Saturday, May 2, 2009

Premier Grade Inflation?

In Sunday’s AJC, there is an extensive article about grade inflation at the high school level. The AJC reporters use the need for remediation at the college level as the proof that grade inflation is pretty much rampant at some GA high schools. In addition, the AJC found that schools with huge differences in the percentage of students, who pass a class, yet fail the EOCT had the highest remediation rate at the college level.

Of the 20 high schools with the highest remediation rates in Metro Atlanta, 10 are from DeKalb! Three of the bottom five are DeKalb schools. (I even excluded Open Campus, since it is so different.)

DeKalb County Schools’ spokesperson is quick to subtlety blame teachers, by saying “the district encourages all schools to teach and grade rigorously. Teachers are supposed to teach the state standards and use benchmark tests to check whether students are learning what they should.” No mention by Davis of how difficult DCSS makes it for teachers to fail students.” I consistently hear from teachers and administrators how difficult it is for teachers to fail students. I know that parents are a big part of the problem – complaining about a “B” let alone a “D” or “F.” But social promotion is still a huge part of the academic culture in DeKalb schools and that is reflected in our dismal college remediation rates.

Curry, the graduate of Redan High in DeKalb, said that when he struggled in high school math, one teacher offered him an easy opportunity for extra credit. “My teacher was like, ‘I know you want to graduate, so if you just do this one project, you can pass,’” he said. He did. He ended up in remedial math, too.

And Kathy Cox makes no sense with this doozy, “But she also said teachers at times misunderstand what administrators are trying to accomplish when they question harsh grading. Teachers are misinterpreting a lot of what these principals are trying to do,” she said. “These principals are trying to get teachers to grade based on the standards. If a child goofs off for part of the semester, then shapes up later, for instance, what’s most important is that he or she can do work up to state standards, Cox said.”

I question why she doesn’t think it is a negative for a principal to question a grade at all, especially if the grade reflects the fact that the student goofed off and didn’t do all the work. I find this statement terribly indicative of why we struggle to find young employees with decent work ethics.

The article, which is very lengthy, can be found here.

The specifics by school can be found here. If you want to see the entire list, simply leave the words select in both categories and the entire chart comes up.

Thanks go out to the anonymous blogger who sent us this via email.


Cerebration said...

Interesting quote here, Ann Robinson, a former high school science teacher in Cobb and Paulding counties, said friends of hers who still teach told her they believe the federal law has forced them to lower standards.

“They don’t like passing the kids who aren’t doing the work,” she said. “But the administrators will say, ‘If you don’t do this, you’ll be out of a job. We’ll find someone who will.’”

Cerebration said...

I know some teachers who teach these remedial courses in area colleges - good teachers - and the programs are very structured, intense, involve a lot of daily work (math online - English - writing). I don't see why we can't utilize these very same programs in the high school curriculum. One is called My Reading Lab and My Math Lab. I don't know when you would squeeze it in - but schools on the block could certainly offer these types of courses - call them - college-ready math or reading... ?? Heck - give students the COMPASS test their junior year to see if they need remediation and then offer the classes in HS. They're good courses. My friend who teaches the English says that most of her students really blossom.

Anonymous said...

I actually think the block is part of the problem. This year at my child's high school, a superior history teacher didn't get to the Civil Rights Movement in an advanced US History Class. Less than fifty percent of DeKalb students passed the End of Course Test in US History in the Fall. I no longer have any confidence in the block and systems across the country are dropping it pretty consistently.

There is some debate in the internet world about whether college remediation is that big of a deal especially at the junior college level. As you wrote, the courses are generally very good and very targetted especialy as it relates to college skills. That said, college remediation is very expensive and in the end, many who need remediation end up not graduating anyway.

Cerebration said...

I quite agree with you about the block, anon. The mantra with the school board is to get back to the "premier" system we used to be - and that was when we had a 6 period day. The cost of the block is astronomical - offering every student 32 credits over the course of 4 years vs 28 really adds up. I know that the block schools have to be pretty creative to dream up enough electives.

Anonymous said...

Every year DCSS has parents and students complete the "block survey." Are these results reported?

And why do they only allow students and parents who are on the block to take the survey? Don't they want to hear from the population who is not on the block schedule?

And I learned last week that DSA is on a modified block. Students take the same course for the entire year but on alternating days.

Ella Smith said...

1. The block schedule is part of the problem.
2. Teachers passing students because of administrator and parent pressure is part of the problem.
3. The state has way too much material to cover in many of the curriculums like Biology so we hit on as much of it as possible and we really do not have time to remediate those who do not get the material the first time. There is no time to get through the regular curriculum. The state needs to decide really what is important for students to learn in a year of either extend the school year to enable us to get the curriculum in.

Anonymous said...

As a former teacher (high school science), I've seen the pressure. Every three weeks the kids get a progress report. Then the teachers get a report: your failure rate is too high, get it down. 25% was the cutoff. Now, some administrators say "do something different, what you are doing isn't working." But, when you are teaching advanced math and the kids don't have the skills, aren't doing the homework, aren't meeting the standards, they need to be failed. Some teachers responded by giving in and lowering standards (or just giving points), some stood their ground, and ended up in a conference with administrators. If you taught seniors, watch out....they've got to graduate. Administration is too scared of parents and the district to do anything but put pressure on the teachers. Only a few brave teachers put pressure on those who are supposed to shoulder the burden and take responsibility for their own education - the student.

As for me, I documented every kid that failed my class. I taught ninth grade, and most 9th graders that fail, and fail hard, not because they didn't meet some standard, but because they refuse to put in the effort. High absences, lack of effort, etc. The kids that put the effort in, passed the EOCT. Simple as that.

Kim Gokce said...

Why are we so afraid to fail our students? I get that the system wants to put the best facade possible on performance. But our teachers must stand up for actual performance and have thick skins in the face of admin pressure or parental blustering.

Not only is it the right thing to do for our children, failure is such good feedback, too! In my own experience I had to be academically excluded from attending public school due to excessive failures before turning it around. Now look at me ... ok, not a good example maybe, but you get the point! :)

Cerebration said...

True enough about failing students. But - how about failing teachers? What does it mean if half the students fail certain classes? Could it be that the lesson is not being taught correctly? Sometimes it's the kids - but sometimes, there's not much teaching going on.

Elementary school is key. Reading is key. Math facts are key. Our current high school failure rate shows us that we need to back way up and see if we're properly teaching the basics.

No Duh said...

The Block Schedule was Johnny Brown's baby, as I recall.

You'd think Dr. Lewis would have reversed it right away. I'd say he didn't because too much money was probably invested to get it started, but that would be a silly statement -- since that's never stopped DCSS from reversing course before!

Let's ask Ms. Jackson what her kids think about BLock Scheduling?

Ken Thompson said...

As unpleasant truths go student failure tops most lists. Our societal response seems to be denial--elevating self-esteem over self-confidence; "teaching" concepts and "creativity" over facts and intellectual skills; consoling ourselves with the subjective because all objective measures are dismal.

There is not a good solution to this simply because the most ardent participants have a vested, personal interest it 'the way it is'.

No Duh said...

I have a good friend who says:

If you want self esteem, do esteemible things.

Cerebration said...

Welcome to the blog, Ken! I think your comment, "There is not a good solution to this simply because the most ardent participants have a vested, personal interest it 'the way it is'." - pinpoints the problem exactly.

The system is run by insiders with decades of insider knowledge and political clout. Therefore, the system has become nothing more than a jobs program in exchange for favors and support.

New, fresh leadership is what is needed. Leadership from somewhere with a proven track record of success. This is a tough assignment and we're going to need tougher leaders who focus only on students with laser-like precision and track data openly and honestly and then respond to the needs.

Someone who would have researched whether or not there is interest in a high-achieving environmental, "green" magnet or choice high school - or if there is interest in a Military Academy before just shooting from the hip because it looks like a good idea. No data drove these decisions. And apparently - neither did over-crowding - as the original purpose of Arabia - to relieve over-crowding - has been abandoned in favor of a magnet or choice or theme program. Can't wait to see if the latest mailing generated any more applicants. Anyone know how many they've attracted so far? And still, Cross Keys rots.

Waste. Bloat. Cronyism.

Ridding the system of these three is key.

Ken Thompson said...

Thanks. I've been here before...sorta.

The system has all the suboptimal characteristics you list, and more. Where we differ is the source of meaningful change. I believe parents must change in a couple of significant ways. First, they should acknowledge that public schools are, for parents, the largest entitlement program on the planet. (I've worked up a small spreadsheet, PSCost.ods, to play around with.) That societal charity should be somewhat humbling, but it should also challenge their pride. This leads to the second necessary change, parents taking primary, perhaps sole responsibility, for the education of their children.

Many would find this unworkable if not offensive. Some will point to the disabled, correctly observing that no parent, no matter how responsible, can possible meet that need alone. Nor should they. But that doesn't justify an entitlement for those who can, and should, bear responsibility for their children. Special needs are just that--special.

Until parents make a fundamental change in their responsibility towards their children our public schools will remain as they are--a fairly accurate reflection of what the public wants.

Cerebration said...

Ken, I can't download your file... can you share a different way or recap for us here?

Cerebration said...

Let’s take grade inflation to it’s outermost result - we now have Judge Marvin Arrington pushing a viable thug along through college at Morehouse. Take grade inflation, add rage, and attempted murder and mix in a judge who thinks that this young man doesn’t need punished, he simply needs a college degree! I mean, how far do we push education entitlement?

““We’ve got this young man who’s coming back to Morehouse now, he’s close to graduation,” Thompson told Arrington. “Sending him to state prison for two years, I don’t think that would be in the state’s best interest. Hopefully, this will be the lesson he needs.”

In the hearing, Arrington opined Norris “needs to have a curfew. He needs to be in a dorm where you can get some study time. Take organic chemistry and physics. Make him some A’s.”

Later, he said: “All of them got cars. Don’t need no dern car. They need a MARTA card.”

Cerebration said...

A foreign language teacher once told me that she was terrified of some parents. She had to teach in a trailer and parents would come in after hours - and demand that she not fail their (failing) student. These parents were very aggressive - and "in her face" threatening to sue her and more if she failed their little "darlings".

Her trailer had only one entrance/exit and she felt very intimidated and afraid. She didn't fail the students - to protect her own safety.

Ken Thompson said...

Sorry 'bout that, it is in OpenOffice format at:

and Excel format at:'ve not tried to open it directly, but I have tried downloading then opening.

Cerebration said...

Thanks, Ken - now that I see it in Excel, I realize - I have seen this before. Was it here or on Heneghans Dunwoody blog? Anyway - you had a good explanation, I recall - care to share that too?

Ken Thompson said...

I believe Mr. Heneghan converted it to Excel after it was posted on "my" blog. The explanation can be found there, and as is often true with public schools nothing has really changed. Certainly not since February.

I used to think computers in the hands of the masses would unleash the analytical powers I felt most people kept restrained due to the difficulty of obtaining data and lack of adequate tools. Data are certainly more readily available, profession quality tools (e.g. Open Office) are free and yet...

There is always hope.

Cerebration said...

Oh, yes, I remember reading this now - this is a fun spreadsheet - you can plug in your own numbers to see exactly how much the public is paying to educate your children. Are we getting our money's worth? Some are, some aren't. Is it important to provide a quality public education - I think it's vital. Our society requires it - we simply cannot support a nation of illiterate, uninformed, dull-minded people with no hope.

That said - I did once post an article here on options to DeKalb Public Schools. Since we're here at the end of the school year, I'll provide the link again in order to hopefully help some parents make the decision to try something else, if DCSS isn't working for their child.

My mantra (from experience) is - don't waste your child's education - if what they're currently experiencing isn't working for them - move on and move on quickly. In the effort to reform our schools, do not sacrifice your own child. Trust me on this.

Cerebration said...

This just in --from the Public Education Foundation

KeyNotes: TN ranks #1; Hamilton County featured

More students are graduating! Tennesseans should be very pleased to learn that we have earned the number one ranking in a Johns Hopkins University report on states with the greatest gains in high school graduation rates. Entitled Raising Graduation Rates: A Series of Data Briefs – Progress Toward Increasing National And State Graduation Rates, researchers Robert Balfanz and Thomas C. West found that Tennessee had an outstanding 11.2% increase in the number of graduates – at least twice the increase of most of the other states with notable gains.

Looking for a model that other states might follow, Balfanz and West found that no one program or policy stood out as responsible for Tennessee’s great progress. Instead, they found that “context matters and graduation rates are not improved through a single program or policy but through a multiplicity of efforts at multiple levels within a state.” The researchers particularly noted that “Hamilton County also experienced substantial improvements in its graduation rate, coinciding with a notable district-wide high school reform effort.”

In spite of our great increase in graduates, Tennessee’s average graduation rate was still slightly below the national average when measured in 2006 (72% vs. 74%), but state data showed that increases were continuing beyond the study. Importantly, the report found that “it is possible to raise standards, increase accountability and have more students graduate,” noting that “Tennessee increased the challenge of its exams while it was experiencing significant gains in its graduation rates.” This is also true of Hamilton County, which saw increases in graduation rates after adopting a more rigorous single path diploma as part of high school reform efforts, and bodes well for long-term gains that our state can expect when new, higher standards go into place in 2010.

Schools for a New Society
New structure. Better approach. Great results.

Hamilton County high schools embarked upon a major transformation in 2001. With $14 million in funding from the Carnegie Corporation and PEF, every high school in the district has begun to implement its own plan for improvement. As part of these plans, high schools have created new ways of organizing classes, new roles for principals and teachers, and new methods for helping students learn.

All high schools have developed:

9th grade transition programs
teaching methods that engage students and make them eager to learn
advisory classes for all students
literacy programs to increase reading skills
a single-path diploma that ensures all graduates will be qualified to choose college or higher-skilled jobs
Eleven high schools have established career academies that provide students with relevant, challenging learning experiences in a small learning community. These include:

Business & Technology
Environmental Sciences
Global Studies
Health Sciences
Results have been outstanding:

The four-year graduation rate in Hamilton County rose from 69% in 2003 to 72.6% in 2008.
Hamilton County granted 2,483 diplomas in 2008 (up 28% since 2004). How is this different from the graduation rate?
95.7% of students passed the English II Gateway exam in 2008, with the percentage of students scoring “advanced” rising from 50% in 2003 to 72% in 2008.
73% of May 2007 Hamilton County graduates enrolled in college for the Fall 2007 semester.
Good things are happening!

For more information on Schools for a New Society, contact:
Bill Kennedy

Cerebration said...

rut row! Someone needs to get a better eraser...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

State: students not responsible for cheating

By DORIE TURNER, Associated Press writer
ATLANTA (AP) — The head of the Governor's Office of Student Achievement says the fifth-grade students were not the culprit when answers were changed on more than 100 standardized tests at four elementary schools last summer.
Kathleen Mathers, who oversaw an audit that found the cheating, said Thursday that an analysis of the test answer sheets show up to 40 erasures on some tests, compared to the average of two per student. Mathers said students would not have been able to complete the tests and change that many answers.
The state is investigating who was responsible for the cheating.

Preliminary results of the audit were released Wednesday during a state Board of Education meeting. The schools are in DeKalb County, Fulton County, Glynn County and Atlanta.