Our View: Require students to pass before they pass
What some Duluth teachers are asking for seems so basic, so logical: This isn't how it is already?! In letters last month to school district administrators and School Board members, the teachers, 24 of them from all four academic areas at Denfeld...
What some Duluth teachers are asking for seems so basic, so logical: This isn’t how it is already?!
In letters last month to school district administrators and School Board members, the teachers, 24 of them from all four academic areas at Denfeld High, asked that students be required to achieve actual passing grades before being passed on to a next class or grade level. That apparently isn’t happening now. Kids are being advanced regardless of performance, and that’s causing them to fall further and further behind, sometimes until they feel so hopeless and bad about themselves they either act up or check out. None of which is acceptable.
And this seems to be a problem especially at Denfeld, where the graduation rate is 85 percent compared to East High’s 92 percent, and where 40 percent of graduates who go to college end up having to take no-credit but full-priced catch-up classes once they are there, according to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. Statewide, only 24 percent of high school graduates have to take these remedial courses their first or second year of college. At East, it’s 22 percent.
“We now have juniors in 10th-grade English classes who cannot write a complete sentence,” reads the letter from Denfeld’s English and language arts department, according to an excellent report last Sunday by News Tribune education reporter Jana Hollingsworth. A letter from math teachers said students in Duluth are entering high school performing at a fifth-grade or sixth-grade level.
That’s just not right.
But it’s also not so simple, insists Duluth Superintendent Bill Gronseth. Not at all, but few would question that there are many strategies and efforts in play to narrow the district’s achievement gap, to raise its graduation rates and to deal with this reality that some students are more prepared than others.
Intervention is the best course, according to Gronseth, preferable to forcing kids to repeat grades or classes.
Intervention certainly sounds promising - as long as it comes before kids fail and before they’re scrambling to keep up with current classes while still mastering past lessons. For some students, catching up can become never-ending - and unattainable.
It takes time to see changes, Gronseth said. Interventions in lower grades, including at Laura MacArthur Elementary in West Duluth, are showing promises. But Denfeld teachers aren’t the only ones losing patience. And with something as critical as our community’s future on the line.
The letters from the teachers screamed for strong leadership to help turn this troubling trend. But neither Denfeld Principal Tonya Sconiers nor Lincoln Park Middle School Principal Brenda Vatthauer returned calls from Hollingsworth for her story. Students are falling behind. Some are failing. And their schools’ top leaders are choosing to be publicly silent.
It helps no one to refuse to talk about what’s happening. And we aren’t doing students any favors by passing them on to a next class or higher grade level when they haven’t actually passed and aren’t ready. The real world just doesn’t work that way.