Saturday, February 6, 2010

NYC's Grand Grading Plan

During my first marking period last year I flunked just under half of my students and was told that was "normal" for the first marking period in an eighth grade history class. Coming from a setting where a handful of failing students is a real problem, I was flabbergasted by the thought that half of my students were failing and it was alright. How in the world does a school system function if it's expected that half of the students will be failing at any given time?

Well, New York has some handy tricks to keep its students headed toward an increasingly watered-down U.S. high school diploma. While I cannot say if each of these are official DOE policy, they certainly happen in the South Bronx.
  • First of all, it is impossible to receive less than a 45% in a class. Impossible. You receive a 45% if you are dead and still on the school roster. That's nearly half the points available in the class simply for existing.
  • Second, if you show up a single time you are awarded a 55% in a class. That means if you walk into the room, sit down for twenty minutes, scream like a maniac and then walk back out- never to be seen again- you are awarded a 55%. Now, maybe I'm crazy, but to say a students did OVER HALF OF THE WORK because they showed up once to class sounds like the most absurd thing to hit education since I don't know what- not to mention the students who do show up and do ABSOLUTELY nothing for an entire marking period and also get this grade.
  • Third, when calculating grades, anything below ninety percent must be rounded to the 5's (for example, a 74 would be rounded to a 75). This gives many students extra points just for fun.
  • Fourth- this is key- students cannot be given a 60% on their report card. This allows those with 60's to receive five additional points on their report cards, as the teacher must round up to 65% or down to 55%.
  • Now, in the eighth grade a student's first and second marking period grades are average together for a semester grade. That means if a student received a 55% and a 65% it would average to 60%, leaving the teacher to decide whether or not to round up to the passing grade of 65% or down to the failing grade of 55%. Pressure to post a decent pass-rate, the fact that you know each kid's story (home lives oftentimes do not readily support academic excellence) can definitely push you toward the 65%.
When I was first told last year about these rules and regulations for grading students I took them at face value simply because I was freaking out about pass rates and needed to know how to score kids. After a while though it dawned on me how little information a student needed to receive to actually and officially pass a grade: 30% of all possible percentage points.

So, if a student decides to play his Play Station 3 every single day except one during each of the first and third marking periods and then shows up for the second and fourth and receives 60% in each respective marking period, they can "legitimately" pass with teacher discretion. That thought makes me dizzy.

If only I could show up four times a year and still get 55% of my salary, I'd get twenty more teaching jobs! It would be flippin fantastic!

And if you're worried about the students who don't quite get enough points to hit 60% any of the marking periods, don't be. They'll probably get passed on anyway. It's a good thing we base so much teacher/administrative accountability on promotion/graduation rates. It's having a friggin awesome effect on our education system. Pretty soon it will be teachers' jobs to walk around with picnic baskets of high school diplomas and hand them to anyone who can smile.

Today's Wine: San Camillus Pinot Grigio. The way we picked this one was incredibly scientific. First, we only wanted a white wine because I was cooking up a wine reduction sauce. Second, this was the only one in the store that had a cork, which we're compiling for some kind of art project. The wine was just fine, and went with the cream sauce, prosciutto and peas we were eating.


  1. Oh this is good. Is there some type of paper trail that verifies this?

  2. I was told during my first year last year to hold onto work for the students who fail, as it's much more difficult to prove a student has failed than if a student has succeeded (at least in the eyes of the DOE). I have a lot of that work still hanging around from last year and have a lot for my students this year as well. As for a paper trail that verifies the plan above, the only trail I have is the file on which I submit my grades.