I met a kid twenty years after he was in my high school class,
I asked, “Andrew, what do you remember?”
Andrew thought a while, “You kept your foot up my ass – I needed it.”
It is our job to challenge kids, to push them beyond where they think they can go … to expand the boundaries of their lives, to take them out of their comfort zones. At the end of a lesson as a kid was leaving the room he turned to me and said, “That was really hard.” I smiled. I was doing my job.
We win battles kid by kid, and, too many kids fall between the cracks and fall by the wayside. The poorer the zip code the lower the academic achievement, richer the zip code the higher the achievement.
The achievement gap in city schools persisted on high-stakes Regents exams in 2013, according to a Daily News analysis of state data.
Citywide, only 58% of black students passed the integrated algebra exam while 87% of their white classmates aced the test, State Education Department figures show. Hispanic students didn’t fare much better, with 61% passing the test. Records show 63% of students considered “economically disadvantaged” passed.
“The way it is now, your zip code defines your destiny,” said Ocynthia Williams, a parent organizer with the United Parents of Highbridge, a Bronx-based advocacy group. “It’s shameful and it’s really sad.”
The Urbanization Project conducted by Ingrid Gould Ellen, a scholar at NYU finds,
… a study of 3rd-8th grade NYC public school students, found that acute exposure to localized violent crime decreases standardized test scores in English and language arts for elementary school students.
Unfortunately for some school leaders and teachers a combination of fear of school closings and a misguided view of addressing the impact of poverty has led to giving students undeserved passing grades on Regent exams.
To address this widespread practice, and the foot dragging of the NYC Department of Education, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) instituted a policy that prohibited teachers form marking papers of students they taught and moved to a distributive scoring system – papers were scanned and teachers mark anonymous papers.
The NY Daily News reports,
A stunning 373 schools out of 490 saw their passing rates drop after new guidelines barred teachers from grading tests administered at their own school.
Overall, the number of students who failed English exams jumped from 27% in 2012 to 35% in 2013, a statistical leap not reflected in the other nine Regents subjects. At 73 schools the passing rate plummeted by more than 20 percentage points.
Educators admitted that grade inflation was rampant before the policy shift.
“Teachers know their students. Sometimes a bad grade means the student giving you hell again next year, or him not getting a scholarship,” said one teacher at a Brooklyn school.
“There’s a form of empathy coming out. Like, ‘Oh my God, there has to be another point in there! Let’s find it.’”
But teachers took exception to the notion that sympathetic in-house grading amounted to cheating. Rather, they said they are the best qualified to assess their students’ achievement.
Fear of grades of “D” and “F” on School Progress Reports unfortunately may have encouraged principals and teachers to “bend over backwards” to benefit kids. Sometimes teachers are too sympathetic, sometimes they “adjust” for the pathologies of poverty by “going the extra mile,” adding a few points here and there to get kids over the hump … to boost them to a grade of 65 on a crucial Regents Exam.
They are not doing the kid a favor.
The 2013 NYS College and Career Readiness Index of high school graduates finds only 12.5 % of Black students, 15.7% of Hispanic students and 7.3% of English language learner graduates were college and career ready. (The definition of college readiness is grades of 80 on the ELA Regents and 75% on the Math Regents).
The 2009 NYC Community College cohort only 23% of students were still registered after three years and 13.4% earned an associate degree. (See CUNY Retention Rates by college here)
Caring, dedicated sensitive teachers who are advocates for their students may also be their worst “friends.” It is difficult to maintain high standards, to cajole kids, to urge kids, to be tough and strong and demanding, yes, to keep “your foot up their butt,” not being a friend, not suffering from “liberal guilt,” may describe the best teachers.
Too many kids graduate and move on to college only to falter and drop out, kids in the same socio-economic bracket in other schools survive and prosper in college.
The difference: the quality of the instruction.
Demanding a kid write another draft versus “finding” a few points on a Regents Exam may be the difference between succeeding and failing in college.