The AJC recently published an article on certain schools and systems do not retain students automatically after failing the CRCT. This sort of ‘window dressing’ coverage doesn’t really give the issue the depth it requires, but it does allow the reader to come to an easy conclusion: that public schools are not doing their job.
I’ve sat in on these meetings. They can be heart breaking, angering, depressing, and uplifting all within a couple of minutes. So let me go through and debunk a couple of critiques that usually arise when something like this comes up.
1) It’s social promotion. While no school or system will admit they socially promote students, that phrase itself is too loaded. If the student has extensive disciplinary problems (more specifically, physical altercations), retaining means keeping a student that might be a danger to other students in the building/classroom. Imagine you are the parent of an 4’6″, 80-pound, 11-year old boy in 6th grade that comes home to find out that you child has been beat up by a 16-year old, twice retained, 8th grader who looks like a middle linebacker. The word lawsuit comes to mind. The phrase ‘social promotion’ makes you think that they are kept with students their age out of convenience to the school and failing student, but in reality, if it does occur, it is usually due to a concern for rising students.
2) Where was the teacher, or why wasn’t something done sooner? Right there in the classroom. Teaching the other 20-30 students. When a student begins to fail consistently (the occasional F happens), there is a procedure in place to assist those students. It is called Response to Intervention, or RTI for short. RTI’s origin comes from students being categorized too quickly as a candidate for special education. Now, it is used for most students who struggle throughout the year. RTI strategies do not alter the amount or difficulty of the course work, but use methods that are easier for the student to process and might point out an obvious weakness. The problem is that RTI is a committee decision. If the student struggles in one subject, let’s use social studies, but not the others, the committee generally decides to remove the student. Math, on the other hand, is a high attention area. This can lead to students being left on RTI for math concerns, when there is no problem in the other subjects. This leads to a larger workload for teachers who have to document… that there is nothing to see here. Additionally, RTI is a federal mandate. The time period for gathering information can be as long as a quarter. If the problem was not identified until the first couple of unit tests have passed and the student truly does have a disability, it might be January before the special education services take effect.
3) Pull them out and give them special attention. While one-on-one attention does happen in the classroom when possible, the reality is that depending on where the student is along the RTI (or even on it) and special education spectrum, it could be illegal. Teachers are not lawyers. Nor should they be. Plus, who is going to pull them out? If the students are lucky to be in an inclusion classroom (one with special education students imbedded, and usually at least one additional teacher/paraprofessional), then they might be able to get the one-on-one or small group attention they need. If the teacher is flying solo, there is no one else.
4) It’s the CRCTs fault. Yes and no. While I believe the CRCT is highly-flawed, it is the tool we have and it usually confirms what the teachers already knew. Out of the 101 students on my roster, I accurately predicted the three that did not pass based on my grades. Once a year, there is the student that catches the teacher by surprise, especially in Math and Reading. These students were doing fine until the end of the year, and then suddenly, they failed that portion of the CRCT. So many factors can come into play in cases like these that it is impossible to make a complete list, but some examples I’ve seen are: a fight on the bus on the way to school, the student is very sick*, the student misses one answer or (even worse) double answers a question on the scoring sheet marking all the remaining answers incorrect. *Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, is also based upon attendance during testing, not just scores. In schools with a high transient population (no right-wingers, not just illegals), getting students to attend is a big issue. Sometimes parents will send a student to school at the detriment of the student.
5) It’s the parent/teacher’s fault. Again, depends on the case. I’ve seen students go all the way through the special education process, only to have the mother say in the last meeting that her child was “just lazy.” You want to scream, pull your hair out, call DFACs. But you can’t. Ma’am, your child meticulously completes the homework and class work and yet still bombs every test… that is not lazy. There is something wrong, which I as a regular education teacher cannot diagnose or give needed attention to. But there is no convincing them and sometimes they are right (sadly, not in that case). The counterpoint is that there are some bad teachers out there… well, fewer after this last round of RIFs. At what point does a teacher have to move on to balance the needs of the class over the one struggling student. Since a classroom is an island, it is hard to say if that teacher did or did not give as much effort as they could to that student before moving on. On both counts an overwhelming majority of parent and teachers are diligent and committed, but now and again, there are the bad apples.
6) Kids are lazy (aka “In my day). This is actually the worst, and yet, most persistent characterization. Since the dawn of man we have been doomed because the next generation is lazy. Thinking back, of the students I’ve discussed in those meetings, most would fall under this category. Lazy, however, is not accurate; uninterested is. I was. I experienced my personal version of this as a high school student. My parents insisted that I take two math courses every year of high school (one on level, the other a grade above) and every year I withdrew from the higher course, only to see my grades improve in the lower. By my senior year, I quit trying to convince them, and proceeded to barely pass Trigonometry, while getting a 12 in Calculus for the year… out of 100. The integrated math curriculum mentioned in the article is just like that on steroids. At what point is it ok not to be a math genius? The answer: After high school in Georgia. Vocational Education is nearly dead in Georgia, and for that matter, those who are not interested in math are seeing their futures squandered by the false notion that everybody needs to be an engineer.
So what is the solution? I laid a lot of it out when I ran for Georgia House, but why not, I am on a roll.
1) Raise taxes specifically for education… heck, let’s just start with actually paying our taxes. As of right now, education funding is probably the only math I wish to even look at, but from a layman’s perspective, it is convoluted and confusing. Short answer is that while most of our budget does go to education, a sizable portion gets diverted into the ever present fishing pond… or worse a Kia plant where we paid through the nose to get the jobs and half the workers live and pay property taxes in Alabama.
2) Hire more teachers… but not just to lower class sizes. These new teachers need to be able to create new ‘remediation’ classes as soon as a problem arises. Those students will work to get out of that class… peer pressure can work wonders at times. Mind you, these are not special education classrooms, but specific to those who are struggling. Before the problems crop up (first 3-4 weeks), place them in classes that need them the most. In all my reading and studying of education, I have never seen a school take an approach like that. There simply isn’t the money.
3) Get rid of the ‘graduation coaches.’ Oh wait, they already did. If they are still out there or come back, reassign them to the elementary level. Modify those position to be… wait for it… parenting coaches. Name them that and there will be all hell to pay. But in reality, those people need to be actively engaging parents about the importance of their child’s education in the community. As of now, that job is split between an overworked principal and a PTA, many of whom have jobs. If it is obvious to you that a child’s education is important, then you don’t need this person. But there are those who do.
4) Reintroduce real vocational education. This isn’t just for the lower performing schools. There are plenty of students all over who learn by doing. Worried about losing graduation coaches… this fills that gap.
5) Stop this math madness. Yes, we need better performing math students, but not everybody gets to be an astronaut when they grow up. We call those people: lawyers, teachers, all types of business professionals, police officers, graphic artists, etc., etc.. You get the point. There needs to be a two, maybe even three, tiered math education system in place. Know what I never was taught in those math classes (that I would remember)? How to balance a checkbook, calculate interest on a credit card or mortgage payment, or do my taxes.
On a personal note, the AJC article pretty much narrows down who that student’s teacher was. I know her. She was my neighbor. I remember getting together with her and her husband, and we would proceed to bore the hell out of our spouses with conversation about school. I remember when she started to cry because she tried so damn hard with her kids, but a couple did not pass the CRCT. Mind you, she taught reading in 8th grade, when most students have qualified and started to take a foreign language. She loved and enjoyed working with her kids every day. I saw the preparation she put into her classroom and the deft and creativity she used in crafting real, and I’m not over stepping when I say this, ground-breaking methods of developing reading curriculum. I even took her curriculum to my administrators when they were looking to modify how to supplement reading at my school. I said it was one of the best things I had ever seen. If I ever have a child with a reading disability, she is the first person I am going to. Yeah, I never saw her in the classroom, but I would bet my life that she did her job. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the student did his, but still failed that one day on the reading portion of the state constructed CRCT. And that is where we fail our children in Georgia, not in the classroom, but at the state level.
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