Wednesday, January 7, 2009

50% Is Good Enough For Me

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.


Schultz said...

Sounds more like "Mediocrity is okay with me", because that is basically what you are supporting here, is it not? I don't understand how this idea excites you, or anyone for that matter, except maybe the slacker mall rat in your #2 scenario. High school students already have it easy, now we are telling them that can basically do nothing, or get caught cheating, and the worst they could do is a grade of 50%?

The Pittsburgh Promise is a great idea, because it gives students who had no hope of attending college the opportunity to earn their way to college. However, instead of setting the bar high they are setting it low, I think the starting average to get the scholarship is a "C", right? Why not have them strive to reach a "B" ? Why not tell our students that if they work hard, or achieve above average results, they can get a scholarship to college?

I'm all for bold ideas that aim to improve the quality of our schools, but instead of being bold and offering a idea, like setting a minimum grade to 50%, why not do something bold that kick's ass? Like the Microsoft - Philadelphia Public Schools partnership. Do we have anything like this here in Pittsburgh? If not - why aren't we trying to get something like this hear?

illyrias said...

I appreciate the comment, but I think you read too far into my sarcastic title.

I do not necessarily agree with the program, but I think it's a potentially good idea. It sounds like it's getting a lot of kick-back, and I hope it gets adjusted in line with feedback from teachers.

Also, I do not think high school is "easy." I think you'd find very people who'd agree with you there. I know that Pittsburgh students face a lot more challenges than I did. Just this year, 5 murder victims were under 17. The average age was under 28. I happen to think we need to think outside the box and try to address this youth violence. Giving them an opportunity to get an advanced education when they only get a "C" sounds like a good start. Most community colleges will accept you as long as you graduate from high school, but you still have to get a loan and/or pay for it.

By the way, we have some kick-ass charter schools, CAPA for one and this new international bac program sounds interesting.

But the Pittsburgh Promise isn't focused on charter-school kids. Sure, they'll benefit. But the Pittsburgh Promise is (in my mind at least) focused on giving all kids a chance to go to college - even if they have a 2.5 GPA - even if it's to community college - especially if it's to a community college. It's focused on increasing the percentage of our students who go to college, and it's focused on improving our city through education while making it a more attractive city to live in.

Bram Reichbaum said...

I'm absolutely behind Roosevelt on this one, and historically you don't hear that from me that often. There's no such thing as "failing worse" than anybody else; the math fails to correlate to a practical reality at a certain point. No harm at all in establishing a baseline for failure at 50%.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

The problem is more with the fourth category of student you left out -- those who are hostile toward school and teachers -- than with any of the other three.