Not Unique To Philly By Any Means – And Other Teachers Are Indeed Sorry This Is So Widespread

Philadelphia Public School Teachers Say They Feel Pressure To Pass Unqualified Students.





The Philadelphia Inquirer (6/22, Graham, Woodall) reports that “the pressure to pass students — even those who rarely go to class or can’t read — is pervasive in the Philadelphia School District, teachers around the city say.” According to 15 teachers from nine Philadelphia high schools interviewed by the Inquirer, the “push comes in memos, in meetings, and in talks about failure rates that are too high.” The Inquirer points out that “social promotion — moving along students with their same-age classmates whether they deserve it or not — has plagued the district for decades despite efforts to stop it.” In one case, a high school teacher was pressured by administrators “to pass a student who had 89 absences over a half-year.” Although “reasons for its persistence are unclear,” many “teachers suggest that the” pressure “is especially great now because” schools are judged, in part, on “the number of students who pass.”

Oh for the good old days – wait, what was I thinking…….there were never good old days when it came to grading.  There were good old days when teachers could/would write meaningful anecdotals and parents actually understood in detail what their son/daughter knew, needed yet to learn, was struggling with and why.

Back in the day, before I started teaching, I learned how to write anecdotals (third person, about the Noun, not including the Noun’s name) that were clinical, precise and both quantitative and qualitative.  Those were the days when I was doing clinical work in speech pathology and audiology – situations where solid observations mattered.  Later,  during teacher training and upon receiving my credential,  I found that solid anecdotals were not appropriate at school – except where written in such PC code as to be unable by the best attorney to be mis-interpreted.

The trick was to get one of those little  books that could politely tell a parent your child had substantial behavior issues in a way that protected the parents and childs self esteem – what child could learn if they knew the truth? What parent could parent if they knew the truth about what parenting entailed?  Report cards were developed with pre-slugged comments so teachers need not creatively dilly dally around the issue and comments were ‘standardized’ and could be used in a variety of ways.  One could only select the top two or three pre-slugged comments that most fit the situation.

All of this ‘protected’ teachers from telling the truth (and being hated by parents which led to administration having to push back on parents who were not being parents), principals from having to act as administrators and school districts from law suits.  There was so much ‘coverage’ and protection that cumulative folders never got more than the sketchiest of notations and no one could follow why student X or B or Q was still illiterate in Grade 6. No one in the school district knew and there was no blame to place.   The ultimate outcome was abundant social promotion based on issues of self esteem which got us to today with high school graduation rates similar to those of some better third world countries.

I hated those report cards and parent meetings – they were artificial and false.   Sadly it was that or no job.  I remember principals having ‘secret’ private meetings with myself and other teachers to see what we could do to obtain more ‘passing’ grades – surely X percent of students in Grade 6,7,8 could not be illiterate or below grade level in science and math – make it ‘appear’ that it happened.  Even when multiple teachers were ‘failing’ student X, one of us had to concede and give student X a passing grade so the kid could not be held back – there was no room.  I was actively coerced so many times by administration, I used to think my arm would require a summer sling.  No matter how well I could support and justify grades for students with work samples, grade books showing class scores, assignments, offering to meet with parents at the beginning and middle and end of school year to provide assistance, it did not matter. Lying did matter. I learned to be as smooth as any Wall Street banker/stock analyst in talking about a student. I was and continue not to be proud of this skill set.

Suddenly it is vogue to provide ‘parenting’ skills classes to parents to help them understand the support their child needs in order to be on grade level. Suddenly in the last 10 years parents are being given lists of benchmarks their child needs to meet by each grade level so being held back is not some big, shocking surprise.  The report cards have not changed……they are still usually pre-slugged.  Teachers are still being asked to subvert the truth so schools can look ‘nice’ on paper. Of course standardized test scores (teach to the test) are the new crystal ball so the truth is still not out there. 

Over the years I have even observed the trend of parents moving or at least ‘moving’ the kid to another school district (get a friends address) so the lag time of the cumulative folder from one district to another was long enough for the receiving school district not to find out the student was held back.   This is another one of the dark secrets not talked about – the missing cumulative folders, the kids who should have an IEP but don’t until mid year because RSP services would be too demeaning.  Even when the cumulative folder is forwarded in a timely manner, it does not matter as the comments left by teachers are so PC as to be almost impossible to interpret the meaning for the students placement.  What these parents don’t understand is any decent teacher can see the writing on the wall well before the cumulative folder arrives and start the student study team process. The one with the perpetuated learning delays is the student.

If  honesty in grading were valued and done effectively, we would actually see more parents on board because there would be REAL repercussions.  The only repercussions that exist right now is how to ‘shame’ the teacher and the parents and administrators actively play this game just like Wall Street traders.

Update added 7/13/09: