kitchen table math, the sequel: High School Question

Thursday, October 20, 2011

High School Question

Now that the new Aspen X2 grading system is up and going and we're finally getting some grades, it appears that our son's English teacher (Am Lit) is one who likes to make a point by giving out lots of flunking grades. (What is it with English teachers? His freshman English teacher did this too.) You can find all sorts of horrible comments about him on RateMyTeachers. As far as I can tell, it's a game and that you have to pass the test. You have to make an appointment with the teacher and go in after school to show effort. I imagine that parents dare not go in to get answers. After starting the year with some of the highest grades, he has been hit with one flunking grade and one really bad grade. The teacher apparently doesn't hand back work with comments. He puts a code on the test so that if you go in to see him, he can use the code to refer to his notes. It has to be after school. I find that bizarre. Last year, when a paper interviewed the valedictorian, she specifically referred to this teacher and how she got flunking grades from him when she was a freshman. By the end of the year, she was proud that she managed to bring her grade up to an A. She thought that this taught her to work hard. This is a teacher who checks work before the due date and grades kids on whether they are procrastinating and waiting until the last minute.

So, my question is whether others have seen this sort of behavior and what solutions they came up with. My feeling is that our son has to play the game and jump through the hoops even though my first reaction is to go in and ask the teacher what the hell he is doing. Whatever it is, he has been doing it (and getting away with it) for many years.


Cranberry said...

He's probably trying to teach the students good study skills for the future.

Anonymous said...

Yes, and I have no idea what to do about it because I also rarely see the paper that got the bad grade. When I do see something of a rubric, it is so subjective that it's clear it could go either way. My son needs to hoop jump just to find out specifically what went wrong.

We also have problems with "class participation" because no matter how much he thinks he contributed, he just can't get above a C.

We have mostly dealt with this from English teachers, but we have seen the same stuff from a few others at times.


lgm said...

We're seeing similar from an accel biology teacher. The pitch at open house was on 'effort'. He's deliberately not teaching and making them learn from the text and the online quiz program called castle learning. This of course means the memorizers are doing really well on the tests, but those who actually attempt to learn need to find someone to bounce their concept understanding off of. There seems to be a lot of jealousy that some kids don't have to study as much as others, and this guy is trying to level the playing field. The face time is giving up lunch to re-do the labs and to examine the tests. No tests are returned here, just the scantron and the short/long answer sheet.

In English, it looks as if they give the grade the prior teacher did. I had to point out my older kid's PSAT score to get the school to move him in to honors. His compositions are the same quality as his sibling's, but his handwriting is worse.

Catherine Johnson said...

Needless to say, I am appalled.

It's funny -- just this week I was talking to my neighbor about high school teachers and the fantastic power they wield over kids headed towards selective schools. They are little kings in their kingdoms.

They can do whatever they want to do; no one says boo.

I say round these people up and make them teach in a lower middle class or urban school for a while.

See how well this approach works out for them in that setting.

Catherine Johnson said...

btw, this is one of the reasons I favor separating grading from teaching at the high school level. The power to eff with a student's transcript is just too much for some teachers.

Catherine Johnson said...

grade deflation

Catherine Johnson said...

grade deflation at Princeton

Catherine Johnson said...

Apparently, the people who devised the grading policy at Princeton didn't consider the possibility that small classes might have a skewed distribution of students...

They certainly didn't consider the possibility that the grade on the student is a grade on the teacher. Princeton accepts 7% of applicants, fyi.

Catherine Johnson said...

I was talking to a Princeton alum who keeps up with things there. She said that apparently Princeton thought the other Ivies would follow suit.

But they didn't.

Catherine Johnson said...

She also told me that Princeton has just sent out a memo to parents of new freshman explaining the policy, which tells me they're getting a huge amount of flack.


Catherine Johnson said...

In English, it looks as if they give the grade the prior teacher did. I had to point out my older kid's PSAT score to get the school to move him in to honors. His compositions are the same quality as his sibling's, but his handwriting is worse.

same old, same old

Glad you were able to get him moved.

Jen said...

I'd say to go in after every coded assignment and ask him about it. If you need to, go with the child.

I'd hate to get someone like this year after year, but once in a high school career, it's a lesson in how to use the system to get along. That *is* a college skill, as is going into a professor or TA when you don't understand a grade on a paper, or can't get a handle on what the person is looking for.

And if the kid seems honestly interested in learning what to do to improve, there's not a lot of teachers that don't fall for that, at least in the longer term.

It's like a time-limited trial with a crazy boss.

SteveH said...

They are good skills, but the teacher is going overboard. Kids get enough practice without having a teacher deliberately put the screws to them. There were several freshmen teachers who tried to teach the lazy honors kids (by definition) a lesson.

However, we told our son to do what you say; to go in and ask (nicely) about each assignment, and not necessarily limit his questions to what he got wrong. Requiring this effort after-school, however, is wrong. Kids don't necessarily have a way to get home.

We also told him to get his work done early because the teacher has a real hang-up about procrastination. He specifically lectured us parents at the open house night that kids can't be productive working more than an hour at a time on an assignment. So if an assignment might take 3 hours of effort, he will check to see what you have done on a date before the deadline.

Stupid git.

He also likes to have "interviews" with students about their work. My son had one where he had to explain and defend his premise for a big essay. Afterwards, he asked my son what grade he would give himself. He said 100% and explained why. Years ago, I told him that if any teacher asks him that question, always say 100%.

On top of that, he decided (on the spur of the moment) to change a take-home test into a 4-person group test to be done in class. He grouped kids by class rank. He thinks that's fairer. Group tests are not fair any way you look at them.

I don't care how useful these skills are, you don't approach developing them like this. It's a power and control thing.

Anonymous said...

That grade deflation piece at
is from 2007. What are Princeton's stats now? Did they manage to deflate grades or are they back to the A-is-average, B-is-bad, C-is-catastrophic grading scheme they were trying to escape?