Thursday, October 29, 2009

Grade-Changing and Unintended Consequences

GothamSchools had an excellent story yesterday about a Bronx High School Principal who changed students' grades.  Color me not surprised.  This happened at my school too.  I'm unclear as to exactly who was involved -- whether it was the Principal, an Assistant Principal, or all of the administrators -- but it definitely happened.  My second year there a number of 8th graders who scarcely showed up for school and/or raised hell when they did subsequently failed in every subject.  Well, at least their teachers gave them a failing grade.  By the time the report cards reached the Dean's office, they had passing grades on them.  Why?  Two reasons:

1.) When troublesome 8th graders pass, it means the school doesn't have to deal with them next year.

2.) When a lot of students fail a grade, it looks bad for the principal -- especially given the current evaluation system in NYC.

Principals are judged on a bunch of numbers.  It makes sense to reward principals that are able to reduce discipline problems and raise academic performance in a school.  But rewarding these by looking at suspension rates and graduation rates can have unintended consequences.  In the case of my school, that meant that we stopped suspending kids in the spring so as not to make ourselves look bad and passed kids who hadn't done anything all year.  In other schools (heck, maybe my school too for all I know) it means that teachers and/or administrators bubble in answers for kids on tests.

The lesson from all this?  Beware unintended consequences.  Trying to reward certain behaviors may end up encouraging other, undesired, behaviors.

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