A Dispassionate Analysis Of The Grade Changing Policy

iPads at Board Meetings

Casey Wardynski likes to pretend that he’s dispassionate when it comes to his job. This past Saturday on WHNT, he accused anyone who disagrees with him and his policies–policies that have run off 303 teachers and and other district employees in less than a year’s time–as being an “odd individual” who are confused and only like “a little bit of the limelight.” All these crazy, attention-seeking people are just distracting him from his responsibility of “getting kids ready for college and career.”

My but I do so love his use of buzz words when talking about education. They demonstrate a keen grasp of the central issues at hand. But there’s no need for passion to enter the discussion, unless of course we’re talking about the superintendent, his job and his evaluation.

Being passionate about the damage that these policies is doing to your kids education, well that clearly shows that you’re unqualified to speak on policy matters.

Yes, Wardynski is attempting to discredit his critics by claiming that they’re too emotional to have a valid opinion about the welfare of their own children.

Sexism: Call Your Female Opponent “Emotional”

This is, in case you didn’t know, one of the oldest tools of sexism in the book. Refer to your accusers as emotional, especially when you’re talking about a woman, and people are far more likely to agree with you. But then since Wardynski is willing to blame the victim of an attack for the attack, for having the nerve to go to the bathroom, since he’s willing to blame parents and the community as a whole for his problems, since he’s willing to treat his staff like “feed stock,” it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that he would stoop to such a sexist attack, should it?

Strong leaders,” sir, do not need to stoop to such pathetic and personal attacks.

But then he’s not a leader (strong or otherwise), is he?

Double Standards Abound

You see, he’s convinced that the standards that he holds others to should not apply to him. He believes that his evaluations should be personalized to fit him rather than standardized to fit anyone.

And he’s quite willing to get emotional about it when it suits his purposes. Funny how every time the board begins to discuss the evaluation of the superintendent, his true emotional side comes out to play.

It did a year ago when he decided to threaten to quit rather than actually communicate with the public:

I freely admit that there is people who I will not talk to anymore. They’re a complete waste of my time. I’ve talked to them until I’m blue in the face. I’ve got a lot to accomplish. I’m working seven days a week. Most time at night till ten o’clock. Uh, if my requirement is to answer every phone call, and everybody who calls me and emails me, no matter how many times and how ridiculous, uh, we’re gonna be in a job hunt.

And then he did it again this past Thursday’s board meeting when they were discussing the possibility of holding him accountable for increasing the number of scholarships awarded to HCS students.

He said, “I would oppose any form of evaluation that I do not have direct control over the outcome.”

Of course you would, Dr. Wardynski, because evaluating someone on the basis of things that are beyond his or her control really isn’t fair is it?

Holding Teachers Accountable for Things Beyond Their Control

And yet that is exactly what you do to our teachers and principals every single day.

Holding a teacher accountable for showing “growth” in her classroom when there are literally thousands of factors that affect a student’s ability to demonstrate “growth” on a standardized test like the STAR test is, you guessed it, holding her accountable for things over which she does not have direct control.

Parents, think about it for a moment: how much control do you have over the type of day your child has? You can take them to the beach, and it rains. You can buy them that new dress that they’ve “always wanted” and suddenly everyone has one, and it looks better on them. It’s difficult to control the outcome isn’t it?

Well, get this. Wardynski, mister-I-shouldn’t-be-held-accountable believes that teachers should be held accountable for students who fail to demonstrate growth over a 9 week period.

Now, that sounds completely reasonable and “dispassionate” even, doesn’t it? At least until you realize that the only measure of growth that matters is how a student does on a single test as compared with how she did on that test 9 weeks earlier.

Suppose that child had a bad night the night before the second test? Might that affect her “growth?” Suppose that child just found out that his bike that he’s wanted for weeks just arrived and is waiting for him at home? Might that affect his performance? Suppose that the district’s WiFi network crashes on test day? Suppose that the computer refuses to boot? Suppose that the district decides to “observe” a class taking the test, and the students are more interested in who this tall, dispassionate man is standing in the room making their teacher seem nervous?

Are you getting the point?

Teachers are being held accountable for things outside of their control every single day. Their very jobs depend on it as you can see in the memo below:

SGP Scores

They are being held accountable for things beyond their control, and as Ms. Michal pointed out in the interview about changing grades, they’re even being ordered what grade to give a student.

Wardynski Decides What Grades Are Appropriate

Again, Wardynski’s excuses sound reasonable, don’t they? “It’s really hard for a student to pull up a low grade.”

I think in one of our elementary schools the principal put out don’t give kids less than 50 percent; I’m fine with that. If you’re in second grade and you get a zero it’s going to be very difficult to recovery from. A 100 and a 0 average out to a 50 – that’s still an F. What we want to convey to kids is have we mastered these skills or haven’t you? And have you mastered them on a high level, an advanced level or just barely; those are the key ideas.

That sounds reasonable until you remember that there isn’t a single instance of a student in the second grade being given only two opportunities to pass or fail. Even if we’re only talking about report card grades, there are, in fact four reporting periods a year for every subject. So a zero (which honestly can anyone ever show me a case where a student made a zero on every single graded assignment for 9 weeks?) on a report card is only one fourth of a final grade for the year, not one half as the superintendent seems to believe.

It would be nice if Wardynski understood his own policies and procedures in his dispassionate approach wouldn’t it.

But he doesn’t.

You see, in that interview with WHNT, Wardynski claimed that there was “no ethical implication” whatsoever in a principal requiring teachers to raise a grade that is below a 50 to a 50. As the email stated, “It has been the procedure all year that no child is to receive below a 50 on their report card as the grade for any subject.”

That’s all well and good, except a Principle, doesn’t get to decide what procedures his school will follow on his own. That is decided by the Board of Education. Not even Wardynski gets to decide it on his own.

So while he may be incapable of seeing any ethical implication in this decision, that isn’t his call to make.

Board Policy: Teachers Decide Grades on 100 Point Scale

As sad and pathetic an arbiter of ethics our board of education may be, it is still their jobs to establish policy and procedure for the districts.

And guess what, they’ve done so.

Policy Manual Updated June 2013 Pg97

You see, the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education regularly revises the Policy Handbook for the district. Usually they revise it at the slightest request of the superintendent, but he does actually have to request a revised policy.

And our current policy handbook, clearly states two important things on page 97 of the handbook.

First, it states that teachers, not principals, and not the superintendent will “assign grades and confer academic credit for work and activities performed by students.”

That’s right. It is the teacher’s responsibility to assign grades, not Dr. Wardynski’s.

Second, the policy handbook goes on to establish that the district will be using a 100 point grade scale for numerical grades, not a 50 point grade scale as Lee McAllister and Casey Wardynski seem to believe appropriate.

A Dispassionate Analysis: Grade Changing

Dr. Wardynski would do well to actually read his handbook on occasion because violating board policy, as he and his principal whom he fully supports have done, does actually have ethical implications.

It would seem that Dr. Wardynski believes that he should be able to alter a student’s grade at will. But until and unless the board changes policy, that’s not the case.

This is a specific instance of Dr. Wardynski approving of the violation of board policy. One might even say that violation of board policy rises to the standard of “Intentional Insubordination,” which, the last time I checked, is a breach of Dr. Wardynski’s contract.

So, Dr. Wardynski, how’s that for a dispassionate analysis of your actions? I’d bet, much like your belief that you shouldn’t be held accountable for things outside your control, that you don’t like it much, do you?

Feel free to call me any name you’d like, sir, but I remain passionately concerned about the education my children are receiving under your regime.

 
Russell
"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.

9 Comments

  1. I have to come to the defense of Mr. McAllister. He did use the 100 point grading scale. It was his policy that a student didn’t get a grade on the report card that was less than 50 which is still an “F”. He did not advocate passing a student who was failing but simply give them a higher failing grade.. A 50 was a grade that when averaged with others grades could help a child to pass the school year.

    Of course for some of us this will but a mute point. 1st and 2nd grades will start using a standards based report card this year. The teachers get a big whopping 1 hour workshop on this. The nightmare is getting worse.

    1. It is not my intention to attack Mr. McAllister. There isn’t a principal in this district who would make a decision like that without receiving approval first. I’m certain he was doing what he had been told to do.

      I agree that a 50 is easier to recover from than say a 20. (Again how likely is it that any student would manage to score a zero on every assignment for 9 weeks? If it has happened, that child should not have been promoted.) However, I still believe there is justification for giving a child a grade that he or she has earned.

      At the very least, this should be a decision left up to the teacher who knows the child and knows what the child is capable of.

      Either way, this was a violation if policy on the part of the superintendent.

      1. I do know that he was doing this before Dr. Wardynski came to Huntsville.

        Thank you for your statements about the double standards when it comes to evaluations. I got one of those famous letters. I know why my scores were low. There wasn’t a thing I could do about it. I didn’t get any help and neither did my students. I am on full evaluation this year and I know that the test scores will determine whether or not I get to keep my job.

  2. Regarding the raising of low failing grades to a minimum of 50….really? A grade of 50 tells me that a student has accomplished/learned 50% of the required material. Still woefully inept and failing, but a sign that 50% of the work was indeed accomplished. Now what if we had a student who just didn’t give a flip. Never opens a book, never does an assignment, and winds up with an average of 30 or less? Are we gooing to bump this student up to 50% to look good? Sorry, some kids just simply need to be left back to repeat certain grades. And if that doesn’t work, then a special school ought to be looked into for perhaps offering vocational training or a slower paced curriculum. We’ve got to stop pushing kids through the system just because “it looks good.”

  3. I just read a letter from Wardynski that was posted on my son’s middle school website on August 7th. The letter is dated August 19, 2013. It starts out by saying that “the HCS district is committed to academic excellence and accelerating student achievement for every student every day. As a function of this commitment, the district administrators and school principals will dedicate several days each week in classrooms. This will allow us to support teachers and to enhance the teaching and learning that occurs in our schools.” REALLY? Please, someone tell me how a school administrator hanging out in a classroom overseeing a teacher trying to do his or her job is going to “enhance the learning.” This smells of gestapo tactics. Anyone out there who doesn’t think that having a principal or school administrator in the classroom while the teacher is trying to teach isn’t going to be a major distraction in the classroom, has simply drunk the cool aid and cannot be reasoned with. Keep these administrators OUT OF THE CLASSROOM. keep the principal in his or her office to deal with the issues that principals must deal with. Let the teachers teach! Am I the only one stark raving mad about this???

    1. Concerned and Angry Parent: “Stark raving mad” means “crazy,” not “angry”. Not sure that’s the meaning you were going for. 😉

  4. Hate to sound like I am in any way defending Wardynski (because I’m not), but I have to call BS on the sexism charge. Wardynski sees himself as unfailingly logical and dispassionate, so he views pretty much anyone who disagrees with him as “emotional” by comparison. No doubt he would characterize you, Russell, as also being “emotional,” just as you did him. So we’re allowed to call men “emotional” but not women? Sorry, but that’s just silly.

    The grade-changing story is very concerning, but sadly par for the course. It has already been documented that some of the worst grade-inflation problems in HCS are occurring in the worst-performing schools. This just compounds the problem by bumping up the semester averages.

    Like “Concerned and Angry Parent,” I am very concerned about the newly-announced policy of having administrators in the classrooms. Central Office staff need to stay out of the classrooms, period. The principals do need to check in from time to time for evaluations, but not anymore than is absolutely required. The principals are completely overworked and stressed by the current regime’s reign of terror, the LAST thing they need is to have their valuable time wasted by being ordered to spend even more time in classrooms. The teachers, meanwhile, already have enough problems without having the disruption that comes with observers constantly traipsing through their classrooms. It’s absurd.

    1. Ben,

      While he might call me passionate or emotional, he hasn’t. He did however refer to Terri Michal that way. And yes it is quite common to dismiss an issue raised by a woman as unimportant because when a woman expresses emotion about the issue.

      So feel free to call BS if you wish, but I stand by what I wrote as an accurate assessment of the man.

      Yes the interruptions and the grade changing activities are disturbing even thought he thinks them unimportant.

      Glad we agree on some things. Sorry that my bleeding heart gets in the way of full agreement. 🙂

  5. Any manipulation of grades is dishonest and unethical … regardless of the excuse. It certainly sets the student up for future failure … and it cheats those who work for their grade (even a “real” 50). It also cheats society, who make judgements based on grades … real grades, not grades manipulated for some politically correct result. How can we condem (Atlanta) teachers for manipulating grades to protect their jobs if we encourage others to manipulate grades for their perceived opinions about social justice. What is next … shall we manipulate the scores for failing schools to protect the reputation of the teachers and administrators?

    Having Administrators monitor teachers is a counterproductive activity which produces fear, distrust, and frustration … not accomplished teachers. How long before the teachers start fighting over the “good” students like college coaches fight over good athletes? Have you ever noticed that the best football teams are those with the best players … not the best coaches? Shall the whole educational process become a numbers game … manipulated to protect the guilty?

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