Failed Students: Passed Anyway!?

This baffles me. In my school (Neshaminy High School in PA) if I did poorly in a class, I failed it. Do poorly in enough classes and I got to repeat the grade or go to summer school. I hear over and over about how kids manage to graduate without even knowing how to read. Without knowing how to read. How can this be? Are teachers simply ignoring bad grades on tests and reports? Or maybe they are just grading his work in a completely skewed way? How exactly does a child who does not know how to perform his school work ever manage to get to the next grade, let alone graduate? And why are the teachers doing this allowed to continue working?

I used to teach college and have friends/know people who teach high school.

In college, if I fail a student, it is the students fault.

In K-12, if I fail a student it is my fault. I do not wish to fail and do not wish to be fired…so all students pass and I am a winner! So, your logic does not work in that teachers that stick to their guns and give failing grades are soon unemployed.

I say the above jokingly, but I have been assured that it is true for many, if not most, K-12 teachers.

Also, many schools will not allow teachers to give failing grades. Seriously.

Another possibility is that, as a K-12 teacher, if I give failing grades then the student is unhappy, admin is unhappy, parents are unhappy and so they are not overjoyed by you. You have to spend time dealing with them – tutoring and all. However, give higher grades and everyone is happy, you’re a good teacher and your quality of life is higher.

There is a difference between being functionally illiterate and totally illiterate. I haven’t seen that stats on this, but I’d imagine that most of those kids who graduate “without knowing how to read” can actually read and write a little. Not enough to be fully functional in our modern society, but perhaps enough to fake it in an overcrowded classroom at a school with low standards – and maybe even in a better environment than that. Illiterate people often go to great lengths to hide their problem because they are so ashamed of it.

Well, there are three ways that I can see right off the bat: Cheating, parents’ clout in the community, and “social promotion”.

There was a kid in my high school (not a “bad” school) who was always, always cheating off other students’ papers, generally with those students’ full permission. It was rumored that he hardly knew how to read at all. I guess that the teachers either didn’t know about it, or, if they did, they thought that, since he was already in high school, it was too late to help him. Of course, a bit ot reasons #2 and #3 could be mixed in, too.

In the schools I went to, who your parents were meant a LOT, especially if you weren’t the world’s best student. If flunking Johnny means that the teacher and the school are going to face a lawsuit, then they may just pass him along in order to avoid rocking the boat.

“Social promotion” is the idea that what grade you are in should be more of a function of your chronological age than of your academic achievements. If you are behind, you are supposed to get extra help in order to catch up to your age peers, rather than repeating the grade with kids one year younger. You can imagine how well this idea worked.

You can see why states are becoming so standardized test-happy as of late. It’s supposedly harder to cheat, and the grade is dependant upon hard numbers rather than subjective grading…probably makes a school a bit more lawsuit-proof.

I guess what I still can’t get my head around it that a teacher in K-12 gets in trouble for failing a student. Surely the staff must realize that you can’t possibly save every kid no matter how hard you work. I think what we may need is some kind of oversight to prevent this kind of thing, a federal standard of some kind. Then when bad things happen we blame mom, dad, and the kid, not the teachers.

My wife used to substitute teach. The last year she taught the English department in the local school needed a teacher for one class. They offered her the job. She had almost 30 students and only about 5 of those were capable to do the work. She failed over half of the class and in her mind this was more than should have passed. The school administration did not agree and she decided to do something she actually enjoyed.

[sup]The regular English teacher would provide the tests for her to give. One time she changed and made out her own test for the book Hounds of the Baskervilles. It had 10 questions like “Who was the killer?”. The other teacher’s test had 5 questions. When she started the test she said “This morning you will take a test of 10 questions.” Immediately she got a reaction: 5 happy faces, and 20 some shocked faces. Need I tell you how many students passed that test? It wasn’t really that many more than failed the tests supplied to her.[/sup]

Mrs. Skammer is a high school teacher and, I’m proud to say, frequently fails students. And her subject is a requirement for graduation, which means the class must be repeated (almost always with a different teacher, however).

Of course, she can show exactly why each student failed – usually a combination of no homework and poor test grades – and she also gives out a fair number of B’s and some A’s – so that so far, she’s had some unhappy stundents and parents but the administration has totally supported her.

Of course, she did get into trouble a couple of years ago for giving the students a suggested summer reading list that included a classic book with a couple of naughty words in it – but that’s a different story.

My aunt teaches at a grade school. This is one of those “bad schools.” In fact she’s been threatend with a gun (she never saw it, but the threat was still there), she has/had a bodyguard etc… that type of school) Anyways, throughout the students schooling they are only allowed to be failed a grade twice. That said, if a student failed first grade twice, then they’ll just continue to sail along until they’re done. The reason for this is that at this particualar school, the students really don’t care about anything school related. If they don’t use this rule they will (and have) end up with 16 year old kids in 6th grade that can’t read.

As a side note, one story that she told me about that always sticks in my head is about a student who she caught spitting on the back of another students neck in class. Not just spitting, but his neck was COVERED and dripping with spit. I suppose that could happen at any school, but it still kinda shows what goes on there.

A few years back the Los Angeles Unified School District announced it was giving diplomas to some thousands of students who had technically failed, mainly because they couldn’t afford to keep them.

In the Texas education system, showpiece of His Lordship, Supreme Ruler O-- um, I mean President Bush, it is possible to fail students.

However, one must have an extensive paper trail to do so. One must be able to PROVE that one attempted to work with the student, that the student steadfastly refused to do ANYTHING to improve his/her grade, that the teacher attempted to contact the parents to discuss the matter, that the matter was brought to the attention of administration, and that the teacher was teaching in an approved manner, covering approved material.

It’s okay to flunk a few kids. Flunk more than a quarter of the class, though, and you’re begging for a major investigation of YOU and YOUR classroom, teaching methods, and personality.

Even failing ONE kid can invoke this craziness, if his mommy and daddy want to make enough noise in the principal’s office.

In certain school districts, it’s even MORE fun. My wife used to teach at an inner-city school district in a major city. There were times when more than half her class should have been failing. It was made clear to her that this was not to be allowed – it would endanger the school’s standing (and funding!)

It has been said before: when a college professor fails a student, it’s the student’s fault. The professor is assumed to know what the hell he’s doing.

When a public school teacher fails a student, all hell breaks loose, because the FIRST assumption is that the teacher is somehow wrong…

America is going to blame itself to death by 2010 at this rate…

You really don’t understand the K-12 education culture do you? :wink:

What you just said is blasphemy and you would probably get fired on the spot for mentioning it publicly. Now, I’m sure many teachers think it but to say it?..

Now, you have to remember that these are children we are dealing with here. They can’t possibly fail. If they fail, it is not their fault since they are just children after all. Therefore, it must be the teacher.

What you need to understand, Bongmaster, is that most American communities do not want a good education for their students. What they want is the appearance of a good education.

To provide an actual true good, academic education would cost too much. You would have to recruit teachers that are actually in the upper half of their college class and therefore empower and pay them accordingly. You would have students failing and parents that would have to deal with this. This would cost and not look good for the community.

Much better to just give higher grades. Much cheaper, less hassle and the community looks good.

A teacher can go with the program or stick to his guns and therefore be fired as a bad teacher.

The teachers that thrive are the ones that act like they are tough graders but are not. This feeds into the illusion of providing a quality education and the community eats it up. Think about your teachers in the past to see if the ‘tough’ ones were really that tough or just good at looking that way. If you still think they were tough, how much did you study and what grade did you get?

Wang-Ka, this is common. This is the admin/community making teachers lives miserable if they fail someone. This is browbeating teachers into not flunking students, and it works. Look at the hassle you would have to go through and the assumption that you are in the wrong. Also look at the time you are taking up of the administration. Do that more than once and they will can you. Now, if you were the teacher, would you give F’s…or D’s?

Why significant other is a 5th grade teacher. She is not allowed to give a grade lower than a 65. She is also not allowed to give detentions. The end result of this is that you basically can not get in trouble for not doing homework. Even if they don’t do it, they still get a 65.

She also has several hispanic children that speak very little English. Their parents will not put them in the English as a second language program. So she is passing them when they can not read or even speak English.

Do you have a cite for this? I’d like to discuss this sort of thing at our next PTA meeting. Thanks,

When I taught college in WY, there were several schools around that never failed students. I cannot pull them off the top of my head and do not wish to condemn a school wrongly.


One school was really bad. Rocky Mountain High School. They did not fail students. To make this worse, they had over 50% of their students with straight A averages. It was very pathetic to have 4.0 GPA’s scoring below 16 on the ACT and them wondering why they didn’t get a scholarship because they were 4.0.

There were several other schools like this but Rocky Mountain comes to mind.

I know several teachers in South Dakota and they all cannot fail students as official policy.

Now, I know many other teachers in other areas that are allowed to fail students but do not dare, much like TexasSpur’s SO. Yes, you can fail students but, if you do, they put your life through hell and may fire you if you do it twice. This is defacto not allowing teachers to fail students.

Trinity High School, in Dickinson ND, does not allow F’s. In fact, they have a ‘list’ of students who make it through the first two years with all A’s. If a student makes ‘the list’, all hell will break out on any teacher that doesn’t give that student an A.

Now, disclaimer that things may have changed between my last being updated and today but I believe these sorts of things are widespread.

Beelzebubba you need to find out if teachers are ‘punished’ for failing students. Do this by asking what is the process of what happens when a student fails. If they answer by saying they examine the teacher for flaws (though they won’t phrase it that way…), then your school has this policy. A teacher doesn’t wish to be examined in this way and so quickly learns to not fail students. Ones that do not will be canned by the admin because they do not wish to spend their time examining teachers this way.

Should say “My significant other” not "Why … "

I fun fact:

Rocky Mountain High School graduated a retarded (what’s the PC term?) student with a 4.0 average. There was nothing on his transcript to denote that this was special ed.

The English Department, crumbling to pressure from the community to not weight SAT and ACT scores so much, granted scholarships purely by high school GPA. We math/science types resisted as usual.

The English department then admitted a very retarded student into their program with a top academic scholarship. It made papers statewide and some national newscasts. They never ommitted SAT and ACT again :wink:

My fiancee teaches at a middle school where kids cannot be left behind (take the same grade next year). She can give failing grades, but it doesn’t really matter since the kid moves to the next grade level anyway, regardless of their scores.

Also, the principal at her school will do whatever parents want. God forbid a parent complains that you gave their kid detention as you’ll then never be able to discipline that kid again. If that parent is a school board member you’ll probably end up getting fired. A colleague of hers got fired because she cut the child of a board member from the soccer team, and another one is currently in a lot of trouble for giving detention to a board member’s kid.

They also have these IEP things (individual education plans), that can be set up by any parent. It basically gives rules about how you can teach certain students. For example, she has some students that she’s not allowed to take points off for spelling because it’s in their IEP.

In short, it’s exactly what andymurph64 was saying. They want the kids to have good grades, but who cares if they actually learn anything. I would not want to be a teacher at that school.

Part of the problem is that successful education is intangible. ITs not like a factory that makes x number of widgets that can be inventoried and confirmed.
Proving it exists or does not exist is up to the student. Since the teacher is rarely questioned on positive results (since we all like positive results) and there is no real penalty for a false positive, you get…good results. The day they start firing teachers and administrators for passing people who can’t read, you will see a whole new attitude.

Like any employee, you will get results that reflect what you reward as an employer. The more unrealistic your demands, the more unrealistic your expected results will be.

This concept should sound REAL FAMILIAR to anyone working in a large company. Head honchos sometimes demand results that violate laws of physics. So rather than call them a barking lunatic, you say “Yes sir, I’m on it sir” do your best, and fudge that extra 2% production since you will have it caught up by the time anyone actually looks.

Kinda seems to come down to a combination of ignorance is bliss and nobody publishes negative results.

I often wonder if there would be a market for an investigative firm that planted people in positions where this type of abuse of authority was occurring just to bring civil suits against the employers in question. Since the plants are technically employed by the firm, they have no fear of punishment for honest behavior. Since they are there for a reason it would be easier for them to do things like document threats over dishonest results. Wire them, have hidden cameras/recording devices in their rooms. Do it up right like a real undercover operation. A couple headlines later and administration would be terrified of firing a new teacher for failing.

Any legal dopers heard of a teacher successfully suing a parent for filing a BS complaint that got the teacher fired.