One of the hardest concepts for many well-meaning parents and legislators is that giving a child a free ride through high school is not an act of love. It is a destructive choice by an uncaring administrator that serves just one purpose – it protects the administrator’s position by preventing the school from recording a low passing rate that would risk state sanctions. It has nothing to do with “helping” the child.
Jacqueline Goodwin, a retired high school LOTE teacher from New York, shares her experiences with forced promotion as another submission selected by our panel as an excellent candidate to be included in the 2nd edition of Lifting the Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education. Her excellent piece follows this commentary.
Ironically, that same principal, or head of guidance, or dean, who forced a teacher to change that failure to a D-minus, ends up shooting themselves in the foot – for it makes the school’s position steadily get even worse. The child “passes” one grade, but comes back the next year with an even a more serious education deficit.
And for the child, forced promotions take away the one chance that student had to turn things around and begin to earn good results. You see – the cynical view of that administrator who changes a teachers grade is paramount to saying a phrase all teachers would abhor – “…this one’s too dumb to pass on her own, so let’s just move her along each year until we can get rid of her after graduation.”
In so doing, the child has been put on a cycle of failure that will dominate their entire life. And at the same time, the teacher is crushed by being prevented from doing what we have spent our lives trying to do – teach and help children.
And it doesn’t have to be that way! I know – been there, done that, and watched “dumb” children earn (repeat: EARN) Bs and As at the CP level after failing the first term of a tough math course. I’ve seen the pattern again and again, in my classes and in the classes of many good teachers. The child would fail term one expecting an “extra credit pack” to pull up their grade to passing, but I would give none. They expected help during tests to answer questions, only to hear my stock reply “That’s what I’m testing to see if you know.” They expected do-overs on tests or outright grade changes.
Notice a theme here? t’s the word “expect!” Kids are smart! They quickly learn the game, and that the school will pass them. They all expect it! So we have another unintended consequence that leads to a cycle of failure. The principal forces a promotion, children learn about it, children now expect a forced grade change, the minority of children without supportive parents stop working in class, they fail – and guess what – their grade is changed as expected.
But in my classes, when they still failed after all I would do to help them in class, assigning a student to team with them during class, and meeting them before or after school, I would let them fail! I refused to let administrators change their grade (and, of course, paid the price for that by being labeled a “troublemaker”). The child who failed would run to guidance asking to be moved out of my class. Guidance would refuse because they knew what always happened in my classes. Then the miracle happened – time after time after time. In term two the child started to work. By term three they were earning Bs and As and prouder than ever in their school lives. In term 4 they were down in guidance asking to be in my class again next year.
If you recently joined this blog and never saw it, please look at an earlier piece that shows something the principal who forced the grade change seems to have forgotten – children, even today, love the feeling of earned pride when they master a challenge, and they are easily smart enough to get there if we give them the chance to first fail so they can turn it around. Please look at: Children don’t want to learn anymore – NOT!
A free ride through high school is not an act of love.
Here is Jacqueline’s experience with forced promotions. Like all good teachers, she “gets it.” That forced grade change is a hurtful act wrapped in a false label of “helping.”
Children being cheated out of their education when teachers are forced to pass students who should be allowed to fail, restart, and then succeed
Settling for the map instead of the territory – this is the principle passed on to our students when educators are pressured to allow extra credit assignments and retakes of assessments. In certain cases this is a necessary and compassionate action, but for the most part the practice defeats the purpose and integrity of our education system. For it implies that only the grade matters.
And this philosophy affects all students–both the overachievers, where grades impact college selection and potential scholarships, as well as the under-achievers who simply need the grade so they can graduate. Extra-credit and test retakes send a message that it doesn’t matter what you learn and understand as long as you attain a certain grade.
The long-term picture must be considered if the current system is to produce contributing and productive members of society. When a student is promoted without an understanding of the materials–due to an inflated grade achieved by supplemental assignments–he or she is unprepared for success at the new level. This perpetuates the “need” for the crutch of extra credit assignments as well as the expectation that they will be permitted.
The act of pressuring teachers to continually allow additional credit is based on distrust of the system and students – distrust that neither the system nor students can achieve what they have set out to do – to educate and to be educated.
Education is much more than a number, just as the territory is much more than the map.