Matt Tabor has this article about Michelle Kevil, a Texas 6th-grade math teacher who was fired because she didn’t pass enough students. Whole story here. The discontent with Ms. Kevil started with the parents:
One set of parents wrote Principal Tedna Taylor asking that their child be transferred from Kevil’s class. The parents hired a math tutor, they wrote, who couldn’t understand the child’s poor math grades.
A second mother, whose child was an A student, also complained to the teacher. She disputed a half-point reduction on a math test on a question about a mixed number and a fraction. She asked that her child’s score “be adjusted accordingly.”
The mother added in an e-mail to Kevil, “We have been frustrated with this math class. It is hard for me to not view this [test] problem as trying to ‘trick’ the students.”
It’s entirely possible that in a situation like this, parents may have a legitimate cause for concern. If the tests being given in a class don’t represent the goals for the course or curriculum, or if the teacher is giving the Twin Prime Conjecture on the test, then parents really should speak up. (Parents ought to realize, though, that math tests involve assessing students’ ability to think carefully through a problem, which by definition is an attempt to trick students. The students who know what they are doing won’t get tricked.)
However, predictably, the problem turns out not to be with the appropriateness of Ms. Kevil’s exams but with the percentage of students she is passing. Here’s what the principal had to say in a letter to Ms. Kevil:
I checked the grade averages across the campus and your failing rate is above the sixth grade average. I believe you have as many as 24 percent failing in one class and around 17 percent in the other classes. In the educational climate we are in at the federal, state and campus level, this is not acceptable. NCLB [No Child Left Behind] is clear, no child will be left behind and at BCI we embrace that philosophy. You should have 100 percent passing. We will discuss a plan of action when we return from the holidays. [emphases added]
Nonsense. Education is, at least, a two-way street. Students must do the work in front of them, do it well and do it on time, and take steps to improve. It’s not just classroom pedagogy that determines student success, although pedagogy is clearly important. But any principal who views pass/fail rates as a one-dimensional system, with the teacher being the only variable, is not fit to be leading any educational organization. And to ask for 100% passing is basically asking for lower standards. And to put the blame on the “educational climate” is contradicting the principal’s supposed concern for students — because it’s not about the students, it’s about the climate.
The principal goes on to say, in this regard:
“We can’t just say, ‘Oh, they got a 50,’ and move on. It’s a casualty,” Taylor said. “I want a teacher, when the child is not successful, to look at why. We don’t play the blame game. It’s not the kids’ fault. I want a teacher to say, ‘What can I do differently to motivate in a way that students will want to perform?'”
How do we know it’s not the kid’s fault? And how do we know that the teacher in this case is not already doing everything she can to help students succeed, but it’s not enough? This is just the idea that when a student fails, it’s the teacher that’s really failed — and it’s a dog that will simply not hunt. Again, it’s all well and good to want to help students succeed, but if you think that it’s NEVER the kid’s fault, then you’ve got a lot to learn about education. And far from not leaving any child behind, those kids who are never at fault for their failures will be utterly left behind if they ever make it to college.