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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Duval schools change grading scale

In all honesty the Duval County public school system should add another grade option to its teacher’s grade books and that’s the gentlemen’s C. Why not, after all most teachers already use it and for more than a few it currently dominates the grades they give. What’s the gentlemen’s C you ask? Well read on.

The basic definition of the gentlemen’s C is: a passing grade a teacher gives to a student who shouldn’t be passing. That’s to say the work the student has done is either insufficient or is substandard and would not meet rigorous standards. There are several varieties of the Gentlemen’s C too.

The first type is the one teachers are subtly cajoled into giving to students who have not earned a passing grade either because of non effort, behavior or some other factor. Often these students make little or no effort during the year but somehow miraculously pass at the end of it. The reason is because teachers through e-mails and in meetings are told all the time, if a teacher fails to many kids they aren’t a good teacher and if a teacher fails to many kids their evaluations, potential bonus pay and quite possibly even their jobs may be in jeopardy. We’re not saying you can’t fail anybody, administrators start with air quotes, we’re saying make your quotas and have no more than 10% (or some other arbitrary number) Fs and Ds in your classes.

Then there is the type that teachers give to students who show up day in and day out and who try very hard but they just can’t, for several different reasons, master the material. Sometimes they have been pushed along without the skills they need to succeed (about half our high school kids don’t read or do math on grade level, yet somehow they have made it to high school) or they are put into classes they shouldn’t be in. Duval County has a one size fits all curriculum, with no gray area built in for aptitude, desire or ability. The smartest and most motivated kid at Stanton has the same graduation requirements as everybody else in the county. Kids that try hard are often rewarded despite their performance with a bump to their grades and I get it too. Teachers reason, after all it’s not their fault they were pushed into my class without the skills they need and/or why should I be the one that holds them back. Though I often wonder if teachers are doing these children any favors and the fact that so many of our graduates have to take remedial classes in college and so many employers report having a difficult time finding qualified applicants, makes me think not.

It however gets worse, because in our zeal to include advanced academic classes in all our students’ schedules we have in effect knee caped rigor. Duval County often brags that they the students here have had to take algebra II to graduate for years now, this at the same time my neighbor tells me that less than half his algebra II kids could pass a legitimate algebra I class. This at the same time most of our graduates starting Florida State College have to take the non credit elementary or intermediate algebra classes.

Furthermore in placing advanced academic classes into all our students’ schedules all we have really done is replace classes many kids might need with classes many will never use. We have practically eliminated the teaching of trades, skills and the arts, classes’ kids may need if they don’t intend go to college or if they do are more interested in liberal arts subjects. Furthermore I imagine like the vast majority of you don’t, I don’t use algebra in my daily life. What I learned in college I learned to pass the class and then promptly forgot. I am not saying algebra and other classes don’t have their place, I am saying let’s find a realistic way to work them into the average kids schedule and then make sure they learn the material instead of passing them along with our fingers crossed hoping that down the roads some miraculous connection will be made.

When I was in High school, coincidently enough the same school I teach at now, I took general math II as a junior and no math as a senior. Not once in my whole public education career did I take an algebra class, yet somehow I went on to attain multiple degrees. As I look back now do you know what class I wish I would have taken, the one that would have helped me most as an adult and was there for me to take had I chosen to? Well it’s certainly not algebra II, it’s typing. I have no idea when was the last time I used an algebraic formula to help me in my everyday life or even would have helped me out, but I am required to type almost daily. Lets talk to the kids and find out there plans and then plan their schedules accordingly.

There is nothing wrong with having rigorous standards but shouldn’t they be relevant to the future of our children and shouldn’t we require our children to master the material instead of doing barely enough, or in the case of the Gentlemen’s C, just be pushed along just so we as a district can say look at us, look at us, see how advanced our classes our. It’s almost like we as a district are more interested in the quantity of classes being taken by our students rather than the quality.

In my humble opinion, the county’s main goal isn’t helping all our kids to be successful, but rather it is for the district to appear to be successful (they take every opportunity to tout how we are a B district). They are forcing, with subtle pressures and threats and extra hoops that teachers have to jump through, teachers to pass children who shouldn’t be passed along. We worry so much about our graduation rates and our math and science standings in the world that we have lost sight of the true purpose of what a public k-12 education should be about and that’s to prepare children to be productive citizens once they graduate, whether that sees them continue their education or enter the job market. Instead for many all we are doing is graduating them, and doing so ill prepared or either.

If the county is interested in being honest with its grading scale it should change it and add the gentlemen’s C. I can see it now. A, for excellent, B for good, C for average, GC for I was afraid I would get fired if I failed another kid or this kid at least tries hard, D for below average and F for failing. The gentlemen’s C will at least give the kid’s next teacher and society in general a heads up on what they can expect, which sadly in many cases won’t be very much .

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