Regarding the new Pittsburgh school policy that no student can earn less than a 50% on a test, it is NOT "mathematically sound". However, that does not mean that the program is bad. I'm excited to see administrators trying out new policies instead of just sticking to the same old policies that weren't working. Administrators have their hearts in the right place here, it just remains to be seen whether it will work. The true test will be if the nameless administrators find out it doesn't work, will they back it out? Will they adjust it? Or will they insist on following through with a bad idea?
I see 3 main scenarios in students:
1) The "good student". This student doesn't want to get an F period. They have a caring family and if a bad week happens and their grandpa and dog die in the same week and they skip a test - they get a get-out-of-jail free card. Still, if you have an A or B average and you get a 50 on a test, it will knock you down a grade. Period.
2) The "slacker". This person just wants to get out of school as quickly as possible. Maybe they have other responsibilities. Maybe they just want to loaf at the mall. Well, they still have to pass. If they do as little as possible, and skip a few tests, they could still pass. They could cheat the system. But there are all sorts of ways to cheat the system. If you want to be a "slacker", I don't think this is going to make a difference.
3) The kid who's trying and deserves a chance but their best friend got shot last week and it's thrown them for a loop and they screw up for a month straight. Now they have a chance to make up for some lost time, learn the material they missed and pass for the year.
I think this process working is dependent on a few things though.
First, tests have to be cumulative and get increasingly more difficult during the year. The kid actually has to learn something. For instance, if it's math, and the kid fails the test on long-division and never learns it because the other tests don't cover it, that kid shouldn't pass. Otherwise, you're just pushing problems along.
Second, teachers can't be scaling the grades. A 50 has to remain failing. Students must realize that a 50 is failing.
How is it being implemented? I don't know. I'm sure it varies by teacher, by school and even by student.
What do I know? This isn't "mathematically sound". It's giving a second chance to kids. It's helping kids out. It's a potentially good idea. And the administrators need to work with the teachers to come up with a compromise if it's not working. And if the majority of teachers are upset about it, it's not working as is.
But speaking of good ideas for our city school system, I just wanted to throw out a shout-out to the Pittsburgh Promise. I'm looking forward to seeing your report card in 2009.