2001-06-16 / Columnists

School Scope by Howard Schwach Now that social promotion has ended in the New York City public school system, here are some thumbnail sketches of the kids who are getting promoted (remember as you read this that the promotion standards include being pr

School Scope by Howard Schwach
Now that social promotion has ended in the New York City public school system, here are some thumbnail sketches of the kids who are getting promoted (remember as you read this that the promotion standards include being present 90 percent of the year, being Level II in both the reading and mathematics standardized test and passing all classroom subjects):

A student who has been absent more than 50 days during the school year, but has in excess of two-dozen sick notes from his mother that excuses those absences.

A seventh grade student who is Level I in both the CTB English and TEM Mathematics test. While Level III is grade level, students who meet Level II are supposed to me "meeting standards," while those in Level I are "below standard." Students in Level I, however, are being promoted if they meet the standards for attendance (by bringing in notes) and if they meet the standard for classroom work or portfolio assessment.

An eighth grade student who failed a major subject, but whose teachers were coerced by supervisors to change the mark to passing because district office bigwigs didn’t "want to see anybody in the eighth grade who was failing only a single subject.

A seventh grade student, who failed Social Studies and Science, was absent 22 (excused) days and who is Level I in Reading and Level II in Mathematics. For sixth and seventh graders, you see, only Language Arts and Mathematics count as indicators. Science and Social Studies do not. In addition, a student who passes one of the two important standardized tests has "met standards."

A seventh grade student who failed three majors and is Level I in both reading and math, but will be promoted because the three teachers who failed him were ordered by their assistant principal to pass the student. "This student must pass," a note from the AP to the teachers read.

Three or four years ago, those students would have been promoted in any case, but today we are supposed to have the "new and tougher standards."

Despite those standards, thousands of kids who have not met those standards are being passed along because both central board and district personnel do not want their records sullied by too many holdovers and because it is just too expensive to hold a student in his or her present grade for another year.

The most insidious manifest of that desire not to leave students back is that teachers, who have continually been told this year that they are now "accountable" for what they do in the classroom (or, at least for what they have on their bulletin boards), are being forced to change grades just so that fewer students are held over.

The note I mentioned above is just the most blatant example of what is going on.

The note was explicit enough to cause the senior teachers who got it to rethink the grades they gave the students. The phrases, "This student must pass," and "what can we do to pass this student," indicated to them that there would be sanctions against them if they disobeyed the memo. They are waiting now to see what the UFT will say about the note.

I expect that the assistant principal involved will say that it was not an order and not a threat, but just a professional question about what could be done (on June 5, with fifteen days to go) to get the student passing grades.

Anybody who saw the note, however, would not believe that for a moment.

In another building in this district, a principal called in each of the students who "had failed too many students" or had "been the only teacher in a team to fail a student."

The principal told the teachers behind closed doors that if they did not have "the proper documentation to show that the parent has been involved and aware of the student’s failing from the beginning of the year," they would have to pass the student. To the principal’s way of thinking, that included each test (most are given back to the students), a log of each time the teachers spoke to the parent, a remedial education plan, a student portfolio of work that did not meet standards and about seven other things that the teacher probably never even thought of keeping on the first place.

A parent came into a third school and argued that she did not know that her child was in danger of being left back. A quick check showed that both the second and third quarter report cards had noted the fact that "the student was not meeting one or more promotional standards," and was "in danger of not being promoted." In addition, the student had been given two letters to take home and two letters had been sent to the home "certified, return receipt requested." The teacher had called the parent twice after the parent had failed to show up for open school meetings.

The parent still argued that those things were not enough. She threatened to go to the district office and she will go there and win her fight, because the district reportedly believes that teachers should be made to deliver report cards to student’s homes.

Why doesn’t the principal simply change the grades of those students he wants to pass, quietly and without fanfare?

Because the contract between the Board of Education and the UFT does not allow for that.

The contract says: "The teacher’s judgment in grading is to be respected; therefore if the principal changes a student’s grade in any subject for a grading period, the principal shall notify the teacher of the change in writing."

In this day and age, principals are not putting anything in writing that they do not have to put in writing.

They would rather coerce or force the teacher to change the grade than go in and change it themselves.

My major question is "where is the union?"

Teachers are forced to change grades. Teachers are getting "unsatisfactory" ratings because of some sort of quota system. Teachers are taken behind closed doors and are threatened and vilified for failing too many students.

Where is the union? In this district, the union leadership is so aligned with the superintendent that our district rep might as well work for the superintendent rather than for the union.

It is the same in many of the other districts as well.

The next time you hear Levy or Bromme or anybody else speak of the new, more difficult standards for promotion, give them a good laugh.

They deserve it.

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