Should We Have D’s?

Georgia did away with the D in its public schools a long time ago.  The reason I know this is that when I moved to Georgia as a junior in high school, which was almost exactly twenty years ago, I had a D in biology on my transcript, and my counselor explained that because it was a passing grade where I came from, the Georgia school to which I was transferring would consider it a passing grade; however, he let me know that grades below 70 were failing grades in Georgia.  I guess that means if you go by the old dictum that A’s are excellent, B’s are above average, C’s are average, and F’s are failing, then in Georgia, you drop from average work to failing work if you find yourself on the other side of that 70.

Private schools, however, are free to retain the D, and my school uses the A-F +/- grading scale.  I have to say that having worked with both scales, I believe the D has merit.  There is a gap between average performance and failing performance, and I think the D serves that gap well.  Below average.  The warning before you fail.  The impetus to do better.  It’s a nice cushion for the students, and I think it might prevent grade inflation.  I am almost sure a chemistry teacher in high school gave me a 70 I didn’t earn because I worked hard, was generally quiet, and turned in all my assignments.  I just had a very hard time with the subject.  I can’t really say my knowledge of chemistry was average as high school student.  It was probably below average.  Maybe it’s just me, but I see a difference between doing average work and doing failing work.

What do you think, though?  Do D’s serve a purpose?  Is Georgia wrong to delete the D?

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Twiggs County Schools Reinstating Corporal Punishment

Twiggs County Schools, a small system in Middle Georgia, is reinstating corporal punishment.  As a first year teacher, I taught English at Twiggs County High School.  They definitely had a major problem with discipline at that time.  In fact, I’ve never seen anything more insane in my life.  However, violence in the form of gang activity was already a huge part of the students’ lives.  I’m not sure what Twiggs needs to do to fix their discipline problem, but I’m not sure hitting kids is going to have the effect they’re after.

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Georgia’s CRCT

When 40% of an individual teacher’s students fail a standardized test, I imagine the teacher would be scrutinized, and rightly so. Whatever I think of standardized tests, 40% of a teacher’s students shouldn’t fail one, or something’s wrong with the teacher’s instruction. If 40% of a school’s students failed a standardized test, the school might be sanctioned depending on other factors — part of making Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) for NCLB means schools must maintain or even improve their pass rates for standardized tests. If schools fail to make AYP, a series of sanctions will follow, from losing funds to faculty “reorganization.” Again, if 40% of students at a school fail a test, there is something wrong with the school’s instruction.

But what if 40% of students in an entire state fail a test that they must pass in order to go to high school?

Unofficial results indicate that 40% of Georgia’s 8th grade students failed the math portion of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT), the main standardized test used in Georgia to meet NCLB requirements regarding testing. Last year, about 19% of students failed the math portion of the test. Students must pass this section of the CRCT in order to proceed to high school. Some are blaming the new math curriculum, while others are saying the test must be poorly constructed. I can’t say, not having seen it. I asked my daughter, who took it, and she says she believed she passed, as she thought students at her school who didn’t were instructed to see the counselor, and she was given no such instruction. She has been an A-student in math all year, so I shouldn’t have cause to worry, but the fact that 40% of students failed the test worries me.

The news regarding social studies was even worse. Less than 30% of 6th and 7th graders passed the social studies portion of the CRCT. Again, results like this for one teacher or one school can be explained, but for a whole state? Especially troubling to me are reports from students that they were asked questions about material they hadn’t learned. How could that happen on a “criterion-referenced” test?

I know the perception exists that Georgia schools are universally backward, but after having graduated from a Georgia school and watching my children in Georgia schools, I have to say that like everywhere else, Georgia has good schools and poor schools. A pertinent quote from the New Georgia Encyclopedia entry on Public Education:

The Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) is a college entrance exam often used to compare the performance of high school students among states and among school districts within a state. In 2003 Georgia students averaged 984 (combined verbal and math scores) on the SAT, compared with a national average score of 1026. When SAT scores are used to compare states, Georgia usually finishes near the bottom. The College Board, which administers the SAT, cautions against the use of SAT scores for this purpose, because the population of students taking the SAT in each state varies considerably. In some states, most students take a different test, the American College Testing [sic] (ACT). In those states, students who take the SAT generally have strong academic backgrounds and plan to apply to some of the nation’s most selective colleges and scholarship programs. For example, in 2002 there were nearly 54,000 Georgia students who took the SAT. In contrast, only 1,900 Iowa students took the SAT. (As a point of reference, Georgia had more than 72,000 high school graduates in 2002, while Iowa had nearly 34,000 high school graduates.)

My point in bringing this up is that I think it’s unfair to dismiss problems with the CRCT with a blanket generalization like “Georgia’s just got bad schools.”

So what happened, I wonder?

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Clayton County Schools to Lose SACS Accreditation

The Southern Association of Colleges and School (SACS), the chief accreditation agency here in Georgia, is recommending that Clayton County Schools lose its accreditation. The AJC article linked focuses on the fact that loss of accreditation would strip Clayton students of HOPE Scholarship eligibility. At any rate, the real losers in this system are the students and teachers. I interviewed for a teaching post in Clayton County right out of college, and I’ve never been so glad I didn’t get a job. The stories I’ve heard from teachers in that system are upsetting. What do you do to fix an entire school district that is “fatally flawed”?

Update, 3/24/08: I know this issue makes many people angry, but I must remind you to read the comments policy before submitting comments.

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Georgia’s New Graduation Requirements

Georgia is making changes in its requirements for graduation that will go into effect beginning with next year’s ninth grade class (the class of 2012). What follows is a table I adapted from my daughter’s school counselor’s publication for high school transition:

Current Rule Proposed Rule
4 tiers with different requirements: College Preparatory (CP), College Preparatory with Distinction (CP+), Technology/Career (TC), and Technology/Career with Distinction (TC+) One common set of requirements for all students
22 total Carnegie units required for CP and TC, 24 units required for CP+ and TC+ 23 total Carnegie units required for all students
4 units of English required for all students 4 units of English required for all students
4 units of math required for CP and CP+, 3 units of math required for TC and TC+ 4 units of math required for all students
3 units of science required for all students 4 units of science required for all students (the 4th unit of science can be used to meet both science and elective requirements)
3 units of social studies required for all students 3 units of social studies required for all students, all courses are specifically identified
1 unit of health/PE required for all students 1 unit of health/PE required for all students; 3 units of JROTC may be used to meet the requirements
1 unit of computer techology and/or fine arts and/or technology career preparatory and/or foreign language required for all students; 2 units of foreign language required for CP and CP+ students 3 units required from CTAE and/or foreign language and/or fina arts; foreign language is not required for any student to graduate, whether CP or not
5-6 additional elective units depending on tier (CP, CP+, TC, TC+) 4 additional units of elective units for all students

Basically, Georgia is doing away with Technology/Career diplomas and building one set of requirements for all Georgia graduates. I would like to know more before I criticize the new set of requirements, but I have to say that I’m not sure this is a good idea. Tech/Career prep programs often provided a good alternative for students who didn’t plan to go to college. I have the following questions:

  1. Do the new requirements mean that Georgia is doing away with TC-level academic classes? Back when I was teaching in public school, there were “Vocational track” classes for students who didn’t intend to go to college. Therefore, will students who don’t intend to go to college still take what are essentially CP-level academic classes?
  2. Students entering college will still have to have two units of foreign language in order to get into college. I understand that these units will have to come from the electives requirements. Will this be a problem for students who have to take foreign language? What do our colleges think of changing this requirement so that foreign language is no longer required for graduation?
  3. What do my peers currently teaching in Georgia public schools (or elsewhere for that matter) think of these changes?

You can check out this section of the Georgia DOE website for more information.

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