elsewhere, but his main point is unassailable. Lying to so many students, their families and other teachers is wrong and yet is rarely discussed in professional circles.

High school graduation rates, as reported by school districts with no independent checks, have been climbing. Public school officials said the D.C. graduation rate increased five percentage points in the past four years. The U.S. rate rose from 74 percent in 2007 to 81 percent in 2012, according to the Education Week Research Center.

I know of no research on how much of that increase can be attributed to fantasyland report cards.
Rossiter says

the strongest blow against fraud would be
to reverse the national trend toward insisting that
every high school student get a college-preparatory education
before graduation.

I thought that trend was good.
Most of those courses also help in the workplace.
But Rossiter’s book is forcing me to reconsider.

Mom wanted her daughter to flunk, but the school wouldn’t back her up
By Jay Mathews
Washington Post, 2015-07-31

A Fairfax County mother has been telling me about her bewilderment at her bright but school-hating daughter’s passing English even though her second-quarter and third-quarter grades were F’s and she skipped the final exam.

Having encountered earlier report card mysteries, the parent e-mailed all of her daughter’s teachers June 10, asking that she be given the marks she deserved. That didn’t happen, but at least the English teacher on July 9 sent her an honest explanation of why the frequently absent student got an A for the fourth quarter and scraped by with a final course grade of D.

The teacher confessed that the student did not earn that fourth quarter A but participated in several class discussions and demonstrated that she understood the bulk of the material throughout the year. Her problems, the teacher concluded, were lack of effort and attendance, not comprehension.

It was breathtaking to the Fairfax parent, as it would be to other mothers and fathers, to learn that the teacher could have justified a final grade of F but didn’t think there would be an academic benefit to failing the student. The daughter knew the material better than most of the students, said the teacher, who let her pass despite her misbehavior.

Astonishingly, the English teacher had a policy that the final exam score, no matter what it was, counted only if it maintained or raised the student’s overall grade. So blowing off the exam had no consequences.

I complained recently about D.C. schools’ giving D’s for no work to get as many uncooperative students as possible graduated so the schools wouldn’t have to deal with them anymore. I should have noted this also is a problem in some of our most affluent and well-regarded suburban schools, as the Fairfax parent’s experience makes clear.

Fairfax County schools spokesman John Torre said in that system “final grades may be based on trends in and mastery of learning rather than based solely on numerical averaging of quarterly grades for the year. A teacher may decide to limit the impact of a final exam grade if they feel it does not represent a student’s mastery of the content. Limiting the impact of a final exam grade does not mean the final exam score only counts if it maintains or raises a student’s overall grade. That’s not the district’s policy.”

The Fairfax student was delighted with the results, telling her parents she might hold the world record for getting passing grades despite doing nothing. Her parents want her to grow up. They wonder why the school system won’t help.

“If she still hasn’t mastered the skills or tackled the assumed requirements for a high school diploma — such as writing a paper, exploring historical periods, reading the classics and presenting a project — she will never succeed in college,” the mother said.

The student didn’t really pass geometry this year, either, even though she got a passing grade, but her parents decided not to press that issue because another of their children would be in geometry next year and they thought that would demoralize her. She passed another English course despite having F’s for the second, third and fourth quarters, which the parents also did not like. Despite their efforts to get the school to take her class-cutting seriously, it took at least 23 unexcused absences before a truancy officer was alerted.

Torre said the school system is examining its policies “in an effort to establish more consistent and equitable grading practices throughout middle and high schools.”

It is difficult to know what schools do nationally because there is little research on grading, but my impression is that policies are wildly inconsistent and that individual teachers often can do whatever they want.

I have long been sympathetic with high schools that think it is better to give diplomas to students who resist school rather than forcing them to sit in class, resentful, and then drop out with even less of a chance of getting a job. But couldn’t they help parents trying to motivate difficult teenagers by giving their grading standards a little backbone, just to see whether some students might find a spark of motivation to come to class and take the final exam?