Saturday, February 24, 2018
Education

Low grades temper Dade City mother's enthusiasm over son's honor roll performance

DADE CITY — Beth Tillack was beside herself.

She had taken away computer and iPod privileges from her son, Douglas, for poor grades in his civics class at Pasco Middle School. Yet, when report cards came out, Tillack learned her seventh-grader's overall grade-point average had landed him on the honor roll.

He needed a 3.15. His grades — four A's, a C and a D — averaged out to 3.16.

"I am furious and appalled," Tillack wrote to superintendent Kurt Browning. "Talk about minimum standards! So now instead of losing privileges and trying harder, he now thinks he has done enough. I am so shocked."

She didn't expect anyone to understand her concern. But to her surprise, Browning and his staff took her side and demanded answers.

"I am with the parent on this one," assistant superintendent Amelia Larson said in an e-mail to Browning.

For too long, Larson said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, education has focused on grades as an end in themselves. Parents and students often get upset about B's, not to mention D's and F's, because good marks serve as a gateway to other positive things in life.

"We want a better way of communicating progress toward our end-of-the-year outcomes so parents don't get upset if their kids don't come home with straight A's," Larson said. "If we give the wrong message, the kids may be content at the level they are at."

She cited the influence of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, an expert on motivation, on her own philosophy for the district. Dweck's "growth mind-set" theory — that students do best if they believe their intelligence can improve through experience and experimentation — is gaining wider acceptance in K-12 education around the country.

"You don't do kids any favors if we're not honest, if we inflate their achievement or we put it down," said Ken O'Connor, a Canadian education consultant who specializes in student grading and reporting.

Letter grades are "virtually worthless" without detailing areas that need improvement or areas that show improvement, O'Connor said.

Schools and society place too much emphasis on grades as a credential, said Columbia University education sociologist Aaron Pallas.

Letter grades lack subtleties of what students, parents and teachers need to do to get the desired results, Pallas said. Sometimes, that means praising struggling students so they feel a sense of accomplishment, even if they don't meet all of the standards. Sometimes, it means making lessons more interesting.

And if parental priorities get lost in school procedures, Pallas said, all need to collaborate.

"I think talking is the best thing," he said.

Tillack found that reaching out to Pasco Middle School yielded just such a relationship.

Principal Kim Anderson reviewed the report card with Douglas, pointing out areas where he needed to work harder, without discounting the fact that he had done well in the majority of his courses. His teachers also reacted positively, Tillack said.

They found that Douglas simply found civics uninteresting.

"The dilemma is, how can we work together to motivate a child who has the ability, to want to make better grades?" Tillack said.

At the least, she said, the district should consider changing its honor roll formula so that students who have grades below a certain level aren't eligible.

"I'm all for it being harder, as opposed to easier," Tillack said. "The overall thing is, if a child knows they can do the minimum and get by, what kind of message does that send about the other areas in their life?"

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Special Olympians shine at county summer games

Special Olympians shine at county summer games

NEW PORT RICHEY — It was one of those perfect days, when sunscreen and shade are in high demand, smiles are aplenty and the camaraderie on the field trumps the thrill of victory.About 600 Special Olympians and unified athletes from west Pasco schools...
Published: 02/23/18
Pasco foundation battling childhood hunger one school at a time

Pasco foundation battling childhood hunger one school at a time

ZEPHRYHILLS — On a Thursday morning in a small warehouse off Gall Boulevard, a well-oiled machine of goodwill is cranking. At the Thomas Promise Foundation, volunteers Carlos and Robin Clothier, pack boxes of macaroni and cheese, granola bars, apple ...
Published: 02/23/18
After Parkland, another plea for rumor control: ‘This is not a joke’ (w/video)

After Parkland, another plea for rumor control: ‘This is not a joke’ (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG — The mayor and the police chief came to Northeast High on Thursday to warn students about the dangers of circulating rumors of school safety threats on social media.While they were there, one of those unfounded rumors popped up on Fac...
Published: 02/22/18
Collards, ribs and Kool-Aid: Black History Month menu at NYU stirs controversy

Collards, ribs and Kool-Aid: Black History Month menu at NYU stirs controversy

NEW YORK — On Tuesday, a dining hall at New York University advertised a special meal in honor of Black History Month. On the menu? Barbecue ribs, cornbread, collard greens, and two beverages with racist connotations: Kool-Aid and watermelon-flavored...
Published: 02/22/18
Arming teachers? Some officials like the idea, but many educators don’t (w/video)

Arming teachers? Some officials like the idea, but many educators don’t (w/video)

With high school students from Parkland in the Capitol this week advocating for gun control, the bill that would have allowed superintendents and principals to designate trained employees who can carry concealed weapons at school didn’t get heard as ...
Published: 02/22/18
How will Douglas High students go back to class? There’s now a plan in place.

How will Douglas High students go back to class? There’s now a plan in place.

When students return to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High for the first time next Tuesday, they will be greeted by additional counselors and law enforcement."There will be a plethora of counselors and services at the school," Broward Schools Superintende...
Published: 02/21/18
School shooter may get inheritance — and be ordered to spend it on legal bills

School shooter may get inheritance — and be ordered to spend it on legal bills

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz appears to have been in line for a sizable inheritance. He’ll never get to spend it — except perhaps on defense attorneys.The amount could be enough to compel a judge to order him to hire a private lawyer, rather ...
Published: 02/21/18
Pasco County schools, dealing with threats, warn students of consequences

Pasco County schools, dealing with threats, warn students of consequences

DADE CITY — A Pasco High School student was taken into custody Tuesday amid accusations of threatening violence against the school. The campus was not at risk, school district officials said. But they made clear they take each threat seriously, and t...
Published: 02/21/18
‘Blind Side’ star delivers message to Newsome High kids

‘Blind Side’ star delivers message to Newsome High kids

LITHIA — Students, faculty and staff recently scurried inside the Newsome High School gym for a morning assembly to hear a message about bullying from a man who kids once taunted.Newsome’s principal Carla Bruning invited actor Quinton Aaron, star of ...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Spoto High helps students un-bottle emotions with Challenge Day

Spoto High helps students un-bottle emotions with Challenge Day

RIVERVIEW — Spoto High School English Department Head Adam Sherman can’t help but wonder if a program he introduced to Spartan students could have changed the trajectory of Nickolas Cruz’s life before he gunned down and killed 17 people on Valentine’...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/23/18