The Need for Better Reporting

I have a good relationship with the parents of my students. I have a reputation as a teacher that pushes students with many inquiry-based learning activities and I've developed many high quality assessments and formatively assess often. I send email notifications to parents every couple months appraising them of learning activities and mix up traditional testing with PBL. I'm highly organized and even manage to partner my classes with others around the globe for international collaborations and projects.

However, an interesting thing happened on the last day of school. A couple of parents came on on the last of school, to dispute the "D" that their daughter had earned in my math class. This was the first time in as many years that I've had parents come in to complain in as many years that I can remember. I had a mountain of evidence that showed that their daughter had failed to complete or was late on half of the semester's worth of work, external assessments validating internal ones along with email notifications to the parents that they ignored, sub-par evaluations going back months, and anecdotes when she had ditched review sessions with me. My administrator joined the meeting and was defending me wholeheartedly.

Still, the parents had the audacity that "the school had failed their child".

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One wonders what has inspired the shift in responsiblity as shown in the cartoon above. Teachers have been proven to be the most effective indicator of academic success but numerous articles have shown a strong correlation between parental involvement and student success. Some great reads are here, here and here. I too have written many times on the importance of partnering with parents as they can be our biggest ally but what happens when parents are indifferent and unresponsive?

I argued that poor grades and failure can lead to success and we must use poor scores not as an excuse to resign, but rather an warning to intervene, refocus and plan. During my confrontation, the father argued that no child should ever be given a grade lower than a "C" as to not cause "psychological harm". I wonder what will happen when a child is shielded from failure their whole life and is suddenly sent to college.

Grade Inflation
Still, it brings the question, is there a problem with grade inflation? Surely teachers would like to tell their administrator and parents that everything is peachy, but I think there is a real danger in raising internal test scores from F's and D's to C's and B's. It seems like this is done in a very arbitrary way such as students bombing an assessment and than teachers raising their score up to a 70% if the student merely comes in to review their mistakes or dropping the lowest grades of the semester. Studies have shown that GPA's have risen steadily although external assessments have flatlined or fallen.

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Sobering Case Studies of Grade Inflation Ignored
Take the case of what is happening in some  D.C. schools. Students have been swept up the middle school ranks with poor skills in the hopes that they would blossom later. This "pass the buck" structure has led to a bulge of students in grade 9, where students cannot be promoted to grade 10 unless they pass grade 9. Why were warning signs not taken heed earlier? "Someone did not intervene early enough." Said D.C. Principal Stephen Jackson.

Or go to California where completion of Algebra 1 in grade 8 was needed before moving up. Tracking found that 80% of students who retook Algebra 1 for the second time failed anyway. From this perspective, it's no wonder students progress upwards, regardless of ability, because statistically, they won't fare much better if they were held back. By not dealing with student skills early on, students moved through middle school feeling entitled and didn't make any effort to improve their student work habits and study skills. By the time they were freshmen, they didn't learn the experience of reviewing, questioning and meta cognitive experiences to become academically successful. They had no persistence or grit. A number had dropped out.

The Push for Standardized Testing
Diane Ravitch summed up the standardized testing movement with a great rationale: "because teachers can't be trusted". Mrs. Ravitch was not in defense of this statement, but rather using it as the quid pro quo of why standardization is seeming to become the trump card for internal assessments as they're more objective and honest. It's no wonder why this blunt tool is the weapon of choice for many reformers rather than qualitative feedback. However, since externalized test scores are reflective more of a parent's socio-economic status and zip codes (which correlate to higher or lower school funding due to tax revenue) perhaps this tool is only validating the inequities of rich and poor school districts.

I'll finish with a quote from Vicki Davis, who said that she is the "teacher that her kids need. Not the teacher that her kids want.". This is a reminder to both sides of the aisle and all vantage points in the debate. We all have vested interests in our student's education. We need to be honest. Assessment should be reflective and accurate. However, we too must be open to compromise and listen. Educators can have a supportive and loving classroom culture but at the same time have high expectations and not be shy about demanding excellence from our students. The choice is each of ours.

ASCD Policy Points "A Nation at Risk" April 2013"
Progress for D.C.'s Ninth Graders "Why Wait So Late"

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