Saturday, June 5, 2010

I Want an IEP!

The past few weeks have been crunch time in the eighth grade at our school. While major projects have been assigned and unseen levels of students engagement have occurred, I can't help but to think that the work being done by our students has nothing to do with the desire to learn or to succeed academically, so much as the promise that if they do very well this marking period they will avoid summer school. There are a lot of tricks and loopholes that are being implemented for a lot of reasons, all of which get our students off the eighth grade rosters and onto the high school rosters. I explained some of this in my post NYC's Grand Grading Plan. Here is a bit more about the promotion process:

About two months ago a member of our administration gathered all of our failing students together and distributed what have been referred to as their "magic numbers" (without informing the teachers). These are the grades they must achieve in each class that will get them to pass for the entire year. For some, it is a 75% simply because they need to pass the semester with a high enough average. For those who failed the first three quarters of the year in a class, they were told that if they get a 95% in a class they'll be passed.

When I heard this I was indignant. You're going to tell my students that if they get an A for ONE quarter of the year then they passed my entire class?! Is that what you think of the work I do with these kids? AND you're not going to tell me about this conversation before having it with students? I suppose it's not that severe. The goal really was to give them a glimmer of hope and motivate them to do something this marking period. A friend of mine also pointed out that if they did not pass my class for the first three marking periods, the chances of them getting a 95% (currently one person in the entire grade is pulling that off) are essentially nil. Regardless, it was pretty special to know this is one of the "easy" ways to avoid summer school, though the strategy wasn't as bothersome and irritating as what some of our students wanted to do last year.

Around this time last year my students caught wind of an entirely different way to be promoted: an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). These are designed to give students with learning disabilities extra support as they navigate their way through the public education system. Their intent is outstanding: give every single student the support they need to succeed. The actual implementation? Most frequently we see some of the intended use of the IEP, but also the slapping of IEP's on behavior problems so those kids have excuses to fail academically. Now, our learning specialist is entirely against the latter. Not only does she understand what these tools are for, but she works to help each child grow so they one day do not need the IEP. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons (including job security and a desire to procure funding), the actual de-certification part doesn't always happen.

Anyway, one of the common provisions on an IEP is "modified promotional criteria." In layman's terms that means students will be passed to the next grade if they meet alternate, specified requirements. Unfortunately this is oftentimes abused to get students to the next grade who are floundering because of behavior issues- those who won't sit in their seat and do the work and are failing because of it. "Modified criteria" becomes synonymous with "is breathing" and the student is passed along no matter what they do. When this happens, most of them anticipate it, which helps their motivation to bottom out completely.

Well, several of our students caught wind of this last year and because of it and the DOE promising like mad that there would be a crack-down on eighth grade promotion (which did not happen), the panicked cry of, "I want an IEP!" could be heard in every year-end meeting we had with the students who were failing. Students were practically crying because they realized it was their last hope of avoiding summer school and perhaps being held back (again, for most of them- more than half of our grade was over-aged last year). Unfortunately for them, an IEP can't just be dreamt up and spit out onto a Word document in an afternoon, it takes a lot of planning and legal documentation (luckily, in this case). That was a relief, though, and while it may not sound professional to say so, it certainly felt like I'd finally seen some vindication for the students who had destroyed the educational process in my classroom every single day last year.

Social promotion is a beast of an issue- one I do not support, but I am also not the one charged with making the final decision on promotion. It's also easy for me to be against it, as I know that my students are going to be passed along and out of my hair regardless of what I believe. The immediacy of whether or not my students are going to graduate high school and/or find a decent job is not what it is in the grades that follow mine. I can still hope that if they're slipping up they can turn things around once they get to the ninth grade. In spite of whether I'm held accountable for their skills or not, it's tough watching them walk on by at the end of the year knowing that I said specifically that they were not prepared to go to the next grade and that the system is essentially set up to send them there regardless.

Today's Wine: Louise d'Estree Brut Sparkling Wine.
Because my school computer crashed and died, our two home computers are on their last legs respectively and because I've wrestled and complained about Windows operating systems for years, we bought an iMac this past weekend. The champagne is to celebrate!

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