DO YOU PASS FAILING STUDENTS?

If you do, you will:

  • never have accurate data
  • never be able to set correct baselines for goal setting
  • never be able to use your data to achieve goals or strategize
  • never be able to fully – or correctly – realize your ability to teach
  • never be able to trend your students accurately
  • and you will never develop usable plans for professional growth and development

In addition, your students will:

  • never know how much (or how little) they learned
  • never know what they are capable of achieving
  • never be able to set accurate goals for themselves
  • never be able to develop strategies for growth and development
  • never be prepared to take on more difficult challenges

I imagine we all heard the following at one time or another.

  • “Nobody fails in my class.”
  • “She’s a ‘90s’ teacher. No one in her class ever receives under a 90.”
  • “Since it’s your first year here, and just so you know, NOBODY ever fails.” (wink, wink.)
  •  “Why would I fail anyone and risk a bad evaluation at the end of the year?”
  • “If anyone is failing in June, I have them make a poster or do something to pass.”

Here is the truth about changing grades: YOUR GRADES ARE YOUR DATA. ANY FALSIFYING OF YOUR DATA WILL ADVERSELY AFFECT BOTH YOU AND YOUR STUDENTS IN WAY THAT GO WELL BEYOND JUST A NUMBER GRADE.

To pass a student who should rightly fail (a test, a quiz, a homework assignment, class, etc…) is the worst thing a teacher can do.

That’s right, passing a failing student is the #1 worst thing a teacher can do. It ranks up there – and may actually eclipse – failing to complete student work the same day it is handed in. Changing grades is the most undermining contribution to a student’s failure, but above all else – it invalidates your data. Putting aside creating and submitting inaccurate school data for the moment, entering a “false grade” will make it virtually impossible to reliably measure any improvement of your skills as a teacher. Your improvement will now be based on unsound and worthless data.

Do we ever really think about this at all? Does anyone ever question how cavalierly a grade can be “upped” or how nonchalantly a peer might say, “Lets’ just give him a 65 and get him out of here.” Don’t we ever think this will come back to haunt us, or is it just viewed as the price of “doing business” in schools today? I think it is both, and just one more reason why we need to look at education as seen trough the “lens” of other professions. If a CEO alters the company books and is discovered, they are tossed out and perhaps even criminally prosecuted. If a doctor makes any changes to a patient’s records, he or she is very likely to lose their license and may be liable to criminal prosecution. No, I am not suggesting we fire every teacher who has ever changed a grade, or to have them criminally prosecuted. Who would teach our students? I am merely pointing out the significance placed on legal and official documents in all other professions, except teaching. Report cards are still considered legal documents, aren’t they? What I am suggesting is that beginning this September, if you are a teacher who has altered one or one hundred grades (we can all see ourselves in that mirror at one time or another in our careers), resolve to never change another grade. This is will do more for your professional development than anything ever could.

We love to say, “We are the ones who are responsible for teaching all other professions.” This is true, so would you want the doctor, who you taught, to “fudge” your electrocardiogram because you were trying so hard to lose weight he didn’t want to discourage you. Or would you want your accountant, who knew you were struggling with money to “alter” your income taxes to make it look like actually made more money because he wanted you to see some kind of improvement? How about your family practitioner lowering your blood pressure medicine so you could feel your new exercise program is finally reaping the rewards you had hoped for?

While in practice, other doctors would brag about their numbers. “I saw 400 patients this week!” “I had 20 new patients on Saturday!” To know the truth, we could just divide their numbers by two. So many doctors “fibbed” about how many patients they treated because many weren’t using their data to increase and grow their practices. When questioned, many of these same doctors didn’t even know what their numbers were!

Your grades are your data. If work within a Professional Learning Community (PLC) and use common quizzes, tests, etc… (which you should be doing anyway) and your grades are lower or higher than your peers, START USING THAT DATA TO YOUR ADVANTAGE! Learn how your teaching skills will never improve by having someone point out your every deficit. YOU are the only person who can develop yourself, and the only way is to have accurate grades and use them to set benchmarks, goals (short and long), analyze every statistic available, and create strategies. Don’t wait around for someone else to tell you how to hold your chalk or write a Do Now. Just remember, don’t change a single grade. If a student is failing, use that data to guide you to different strategies for different outcomes. No one knows you or your students better than you. Yes, observations and coaching has made many teachers feel as though they will fail without outside “divine guidance”, but don’t let that fool you. Use the internet to pick up new techniques, read books, and do your peer intervisitations. There is so much you can do once you know what your “numbers” are. But if those numbers are skewed, you’ll be chasing your tail forever.

It’s not the “lying” about student successes that is the worst of it (though that is certainly not the best), but the FAULTY DATA (student grades) that is just so wrong and counterproductive to professional development and growth. If this practice doesn’t end soon, it will be our death knell. If you think you are being “overly-observed” now, just wait. Why do you think teachers are observed with such frequency? In other words, what would give administrators a reason to think we need to have our “teaching skills” reviewed over and over again? How about this:

Students are passing their classes, but are performing poorly on their standardized tests (Regents, SAT, SHSAT, ACT, NYSESLAT, etc…). Does that make sense to anyone? If student quarterly averages were in synch with standardized tests, would there be as great a need to observe teachers? Maybe, but if you were an administrator, what would you do? It seems only reasonable that you must see for yourself how the students are being taught – to observe the teacher’s “skills.” While using data in this manner to determine the etiology of the problem is undoubtedly the most rudimentary, simplistic and superficial approach possible, but our statistics that demonstrate a “disconnect” between passing year-end averages and poor standardized test grades begs investigation, hence… the observations.

Our conclusions (excuses) when the kids fail standardized tests? Those damn tests ask the wrong questions, are biased, confuse the students, and create such emotional stress that our kids can’t possibly pass them. Did we ever think that by inflating student grades that we are “passing” the student, but at the same time “failing” them in a whole different light? Possibly for the rest of their lives?

And yes, it is lying. We all tell white lies now and then, but none of our “fibs” affect the rest of your life in any meaningful way. But altering a grade so that a student passes when they should not have? That is changing the face of education.

How many of our high school graduates are unprepared for college work? The latest poll for New York City show that less than one-third of high school graduates are “college ready” and a majority now require up to two years of non-credit remedial English and math work. How can this be? They earned grades sufficient to pass their classes didn’t they? We “graduated” them, didn’t we? Colleges accepted them didn’t they? So where did it all go wrong?

We lied about their grades (OK, to make is a little more palatable, we’ll call it “fixing.”) We “fixed” their grades, just like old-time boxing promoters who, to make certain of the outcome, would make sure a fight was fixed.

Incidentally, this article just came today Why did NYC let me graduate high school?

So how to fix this problem is schools?

Short term – Instead of observing teachers, it would be more beneficial for a principal or AP to sit with a teacher after their students take a quiz, test, mid-term, or semester final and review the papers together. A second set of “non-judgmental” eyes can make a big difference. Look for quality of questions, grading policies, attention to content, etc…

Long term – First, keep accurate records: grades, parent communications, behavior issues, etc… Second, work with a teacher practice management consultant who will provide solutions, using statistical analysis of existing teacher and student data to increase your performance while developing plans for increasing student improvement. We can objectively diagnose problems to help set goals, prioritize work, manage time and help guide your professional decisions. You do the rest!

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13 Responses to DO YOU PASS FAILING STUDENTS?

  1. Pingback: Reflections on the Knowledge Society » Passing failing students

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