Friday, January 18, 2008

Let's Raise the Bar, Not Lower It

I really couldn't believe it when I heard this story on the radio yesterday: Teachers in the Dallas ISD are not allowed to give grades below 50 for any six-week grading period:
Dallas teacher representatives asked trustees Thursday to reconsider a policy that prevents teachers from giving students who are failing any grade lower than a 50.

"With all the talk about increasing academic rigor, [the policy] is hypocritical," said Aimee Bolender, president of the teacher group AFT-Alliance. "Teachers need to be able to give the grades kids earn."

Currently, students can receive a grade no lower than 50 for any marking period, even if they do no work. District officials said that's a long-standing policy meant to give students who bomb their work early in the semester a chance to earn a passing grade if they clean up their acts.

If students received a grade of zero for the first six-week grading period, for example, they would be unable to pass the class even if they produced near-perfect work in the rest of the course. Administrators fear kids would realize that and give up entirely.
Or maybe...just maybe...they'd realize that they had to get on the stick and get something done. And if that didn't happen...maybe they'd have to go to summer school to get credit for that course. Is it the worst thing in the world to hold students accountable?

Evidently, this is a common standard across Texas. But "everybody else is doing it" is just as bad an excuse for school administrators as it is for kids on the playground. And most teachers don't seem to care for it either:
[T]eacher groups see a double standard. At a time when the district will begin paying bonuses to teachers based on student achievement, the policy requires that students be given points for doing inadequate work.

"To assign actual grades earned by students, instead of grades of not less than 50 percent, is a vital part of raising the achievement bar," Alliance-AFT vice president Maureen Peters said. "An education is not something a child is given. An education is something the child must work for and earn."

[...]The requirement is part of a larger policy about student grading that is under review, along with many other policies. Trustees will be asked to vote this month on proposed revisions that don't affect the 50-grade requirement. Teachers asked the board at a meeting Thursday to remove the 50-grade language.

"What are we asking the board to do?" Ms. Peters said. "Hold students accountable for their grades. Raise the bar. Increase student rigor. Allow teachers to assign students the grades they legitimately earned. Stop supporting grade inflation."
Well said. And if I'm agreeing with a union leader on something, it must be a really strong point.

I did hear a teacher who called in to Ernie and Jay yesterday who wove a fairly compelling tale of life in a big urban school district; she talked of students who couldn't turn in homework for a whole six-weeks because, well, they were homeless. If that situation improved the next six-weeks, the grades would rise in turn. And while that's a heartbreaking story, wouldn't it be better to put something in place for those students, rather than lowering the bar for everyone? What am I missing here?

So what do you think? Does it make sense to give half-credit for a failing grade even if no work was done at all? Or is accountability still a good thing in this day and age?

I bet he'll be mobbed with questions now: You may have read that Cowboys assistant head coach Tony Sparano just got hired by the Miami Dolphins. I had always thought that his name sounded a lot like the TV character Tony Soprano, but I was still surprised when a Fox Sports article about the hire made a Sparano/Soprano joke in the opening sentence.

At least he didn't staple a Cheesehead to the kid or anything: Talk about an overzealous football fan--a Green Bay Packers fan became so enraged that his six-year-old son refused to wear a Packers jersey during last weekend's game that he taped the jersey onto the boy.

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