Failed Students: Passed Anyway!?

last bit should be “terrified of firing a firing a new teacher for failing students”

Oh my. Where to begin. One of the greatest ironies of school is that just about everyone has spent vast quantities of time in one, but so few people understand what actually goes on there.

First, background: I am a Texas public school teacher with eleven years’ experience. I have worked in elementary, middle, and high schools. Currently, I am in my fifth year with my current employer. I work with students in three out of my district’s four campuses. I have worked in two other districts before this one.

In all of the above posts, I have read the complaints and concerns of these people. Many of these concerns have some validity. Unfortunately, I have read no SOLUTIONS!

Here’s what I mean:

Our previous imperious ruler, GW Bush, decreed that there shall be no “social promotion” across the land. Our legislature complied (the Texas governor has little real power to decree anything) and so this became the law of the land. If a third grader does not pass portions of next year’s TAKS test (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills), then he cannot be promoted to fourth grade. There are certain requirements for extra help, tutoring, remedial (now called “accelerated”) teaching, etc. The upshot is that the child will be held back.


Joe Third-grader has taken the TAKS each time it was offered in third grade. He failed.

Now what? You’ve done your tutoring, etc. He’s still flunking the test. He’s now a year older than his peers. You remediate (or accelerate) to your heart’s content. He’s still failing. He’s now two years older than his grade. Eventually, he’ll be twelve years old in third grade. He’ll soon be driving to third grade. Our little third grader will be dating (other third graders???). Still believe there is no place for social promotion? Fine, but what do you do with this guy? There seems to be no room in the law for what to do. (Please note that I am familiar with, but not an expert in, Texas Education Code. There may be details I am overlooking.)

Now, about teachers being terrified or, or prohibit from, failing students. You all (Y’all) seem to be assuming that these are all extrinsic problems. The principal, parents, board, town, whatever, are all leaning on you to pass this undeserving child. I assure you that none of this compares to the pressure you place upon yourself. Teachers (the good ones anyway), constantly ask themselves “What could I do differently?” “How can I reach this child?” “How do I help them learn?” “Why doesn’t he/she/they understand?” The teacher bears and feels this responsibility. It is important and the teacher knows it. It is possible that the teacher is making a mistake. The teacher will ask himself/herself this. What would you do? "I’m going to (potentially) ruin this child’s life. Is it all his fault, or do I bear any of the blame? Do not blame a teacher for giving a child (and they are children) the benefit of the doubt.

I really have more to say, but I must go. My class is about to begin. I’ll look in on y’all after school today.

Be good, and remember, NO GUM IN THE BAND HALL!!! :smiley:

I’m picking up what you’re putting down, Drum God, and you have some very valid points.

I do believe, though, deep in my idealistic little heart, that some of the problems mentioned here lend themselves to finding solutions; one that I can think of right off the top of my head is to fix the administration end of it so that principals back up teachers without fear of reprisal. I think if teachers and principals in the same building presented as a unified force, certain parental complaints could be successfully combatted and the cases where grade-repeating would be of help to a borderline child could be successfully implemented.

As for Johnny-Can’t-Do-It mentioned in your post who does not get promoted regardless of efforts to get him to master the material, I have no answers for that one.

Yuppers. I’ve brought up this point many times with people in RL. Bad education policies affect the student and only becomes apparent many years down the road if ever. Little Joey may have become a doctor if he had the right teachers. He didn’t and we’ll never know. Now, flunking students has real bad implications on the teacher so…flunk and get fired/reprimanded/thought-a-bad-teacher or just pass him and avoid it? Since false positives are not quickly realized, teachers will err that way.

Drum God makes good points with social promotion.

I am not against social promotion. In fact, there needs to be social promotion. Consider an 11 year old who would normally graduate at 17/18 years old. If he flunks 3 times, he will be 20/21 at graduation.

Think about it. Do you want your 14 year old daughter to be going to school with 21 year olds or even your 17 year old going to school with 21 year olds? This is adults going to high school with children. Same issues crop up with 12 year old fourth graders.

Furthermore, when is this child an adult? Are parents obligated to support their 21 year old Sophomore as if he was still a child in high school? Does the community need to keep paying for their education and for how long? 19? 21? 30??

There needs to be social promotion. However, the whole thing is fubar.

The American ideal of always focusing on the lower end students and ‘not leaving a child behind’, while very noble, is not compatable with academic excellence. Teachers will have to teach so that the slowest have a large possibilty of passing and social promotion is a plus. The idea of allowing someone to flunk twice, or thrice, and throwing them out runs against American values. However, to have those values means you must give up academic excellence.

Unless, of course, you can send you child to an elite private school. Flunk a couple times there and they can kick you out to the public system.

read ‘social promotion is a plus’ to be ‘social promotion is a necessity’

IF a student can’t break out of the third grade maybe he/she is not uh equipped for the mainstream classroom. Alternative programs would be more appropriate than the slippery slope 18 y/o 3rd grader.

Well the thing is, they don’t fire you because of that. But you’ll notice that after the incident, they (the administrators) start making life hard on the teacher or they start writing the teacher up for things that normally aren’t a big deal (just so they can get those bad marks against them). Eventually they have the legal grounds for termination or the teacher gets fed up and quits. So it would probably be hard to prove abuse of authority.

The thing is, they do it because the administrators are afraid of losing their own jobs by not making the board/parents happy. They won’t back the teachers at all. I think if the administrators and teachers could work together as a team that would be a nice start.

I will also support those who seek a middle ground for social promotion. I believe, most firmly, that children should be with others their own age. I also believe, most firmly, that children should not be advanced unless they have passed. The answer, of course, is continuation school. In my old school, continuation school was where they sent the kids who were being expelled; I think such a school for all of a district’s underacheivers would do everyone a lot of good. If you make it to 16 or 18 and you still haven’t made it to your proper grade level - screw it. Get a job.

Many of the things you cited could establish a pattern of disciplining only the teachers who were having “files built” against (which IIRC is very illegal). When you are disciplined for little stuff nobody else gets hit you are not being treated equally, if the pattern appeard after Johnny Mydadsontheschoolboard got an F from his english teacher, you can probably nail them.

Please don’t interpret my remarks as meaning that problems in public education have no solutions. There are solutions to many of these issues. The challenge is to find them and then implement them.

Sadly, Texas is now governed by an administration that has publicly said that our problems (in education and otherwise) are too difficult to be solved. (looked for the cite, but couldn’t find it. Yes, he really said that :rolleyes: )

My problem with the prohibition on social promotion is that the law doesn’t suggest what to do with these kids. It requires all of this tutoring, etc. (my favorite is “accelerated learning” for slow kids), but there is no provision for what to do when all else fails. And all else will fail with some kids.

Then we get to the TAKS test itself. Let’s see the damage done with these tests. (Mods: this relates to the OP in that the question was asked “How do kids pass without mastering the material?”) The TAKS test holds students to the lowest possible standard. The teachers and administrators must do everything they can to make sure their little students get at least a 70 on the test. Therefore, a 70 is about all you get. In other words, it is better for twenty students to 70’s than for two students to get 95’s and the rest get 68’s. This also sends the message that 70 is good enough, ignoring the fact that it’s really meaning that almost a third of the curriculum is not mastered.

So let’s raise the standard (which is what Texas has done with the adoption of the new TAKS tests to replace the old TAAS tests). People don’t seem to understand that, the more difficult the test, the fewer people pass it. It is a direct correlation. If everyone passed, the test would be too easy. If everyone fails, it’s too hard. We seem to be somewhat schizophrenic in deciding what we want the test to do. It seems that everyone expects to live in Lake Wobegon – where all the children are above average. How many people don’t even get Keillor’s joke?

Nametag makes an interesting suggestion with continuation school. Who will pay for this? Our legislature hasn’t funded anything like this. Not exactly, anyway. They do supply copious funds to the Texas Department of Corrections, but I imagine that’s not quite what you meant.

I am fortunate that I work in a district where the admin and the teachers do work together (mostly) as a team. I have worked in schools where that was not the case, so I do know the difference. However, with any team, there is a boss/employee relationship. My principal is the boss and it is my job to do what he tells me to do. However, Texas law does not allow a principal to tell me how to grade a class (provided that all the students are graded in accordance with the law (race, sex, eco status, etc.)).

I know I’ve mentioned Texas often, even though not everyone here lives in Texas. The thing is, in the USA, public education is a function of the several states. Therefore, laws, policies, and procedures vary widely as you travel from state to state. That’s why I laugh when presidential candidates carry on about their education policy. It gives them a chance to say that they love children and support tougher standards and more money, yadda, yadda. In fact, the President of the United States has next-to-nothing to do with public education.

Enough for now. I’ll see y’all in Great Debates.

Reading my post, it seems I strayed a bit from the OP. I get a bit worked up sometimes. Sorry.


In thirty years of teaching, I failed a number of students, including a child of a board member. I passed many more, because they were competent in the material.

In my second year of teaching, I was asked to attend a parent conference where the student had been given a zero on a major test. The parent (who was an instructor in the local college) said that I took the test away from the student and wadded it up before throwing it in the waste basket. The principal asked me why I did that, and very strongly implied that I should reassign the grade.

I reached in my folder and took out the student’s test. No wrinkles or any evidence of wadding it up. I put the test on the principal’s desk, and said that he needed to think about who he put his faith in…a parent looking to change their child’s grade, or the teacher.

Didn’t have any problems from then on. But sadly, there were teachers in my high school that were pressured to give fewer low grades. Even though I was one of the strictest teachers, my students got what they earned, and I was never again pressured to give any particular grade.

I should add that in California it is illegal for the administration to attempt to change a teacher’s assigned grade…but pressure is applied in subtle ways to some teachers by administrators. I refused to allow students to cheat (if I caught them) or take tests over if they were caught cheating, even though counselors and administrators would try to get me to do so.

I blame Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid movies, and his “No such thing as bad student; only bad teacher.”

It is wrong too. There are such things as bad students. Great teachers can sometimes change the students ways, but some people you just can’t reach.

I had plenty of teachers all through school that did wonders with me trying to get me to care. None of them worked. I just simply did not care. (at the time of course) Many students are this way because of parental influence and social expectations. Nothing to do with the teacher being a bad teacher or not.

Of course everybody thinks that because some of the best teachers in the nation have accomplished amazing things that all teachers should be able to do this. Nobody realizes that these are the top % of teachers. (If only every football player was as good as the top %…) I would say that even the best teacher in the world cannot reach everybody. Therefore it is that students fault, not the teacher. (could be the parents or the friends as well as the student though)

I used to teach psychology full-time at the community college level many moons ago, and I still teach on a part-time basis today. Many of my students were very capable of doing college-level work, and I enjoyed working with them. The sad part was that I got many students who were recipients of high school diplomas that had been handed to them without earning them. The semester wore on, and these students failed more quizzes and exams, failed to turn in assignments and demonstrated on more than one occasion that more often than not they couldn’t do the very basics (read or write, express themselves verbally). I stated many times than I was available for questions and help as they needed it, yet typically only the better students availed themselves of this offer. But many of the poorer students came to me at the end of the semester, expecting me to pass them anyway. Sorry, but that action is simply not in my repertoire.

Sometimes, I got the school’s athletes knocking on my office door, telling me I had to pass them because next semester was their “season.” Sorry (and yes, the coaches did knock on my door as well). Sometimes, students came to me saying, “My parents are going to kill me!” Sorry. Sometimes, students came to me saying they were going to lose their financial aid. Sorry. I had one students show up, offering sexual favors in exchange for a passing grade. Double-sorry.

Our current educational system is promoting manipulation and ignorance by the use of the social promotion system, IMHO. The teachers are usually NOT the ones to blame… we have tens of thousands of superb teachers whose hands are tied by administrative red tape. School is a place to teach and learn, but you would frequently never know that. My son goofed off the first two years he was in high school, and he managed to earn a grand total of 2.5 credits those two years. Yet they would have passed him anyway, I’m pretty sure. I put him in a charter school that was set up to have the kids focus intensely on two classes at a time, instead of 6 classes. He took the same basic curriculum, but he did so much better being permitted to stay focused. He was almost 20 when he graduated (yes, he had to earn all the credits he screwed away those first two years in regular high school), but I have never seen him so proud as he was the day he got that diploma.

I’m tired of parents being part of the problem too, rather than part of the solution. Too many parents run to administration when their kid isn’t doing well and often blame the teachers. “Hey, so my kid is on drugs and he never shows up for class and he doesn’t do the work and he’s a total pain in the ass… but you should pass him because I said so.” I would love to be a fly on the wall in one of those homes. No discipline, no expectation of personal responsibility. Fast forward 5 years… Mom and Dad confront Junior’s first employer. “Hey, so my kid is on drugs and he never shows up for work and he doesn’t do his job duties and he’s disrespectful of authority and customers… but you should pay him and not fire him because I said so.” Yeah, right.

We pride ourselves on being such a world power. But with the number of illiterate young people being given diplomas because they are enrolled in a school system, we rank very low in educational quality. Our educational system is a joke in the eyes of the world. Sad, indeed.

I have actually had this happen to me as a manager… It took every once of dicipline I had not to laugh at this kids mom.

Sometimes I wonder if there is a way to better create a kind of school = job type of mentality. If you want to work fast food/unskilled labor all your life, we just let you out after 8th grade and not waste our time on you.

IIRC France has a system similar to this (or so I was taught when I was taking french in HS). It almost sounded like the Highschools were run like private colleges that you had to apply to, pass tests and pay for.

Just another data point: My mom retired just this past year from the Cleveland Public Schools. She was allowed to flunk as many students as she liked… With parental consent. And yes, there were one or two cases where the parent(s) did actually say “Yes, it’d be best for my child if he/she repeat this grade”, but you can imagine that that’s not very common. By the same token, the only diciplinary action she was allowed to take was to send a note to the parents.

sigh I remember a family we used to live next to with a son who was my brother’s age (in fact, their birthdays were a week apart). After much handwringing, my parents decided it would be best if my brother started kindergarden a year later than usual. The neighbor’s son (who exhibited the same sort of late-bloomer characteristics) was put in kindergarden that year.

My brother went on to do well when he was in kindergarden and thereafter. The neighbor’s son failed every year. When the school said they wouldn’t pass him, his mother went up there and made a scene so they would give him all D’s and pass him. Her son is basically illiterate now.

If the school had refused to budge on the issue, this entire mess could’ve been sorted out in kindergarden or first grade, and perhaps the boy would be at least functionally literate.

This all happened in Prince George’s County, Maryland, which has been going through a cataclysmic battle between the school superintendent and the school board that ended with the dissolution of the school board. Every time the superintendent (Iris Metts) tried to implement positive changes, they fought her tooth and nail the entire way in an effort to preserve the old, dysfunctional system. I’m going off-topic, so I’ll stop here.