Monday, August 18, 2008

Great State of Texas strikes again - Part two

Let's take these bullets separately, shall we?

"Homework grades should be given only when the grades will "raise a student's average, not lower it."

This has two problems. First, if the overall grade is a 50 from two homeworks, then a 75 will raise the average and thus should be counted. If the student does well on the first test and raises his average to 80, does that teacher have to go back and remove the scores below 80? When he does, and the average rises to an 83, does the teacher remove all the homework scores below that? Secondly, if the number must always raise the grade, why not mandate the actual grade: 100 for anything handed in, even if it's a name on an otherwise blank sheet of paper. That will certainly improve scores.  Am I being disingenuous? Yup.  But don't expect me not to laugh when such a statement issues forth."... only when the grades will "raise a student's average, not lower it."  It's not an assessment if it can only improve things.  It's grade inflation, not learning.

"Teachers must accept overdue assignments, and their principal will decide whether students are to be penalized for missing deadlines." 

While I can accept the idea of allowing the principal some say in the application of the lateness policy for some students, for he should know the reason for the absence and I might not, does it really make sense that the principal will be able to make those determinations for the 5-15% of the 4000 students who are late with their assignments in 6 classes a day? Seems like He might have something better to do with his time. On the other hand, I wouldn't mind the "$70,000 Special Assistant to the Principal for Academic Tardiness Penalization or Resolution" job.

And why should all teachers accept ALL overdue assignments? Is there no school website to post assignment deadlines and class work lists? Can the teachers not hand out long-term assignments weeks in advance? If I hand out a itemized list at the beginning of each chapter with instructions to record scores and grades (so students can keep track), am I being unreasonable to specify due dates? How far past the end of the marking period can late work be handed in (assuming that it raises the average, of course)? At what point does student accountability take hold here if there is no "drop-dead" deadline, ever?

"Students who flunk tests can retake the exam and keep the higher grade."
How many times? There are situations in my class when I will give students the option of retaking a test, especially if it is material they will need NEXT chapter. I make up an entirely new test. Students must go over the old one and make corrections before they are allowed to bother with the new one. "Have you made an improvement in what you know?" Otherwise, we are all wasting our time.  Since I have several versions of each test, this is easier for me than for new teachers - bless 'em if they can pull this off.

Additionally, I have no idea when these re-takes are supposed to happen. In class and lose another period, good student twiddling while bad student retakes test? Or after school? This would be my option but many schools ban that.

"Teachers cannot give a zero on an assignment unless they call parents and make 'efforts to assist students in completing the work.'"
Really? Even for work not handed in or the Name-on-blank-sheet work? How about for the "Hope you have a nice summer" and pictures of abstract figures answer that I got on an exam last year?

If the parents were so damn effective, why did they wait until 9th grade to get something going? Bottom line: it's the kids' education and education is not a spectator sport. Sure, we want parents involved and that's why we send out progress reports every two weeks and grade reports every quarter. The parents know what and how their kids are doing - my calling them and telling them each and every time isn't going to change anything. Besides, that would take an inordinate amount of time and I'd rather spend that time helping kids who want to improve. A good resolution to this is on-line gradebooks, but even they have problems - mostly with helicopter parents. 

As for that line "make efforts to assist students in completing the work." What do you think I've been doing? Writing on my blog all day?

Oh, yeah.  Good thing we haven't started school yet or that comment would have fallen really flat.

"High school teachers who fail more than 20 percent of their students will need to develop a professional improvement plan and will be monitored by their principals."

First off, principals should be aware anyway. That's their job. The idea of placing a teacher on probation for failing too many students is really silly, though. This bullet point will simply ensure that a lot of students will pass by 0.001 points - avoiding the penalty on the teacher. It will not magically enable them to have a chance in Algebra II.  Remember the lament "My day would be so much easier if I just gave everyone an A."

If Guidance places students in an Algebra I class, they should make sure that all of the kids COULD pass. They should be aware that progressing to Algebra II will require a passing grade in Algebra I and a certain knowledge of certain material. Otherwise, you are dooming them to failure (excuse me, barely passing another course).  If the policy also impacted on the Guidance counselor who scheduled them for the wrong class, that might make this more appropriate. If you fill an pre-calculus class with students who belong in basic math, who's at fault here? That's an exaggeration, of course, but it shows my point. Put the kids in the class that's appropriate and then you can lump more responsibility on me.

If you give me a class of ninth graders whose one common feature is having failed every major course in 7th and 8th grade, and are failing nearly every course again this year, don't be surprised if they fail mine, too. Sure, some will rise above their habits but many of them badly needed a wake-up call. "Sorry, I warned you all along and gave you how many progress reports? What did you expect?"  In basic math and beginning algebra, one of the assignments periodically is to calculate their own weighted average, and learn how to find "what they need to get a ..."

This drops us at the last one ... minimum 50 on a progress report. Grades should be based on what a kid knows and can do. It should not be based on "effort" and "Great to have in class" rubrics. I can fudge it a bit for late learners - I use the whole retest thing. I can base it on the later tests if the later work builds on the earlier work.

If I enter a Geometry grade on the report card, it should reflect how much Geometry the kid knows. Not how much the school would like him to know. Not how much he brown-nosed me. Not how loud and active he was, nor on how many questions he put his hand up for. The grade tells other people one thing: he knows roughly 65% of the material well. If you insist on a minimum 50, then you really should just mandate that everyone pass regardless and stop screwing around.


  1. For tests that the kids have to know - if they don't do well enough (might be an 80 for some topic, 65 for another) - I have them take it again. Same level of difficulty, but with a lower total number of points, maybe 95 with no bonus, instead of 100 with a 5 point bonus.

    So they can improve, but top scores don't come from retests.


  2. Absolutely ... and it cracks me up that the student can retake EVERY failing test. A couple of my kids last year started into the "Can we take a retest" whine before they even finished the first one. It was a learning moment for them when we went through the thought process -
    "What do you plan on doing between now and the retest? Okay, do those problems, come see me to check that you're doing them correctly now or to go over it again, make corrections. Good."

    "Next time, do that before the first test."

    They had never taken (or failed) a test before with consequences and never realized how to deal with it or learned how to study for one.