Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Memo to Mark Roosevelt

To: Mark Roosevelt, Superintendent, Pittsburgh Public Schools
CC: Dr. Jerri Lynn Lippert, Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development, and Mary Van Horn, Vice President Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers
From: Corey Bunje Bower, concerned citizen
Re: Percentage for Failing Grade 'E'

I'm concerned about the memo of 22 September stating that "no percentages below 50% should be recorded regardless of actual percent earned below 50%." I'm sure you're well aware that the policy is quite controversial, and I hope you're also well aware how much the policy has upset teachers in your district. As the leader of the district it is your responsibility to create policies that will aid in the education of the children of Pittsburgh and implement them in such a way that progress will not be halted. In creating and implementing this policy, you have failed in both of these regards.

Grading has never been an exact science, but you have willfully created a grading system that is even less valid and more unfair. The memo has some reasons behind the policy listed under bullet points. One of the bullet points reads "Not Grade Inflation . . ." That this defensively worded statement was included indicates to me that somebody knows something is wrong. Students are now in a situation where scoring 10% and 50% on a test are equivalent. This means that if Student A scores 10% and 80% on two tests that he will have a higher test average than Student B who scores 50% and 75%. In other words, many of the grades assigned under the system will be illogical. How is a teacher supposed to explain that a student who got 2 out of 10 questions on quiz correct received the same grade as a student who got 4 out of 10 correct? And how is a math teacher supposed to explain that 2/10 and 4/10 both equal 50%?

I understand that you don't want students to be in a position where there's nothing they can do to pass. But by making it nearly impossible to put oneself in that position you've created a situation where students know that no matter what they do they can always find a way to pass a class. This means that students can walk into a classroom, declare that they're not doing any work that day -- they'll do some at the end of the semester -- but ask that the teacher make sure to record their 50 for the day. If you don't think this is happening in Pittsburgh's classrooms right now then I suggest you learn more about said classrooms.

Perhaps even worse than the policy itself is the way in which it was implemented. Since you have never worked in a school before, I recommend that you spend some time inside them talking with the faculty and staff. Before releasing the next policy memo, try to put yourself in their shoes. It's bad enough that you're creating bad policy, but you're rubbing salt in the wound by sending out directives from above a month into the school year. How do you expect a teacher to react to such a directive? What choice do they have but to view you as woefully out of touch? You cannot possibly be an effective leader while teachers view you this way. And without an effective leader, the prospects for progress in Pittsburgh look grim.

3 comments:

Stephen said...

I think they should just do away with numerical grading altogether and just grade students on how they dress. Really, it wouldn't be any more illogical.

mary e. said...

I have problems with this policy as well. Much of learning builds. Shouldn't there be some accountability(make up/retest/something?) for failed material if you intend to give a 50%. What about the practice of throwing out each student's lowest test grade? It would be across the board and offer each student a break instead of discouraging serious students.

mary e. said...

I have problems with this policy as well. Much of learning builds. Shouldn't there be some accountability(make up/retest/something?) for failed material if you intend to give a 50%? What about the practice of throwing out each student's lowest test grade? It would be across the board and offer each student a break instead of discouraging serious students.