by The Albatross
It is that time of year again. Everything new is old. We are circling the drain once more. Time, always short, always tight, has a way of relapsing. “The past,” wrote William Faulkner in Requiem for a Nun, “is not past. It’s not even dead.”
At a faculty meeting last December, Principal Nadine Gannon was ecstatic. “Half the school is on track to make honors,” she reported.
There is something unusual about half a school being on the honor roll, especially when the administration forces teachers to attend workshops on “Reluctant Learners.” It seems out of character that the “Reluctant ” are so scholarly. It stretches credulity to have half of the school make honors. In fact, it is unbelievable. Reasonable people might question the accuracy of the grades.
Eyes-Wide-Open, Everyone. Welcome to the World of Grades, a world completely deregulated, where people in education do things as scandalous as those in business and politics. Anything goes and self-interest always triumphs. We are only human, after all; but when anything goes, nothing has value, including grades.
Grades need to look like a school is delivering on its promise to educate. They need to feel like a win in order for them to work and hold up the pillar of public education. They need to be good. Ours, apparently, were excellent.
Instead of raising questions or launching an investigation, Principal Gannon was celebrating a troubling contradiction.
Hamden students must be the whiz kids, studying immensely, dedicated to their classes. Blisters must be forming on their fingertips from all the typing that they do. Hamden High School must be a beehive of study.
Or maybe Hamden High School is not a very serious school. Maybe it is a make-believe world, a stew of verisimilitude, where the grades mix a little bit of reality with a large dose of magic. Maybe Nadine is blinkered. Maybe student commitment is not the only explanation.
Nadine is fond of telling teachers, “You own the grades. Both you and students own the grades.”
Perhaps she is right. Last year, teachers certainly owned the grades.
Last year, students were swimming, nay, drowning in failure, failure brought on by themselves, through slacking, not through Covid-19, not through trauma,(See Albatross’s Slacking column.) The faculty rescued them. On June 3, 2022, Nadine sent a charitable appeal via email to the faculty, “We are asking you to be generous with students who are seeking to make up work to improve their grade/or pass your class for the year.”
Aaah, the chutzpah.
It was a clear order, perhaps from Central Office and the superintendents. Pass these kids, and pass them with the highest grades possible.
They were desperate. They were so desperate that they ordered teachers to change grades. [Grades from prior marking periods are closed and electronically locked. The fourth marking period was almost finished; 90% of the grades were recorded.] But is changing the grades cheating?
Let’s zoom in on what cheating is. Cheating is doing something wrong. Is it wrong to demand faculty accept assignments from units months past, from marking periods long closed? Is it possible to assess fairly so much work from so long ago, particularly when we were closing out the fourth marking period and grading final exams? Is accepting work months late and changing grades cheating? Albatross leaves these questions to readers.
It was a sensible thing to do, an easy solution to what could have been a massive problem. Failing so many slackers would have caused outrage and derailed graduation.
It was smart. Generosity can mean anything. It can mean one point or a hundred. It often meant accepting entire marking periods worth of assignments from students who had sat all year doing nothing, and only now, at the prospect of failure, were churning out stacks of subpar work.
It was unholy. It made grades a lie, but the only alternative would have been to postpone graduation until students met requirements. One high school in Texas has done just that. Marlin High School in Marlin, Texas has postponed graduation due to poor attendance and bad grades. The school will hold graduation when students actually take classes and pass them. The administrators at Marlin understand that you have to change student performance, not student grades.
This indecent proposal defeated the very purpose of grades. Generosity means giving more than expected. It means not being fair. Asking for generosity is asking for the opposite of what a grade is supposed to be: accurate. Calling for upward mobility in grades means being inaccurate. It is fraud. If grades are unsusceptible to accuracy, then they are a waste of time. When students receive fictional grades, they have not mastered a course. In fact, they really have not taken the course.
Part II will be posted Monday, June 5th.