Does Inflating Regents Grades Help or Hinder Kids? Who Are the “Most Effective” Teachers? Demanding or Caring or Tough? Can Too Much Caring Hurt Kids?

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.


5 responses to “Does Inflating Regents Grades Help or Hinder Kids? Who Are the “Most Effective” Teachers? Demanding or Caring or Tough? Can Too Much Caring Hurt Kids?

  1. Kids don’t get to write another draft on a Regents Exam.


  2. Ed in the Apple

    Getting in the habit of writing and revising leads to higher Regents grades, just as practicing and correcting makes for better viola players


  3. I whole heartedly agree that grade inflation may shortcut a student’s path onto the next rung of the educational ladder but it will usually result in the student’s need for college remediation courses in math, reading and writing. This type of “balloon squeezing” promotion is frustrating for those students who were pushed up the educational ladder and for those instructors who are attempting to teach to those who are not prepared for the next level of education.
    Solutions to the poor high school graduation rates are certainly not solved by tampering and/or inflating grades. For example, serious system-wide grade tampering in the Hempstead Union Free School District was reported by Newsday (May 20, 2014, p.A5) and also was previously reported as front page news in thier newspaper on June 29, 2013. Changing grades through inflation and deflation are only futile attempts to “window dress” the actual district-wide academic problems which cannot be hidden by falsified scores on standardized tests and inflated rates of those who have supposedly graduated from high school.
    The more recent NEWSDAY story detailed the NYS Department of Education’s audit which “found district employes changed 2,225 quarterly and final grades for 1,294 high school students”. In addition, “The district could provide reasons for only eight percent of the changes. The audit covered the 2012-13 school year”. This type of grade inflation is not only illegal but an outlandish example of academic and institutional dishonesty.
    Finally, I don’t accept Ocynthia Williams’ assertion that your zip code defines your destiny: this belief doesn’t help to address but rather diverts our attention to academic problems that are so overshelming and very pervasive within our nation’s urban school districts.


  4. N.B: I made a typographical mistake in my reply to the original article on inflating scores on regents exams. Th second paragraph should read, “…the Hempstead Union Free School District……was previously reported as front page news in THEIR newspaper on June 29, 2013.”


  5. State Education Commissioner John King said Wednesday he hopes this year will mark an end to controversy over the Common Core.

    “We have an opportunity to move away from the political debates that have distracted us for the last year,” King told roughly 50 business people and educators at a breakfast forum at the Warwick Hotel.
    May 28, NY Daily News


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