The recent revelations of changes made to student grades and attendance records at Ballou Senior High School in Southeast — changes intended to present a rosier picture than reality — represent not an isolated case but a systemwide problem, according to a Washington Teachers’ Union/EmpowerEd survey.
The Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) asserted that the results of the survey, released last month, show the problem requires overhauling school culture and policies through genuine collaboration between teachers and school administrators.
“Since the inception of mayoral control of District of Columbia Public Schools a decade ago, there has been a hard-charging effort to show school and student performance improvement,” said union President Elizabeth Davis said. “Yet DCPS teachers have consistently raised questions about the effectiveness of reform policies and the validity of publicized improvements.”
A total of 616 teachers responded to the survey conducted during November and December.
The findings reveal two main issues:
* Administrators pressuring or coercing teachers to change grades and attendance records, sometimes indicating their evaluation is at stake; and
* Someone else changing teachers’ recorded grades or attendance records to present a different reality.
In addition to questions, teachers were given the opportunity to write comments. All survey responses and comments were anonymous, but respondents did identify their schools, according to WTU.
“I have been pressured to change grades at both high schools I worked at,” commented one teacher.
“As far as attendance, the attendance report I receive nightly in my email does not accurately reflect the attendance I input during the day,” another teacher said.
“Pressures are put on us daily to change any grade below 50 percent to a 50 percent if a student ‘attempts.’ An attempt can be just writing their name,” another teacher commented.
WTU and EmpowerEd collectively said they are calling for true collaboration between teachers and administrators so that teacher voices are included when policies are developed and implemented.
“Teachers’ voice at the front end would create a real check to prevent the kinds of problems that are occurring now,” the to organizations said in a joint statement. “Chief among the recommendations is an overhaul of the IMPACT teacher evaluation system, which educators said is used by school administrators as a cudgel to encourage teachers to revise grades and attendance records.”
EmpowerEd Director Scott Goldstein said charter schools face similar problems.
“Charter schools report similar pressures, fear, and lack of professional autonomy stemming from a similar focus on narrow outcome measures,” Goldstein said.
Nearly half of respondents, or 46.5 percent, said they felt pressured or coerced by a school administrator either to pass a student who didn’t meet the expectations for passing or to change a grade.
Roughly 47 percent, including 61 percent of high school teachers, said their school set up barriers, such as excessive documentation, to prevent teachers from failing a student.
One teacher anonymously commented that “the amount of work and documentation that is required for a student to fail (even if they never come to class) is overwhelming. There is no way it can all be done, therefore I feel pressure to pass all of my students.
“It’s unfair to the teacher and the students who come every day ready to work and learn,” the teacher said. “It makes me want to leave education. It needs to stop.”
Nearly one-quarter, or 22.2 percent, said they submitted grades or attendance records that had been changed by someone else at the school.
Just over half, or 55.1 percent, said their school’s graduation percentage is not an accurate reflection of student performance.
“Dishonest data hides reality and tragically hurts students who need help,” Davis said. “We need an overhauled system that honestly reports student performance and uses the data constructively to provide the remedial help kids need to progress to the next grade, college and career.
“Teachers are being pressured to make the changes or else their evaluations will be affected,” Davis said. “Educators and administrators together need to redesign the evaluation system so that it isn’t being used to distort teachers’ efforts and ignore the progress that they make with students who are behind one or more grade levels.”