The DeHavilland Blog

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

He said, she said

Interesting article in Sunday's Fort Worth Star-Telegram about a teacher who was let go for failing too many kids. There's a back-and-forth here that serves as a fascinating case study: a teacher's students are struggling, the principal says that she's failing more kids than other teachers (and besides, in today's environment we don't leave anybody behind), the teacher says she won't raise grades if kids aren't doing the work, the teacher's contract is not renewed.

I call it a case study because it's a perfect example of the pitfalls of subjective grading, which I previously wrote about here. We have no independent data to use in determining who's right and who's wrong. Are the kids skilled at math, and the teacher is grading them unfairly? Are the kids not putting in the effort? Is she a bad teacher? Is she trying to push them harder than other teachers? Is she a hero or a villain? We have no way to know - there's no objective data to work with, no independent evaluation with which to anchor this argument.

Those who responded to my original post have noted the logistical challenges of establishing fair and independent evaluation. And of course they're right - it would be a major undertaking. But if you're this teacher, and assuming you're in the right, wouldn't you want to have that kind of third-party data handy when you meet with the school board? And multiplying this case hundreds of thousands of times over across the country, wouldn't we have a better education system if we separated instruction and evaluation to generate valid information on learning, as opposed to the conflict-of-interest-laden model we have today?

Yes, there are challenges to establishing fair and independent evaluation - but things are only truly impossible when we don't want to do them in the first place.


  • Thank you for raising this topic. A group of parents, community members and educators were discussing a topic very similar to this past Thursday evening. One concern is our school district has academic magnet schools with minimum entrance requirements. The challenge is an 85 gpa needed to qualify for the lottery (minimum B) from one school is not the same as another school. Consequently with grade inflation or whatever you want to call it there are students who are "qualified" and get in the school but are ill-prepared once they start 5th, 7th or 9th grade work (depends upon which school you attend as to what grade you enter). does one ensure that an 85 is an 85 is an 85 and that all children who are "qualified" are truly qualified? Without this the academic magnet schools will sink to the level of the comprehensive high schools (rather than being the benchmark toward which the comprehensive high schools need to move). Two of our academic magnet high schools are top 50 schools based upon the number of AP classes/tests taken by their seniors or whatever the measure is. However, even without this flawed measure they would be a top high school (public or private) in the country.

    We are concerned about maintaining the quality of these schools and want to increase the academic requirements for entrance to do this. However, with grade inflation, teacher-to-teacher discretion for grading, the ability to determine the foundation of the kids who "qualify" are receiving is next to impossible without testing them. Maybe this is the answer -- there is another screening test before the kids can get placed in the lottery. This would be in addition to their third grade TCAP scores having to be "advanced" in both reading and math.

    Any thoughts on how to get conformity in grading would be most beneficial. This is a much bigger issue than just those kids that qualify for the academic magnets. This goes to the basics of how well prepared are second graders to move to third grade, third graders to fourth grade, etc.

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    I do believe many more children should be failed than are today. However, there is such a stigma on holding students back a year to give them the extra help they need.

    Well...we need a T-1/pre-first program, we need kids to start kindergarten at age 6, we need to be able to hold students back for social immaturity, etc.

    Thanks -- I look forward to reading your response.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:50 AM  

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