Wednesday, August 20, 2008

When Your Students Get Bad Grades...

...why, just lower your grading standards! Which is exactly what the Dallas Independent School District's board has just mandated that all of its teachers do. Dr. Eliu Hinojosa, the superintendent, backs the new rules, which will mandate that teachers accept late homework, give retests for failing tests, and (my favorite) not allow teachers to accept grades on homework that would drop the student's average.


So, your average in a class can only go up? What if your average in the class is a 98? Do these people even know how to calculate an average, which includes points both above and BELOW the mean? I guess it wouldn't matter, since these students have zero incentive now to actually DO their homework, anyway, since the teacher can't penalize them for not doing it. Dr. Hinojosa: "We want to make sure that students are mastering the content [of their classes] and not just failing busy work," he said. Oh, so now all homework is busy work? I highly doubt I'd have learned geometry or calculus without practicing at home, and (though I was highly self-motivated) it helped me slog through all those problems knowing I'd get a good grade. I'm sure I wouldn't have been quite so motivated to finish 30+ calculus problems a night if there had been no penalty for not turning it in.

It gets better. Dr. Hinojosa cites research that shows that ninth-graders who are failing 2 or more classes in the first 6-weeks of ninth grade are "doomed" to become dropouts. This is probably accurate, because if you're already failing in the first 6 weeks then clearly the subject matter is over your head or you aren't trying very hard (or both).

Why do I say the subject matter is over your head? The article I linked above goes on to say that teachers are saying the real problem isn't that ninth grade teachers are grading too hard, it's that these kids can't freaking read!

In 2007, 80 percent of them scored below the 40th percentile in reading on the Iowa Test of Educational Development. Yet the promotion rate out of eighth grade for that class was 98 percent. (Dallas Morning News)
So, the majority of these new freshmen read at a below average level for eighth graders. If you can't read well, you can't possibly pass high school courses. Math classes require reading. Science classes require reading. Hell, even drafting, shop, home ec, health, and agricultural classes are bound to require some reading.

This says a TON about the quality of education in the DISD, I think. If 80% of your ninth graders are below average readers, then the quality of your reading program is likely to be--wait for it--BELOW AVERAGE.

So the DISD's answer to their failing freshmen? Lower the standards further. Never mind that nearly 50% of college freshmen from Texas high schools are requiring remedial courses to catch up to their peers. Never mind that the same panel reported that the standards on the TAKS test are so low already that passing this test doesn't reflect that the students are ready for college. Never mind that business leaders are concerned that many Texas high school graduates aren't prepared for the workforce, either.

Let's ignore all of that for a second, and pretend that the problem is that high school is just too hard. Then yes, the answer is to make it easier! If you made a bad grade, we'll just throw that one away!

The real victims, of course, are the students in DISD. Let's take students who are badly prepared by their school to read at a high-school level, and let's give them extra incentives to be lazy. They're going to be told that it's okay not to turn in assignments, okay to make bad grades because they don't count, and then when they hit the "real world" of college or trying to go to work, they're going to be totally stymied. Some of my college classes had 300+ students--do you think that prof gave a crap if I was having a bad day and didn't feel like turning my assignment in on time? And even people who work at McDonald's or a grocery store have to have basic reading skills.

Random data: DISD paid Dr. Hinojosa $327,600 last year. DISD contains 160,000 students currently, 38,586 of whom were in high school in 2007-2008. If 80% read below an eighth grade level (I'm assuming that no further reading instruction was given, so those students reading below the average eighth grader continued to do so through 12th grade), then 30,869 high school students in DISD have poor reading skills and are set up to do badly in high school and beyond. Over the next four years, as those 30,000 students are released on Texas colleges and business as high school graduates (or dropouts), I think we'll see that Hinojosa's rather large salary is a pittance compared to the cost all Texans will pay later for these poorly educated students.

I don't always agree with him, but this time, LawDog has gotten it. Thanks to his site for running this story first.


Allison said...

Oh. My. God.

You know, the only reason I worked so hard in high school was because my older sister was a freak of nature, and by freak of nature, I mean "genius."

This officially made the decision for me that if I ever have kids, they are going to private school. Or I will never have kids.

Holy crap, Dallas.

Bardiac said...

Wow, it's like Lake Wobegon has moved to Texas, except without the sense of humor.

Teaching to standardized tests doesn't do a lot for education, but does he really think that homework and such is busywork and not meaningful for learning? GAH!

Xavier Emmanuelle said...

Ohmygoodness. That's terrible! They're doing something similar here, but not NEARLY as bad - I think the teachers are just not allowed to give zero on uncompleted homework, and instead they just have to take 5% off per day until it gets handed in or something.

Yikes. Note to self, don't send my children to school in Dallas!

P.S. Hi! I haven't commented in forever, but I'm still reading! Hope you haven't forgotten who I am :)

6thScienceTeacher said...


a lot of homework *is* busywork...really...and do you think you *really* only did homework because you got a grade on it? really, high-achievers?

Not that practice isn't required in many topics/subjects, but OBVIOUSLY the traditional educational practices aren't working in education, so maybe if we research in the new system they're trying, perhaps you'll see people exploring whole new ideas...

Not that I know, or automatically endorse what is going on in Dallas, but MAYBE, just MAYBE a board of professional educators isn't just deciding to play russian roulette with students' lives...maybe people in this job DO care about students, their achievement and their futures...and seriously - if we want accountability from students (which is what I'm hearing in this), perhaps we should look at parents, too...

just a thought...

Tiny Shrink said...

1) I define "busywork" as something simply designed to keep me busy, with no other purpose. Sure, I had some homework that fit that category. Most of the time, though, I saw my homework (especially in math, or written papers in English) as either practice for the test or something to learn from.

2) Good point about the high achievers. I can't remember, honestly, what "percentage" of my motivation came from wanting a good grade, not wanting a bad grade, and not wanting to be in trouble with my parents.

3) I realize that education as we currently see it is not working very well. I'm certainly not opposed to trying new things or researching new ideas.

4) A friend who is a teacher pointed out training she received in a new method of teaching which encompasses some of these homework measures, but ALSO transforms the way material is presented and taught. I feel like if teachers in Dallas were being presented this teaching method, they'd be on board with this grading policy change, and that's what we'd hear about. Of course, I could be wrong, as the DMN article is limited, but if the teachers aren't happy with this then perhaps this is being implemented without a new teaching method that accounts for this?

5) I agree that student accountability is important, I just don't see how this system encourages it at all. I also believe that parents should be playing a huge role in their kid's education, but I have a feeling that a large number of these kids served by DISD are more the type who have the deck stacked against them to start with. After all, many, many parents with means have left DISD to go to better school districts or put their kids in private school. I feel like a lot of these kids are those whose parents had no better option (just my opinion)--a similar situation exists in Houston, with most parents who are able (and who care) leaving or not moving into HISD.