Category Archives: Meetings

Preparing for the Politics of Grades

January will be an interesting month as my school heads into the final weeks of 1st semester. It’s a fun time of the year, but it’s also one full of pitfalls and the one I dread the most is the grading conversation on the horizon.

While helicopter parents can be annoying, they are (for me) less daunting than the parents who simply want to negotiate the final grade a student earns. I have already received fair warning that one  student’s parents will be trying to increase her daughter’s grade if it’s not an A.

I simply find these conversations annoying, and a no-win for anyone. I find them tedious. Parents walk away without a change.

I never change a grade that a student earns based on a parent conversation. I tell parents and students that “I record what is earned.” I often repeat that “I don’t give grades. Students earn grades.”

Well, this is put to the test each year, so when a parent asks me to raise a grade I respond with one or more of the following depending on the situation:

  • “So, you’re asking me to cheat for your child?”
  • “Are you asking me to lie?”
  • “Do you often ask people to lie for you?”
  • “What would this teach your child?”
  • (if speaking to a fellow teacher) “Do you cheat for your students?”
  • (if speaking to a fellow teacher) “Do you lie for your students?”

Most of the time, one of these questions ends the discussion. Then I document the incident for future reference.

The PAC-10, the SEC, and the SAT

I’m a college football fan who watches every Saturday, and I love it (even though a playoff system is sorely needed). I also admit that I’m a West Coast kid who loves PAC-10 football and who tires of having to hear SEC fans always claim their conference is tops. I live in a time zone where our games frequently begin after the East Coast has gone to sleep, and I live in a region where the teams are spread far apart and must travel great distances unlike the East where teams are bunched. And, I hate to admit it, the SEC has faired very well in the BCS era of football championships.

However, there is an argument I have yet seen an SEC fanatic counter. Each PAC-10 team plays nine conference games while the SEC plays only eight conference games. Why does this matter you ask? Well, let me tell you this: this means the PAC-10 will incur 5 more losses than teams in the SEC. The conference is guaranteed that more teams will end the season with no shot at a national title and most likely will be eliminated from any BCS contention.

This means that a team like Florida (who has done this multiple times recently) will schedule four patsy non-conference games usually at home, play their 8-game conference schedule, and attempt to schedule their toughest 2-3 games at home. This is quite an advantage over the PAC-10 whose non-conference schedules are generally tougher, whose teams play an extra in-conference game against a tough opponent and whose conference will be adding a conference title game soon (which will again guarantee a top-conference team suffering a season-ending loss).

Granted, the SEC has its share of good and very good teams; however, when a team plays more tough games, it is more likely to lose more games. This makes titles more difficult to win.

This relates to the SAT (and AP testing for that matter). I was at a meeting where my high school was critiqued for having the average SAT score dip slightly in the last three years. Apparently, a sign of success at a school is to track the SAT scores of its students–even though the SAT has no correlation to any state standard or state test used–and then compare those scores to classes of years past. In fact, my high school has eliminated the only class designed specifically with SAT success particularly in mind in its quest for all block classes.

To a degree I agree with score comparisons. However, what I pointed out is that we are testing 15% more students than we did 5 years ago, and most of those students are from the poverty and ELL cells in the measurement matrix. If we aren’t only testing our best students, of course the scores will fall. Some may say that I’m making excuses, but I don’t think so. Having a larger, more diverse pool of students taking the SAT is absolutely going to affect the results.

I’ve made the same argument about the AP tests our students take. We have more students taking AP English (my department’s sole AP option), and more of those students have never attempted any sort of honors class previously. We are not seeing as high of a percentage of  students scoring a 5 (the top score), and more students being tested means the average score has dropped slightly. I’m fine with this. (I have also noticed that the AP essay questions have altered slightly and the scoring appears to have changed a bit too, but that’s an entirely different discussion.)

But again, if more students from a broad spectrum of backgrounds are involved in the testing, the results will be different than when it was easier to achieve higher average scores with only the best being tested. We probably need to adjust our expectations if we want to test everyone.

More tough games played results in more losses. More students tested results in more lower scores.

And besides all this, no SEC team wants to play Stanford in the postseason this year.

Principal and Teacher Evaluations

I attended the first day of the Principal and Teacher Evaluation Pilot training. Whew! Brutal! Lots of “sit and get” (sitting and being talked to).

The first two hours were introductions. Ugh.

Then we had a couple presentations and short speeches. Eh.

Lastly, we listened to three panels and asked a few questions. I actually enjoyed the panels, but I can’t say I have a far greater and clearer picture of evaluations and how they should be structured.

Sure, we received the state-mandated criteria and the four-tier rating requirements, but really I feel we have less clarity about what constitutes a “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” teacher. Everything seems to be up for interpretation, and no category really seems cut and dry about where the line will be drawn.

Here are my questions so far (that will have to be answered in my district):

  • How many categories can be labeled “unsatisfactory” (or below standard) for a teacher to be deemed “unsatisfactory”?
  • How much weight does each category receive?
  • Since data is not required  as a measure (but is required to be used to alter instruction), how much data is required and what data should be kept?
  • How is the state really going to mandate that this work be completed in a year when it took my district five years to complete?

The comment that summed up the day was this: “The mind can absorb what the seat can endure.”

That Super Long Day

I mentioned that I had a “super long day” in a previous post, but it was much less exciting than it may have sounded.

I arrived at school around 6:15 am on Monday last week to get paperwork done for the week, and then I taught from 8:00 until 3:00. Next, I had a meeting from 3:30 – 5:00 at another school; lastly, I subbed for another teacher at a policy meeting from 5:45 – 8:15. It was a looooong day.

What I haven’t said since then is that I also had a 12 hour day that Tuesday, a 13 hour day that Wednesday, and a football trip that got me home that Friday at around 2:30 am.

Exhausted was an understatement come Saturday. This week is busy but nowhere near last week’s insanity. Still, it’s been a great start to the year! 🙂