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A teacher says proposed credit rules over-empower principals

The state’s online survey about proposed credit recovery rules will only accept comments of 400 words or less, according to a Bronx math teacher who had a lot more to say. So he sent me his response. Here’s part of his answer:

A dangerous discrepancy exists between the statement “the committee much consider each student’s needs and course completion deficiencies” and “the student must also demonstrate mastery of the initial deficiency areas. What is the state definition of mastery? A principal could, by these regulations, decide that a student that is not going to college does not need to know how to solve a one variable equation, and therefore assign a project that superficially demonstrates “mastery” without the student actually addressing his/her deficiencies. There MUST be some provision to make it very clear to school administrators what this means, otherwise there will be inconsistency across the state in the area of credit accumulation.

Send your comments about the proposed regulations to tips@gothamschools.org. The teacher’s complete response is below:

A. Do the proposed provisions provide sufficient opportunity for students to receive credit for making up incomplete or failed course work?

If implemented according to these provisions, students will have opportunity to make up course work, but more work needs to be done at the state level to define what is appropriate. A dangerous discrepancy exists between the statement “the committee much consider each student’s needs and course completion deficiencies” and “the student must also demonstrate mastery of the initial deficiency areas. What is the state definition of mastery? A principal could, by these regulations, decide that a student that is not going to college does not need to know how to solve a one variable equation, and therefore assign a project that superficially demonstrates “mastery” without the student actually addressing his/her deficiencies. There MUST be some provision to make it very clear to school administrators what this means, otherwise there will be inconsistency across the state in the area of credit accumulation.

B. Can the proposed provisions be implemented?

Not until the state can ensure (and measure) the same quality and rigor of education provided through both pathways towards course credit. It will reflect negatively on the state education program if two schools with equal levels of credit accumulation have drastically different results on the AYP report at the end of the year. The state will have a LOT of work to avoid the creation of ‘diploma mills’ after implementation.
C. Are there any significant challenges for implementing the proposed provisions?

It seems this process is happening after the fact – many principals in the NYC system are already doing this, and robbing students of the education they need for success outside of high school. The state must describe what mastery means, how alignment with the Regents learning standards will be monitored, and what accountability tools will describe how students in a particular school are earning credits in this alternate way. This is the only way such a program could be implemented fairly.

D. Do the proposed provisions meet the appropriate unique needs of students who did not complete a course or failed to master competencies necessary for success?

The vague title of ‘appropriate unique needs’ is going to be renamed lowering standards or watering down the state curriculum for students in this category. Considering that many students that already are benefiting from these programs in the NYC system go to low-income schools, or are members of a minority group, formalizing this program without ensuring equal levels of rigor or expectations is clear racism. It is crucial that we not sacrifice the education of any student. The standards are there for a reason, and abandoning them for the purposes of getting students out of our schools is extremely inappropriate. This is why it is necessary to measure and monitor how
students subsequently make up the competencies they lacked during the failed course.

Other comments or suggestions may be entered here:
Principals now are giving away credits because students pass Regents exams with absurdly low scores. The state lets this happen because it sets the minimum standard for passing on these exams. To now allow principals the freedom to pressure other administrators and teachers to award credit in a way sanctioned by the state is dangerous, and disrespects the true potential of students, as well as the professionalism of teachers that assigned a grade in the first place.

It is true that situations do arise that require teachers and administrators to be flexible in addressing the needs of a student – in this age of accountability, however, principals need guidelines for doing so in a manner that is closely monitored and maintains a high standard for students graduating from the New York State school system.

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