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Fighting Failure Rates One Assessment at a Time

Bronx Classroom Tales


Fighting Failure Rates One Assessment at a TimeCongratulations teachers, we made it! First marking period grades are in and we are closing in on the first semester. 

However,  as it always happens, there were a few teachers who have more than half of their students failing.

This is an obvious red flag for administration seeing as in New York City, your school receives a report card each year largely based on “Student Progress” which covers how many students in each cohort are achieving the necessary credits to move to the next grade.


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How We're Fighting the Failure Rate

My principal told us at a faculty meeting this week, “It took me three years to realize I wasn’t an effective teacher. I would look at my grade book and see that half my class was failing and I only held them responsible for it. Then one day, I realized, those grades aren’t a reflection of the kids as much as they are a reflection of me. If I’m teaching and less than half of the kids are getting it, I’m doing something wrong.”


To keep teachers reflecting on how well each lesson is delivered, we’re trying to implement a new policy of authentically assessing students for any lesson objective we write. Those assessments can be Do Nows, exit slips, class work assignments, oral summaries, or any other way to measure understanding.

The Plan: The policy says that if 70% of the students in the class can’t meet the objectives of the lesson, the assessment cannot be entered in the grade book.

The assessment becomes the teacher’s grade for the day. Objectives that don’t garner 70% proficiency need to be spiraled into later lessons, preferably the next day, until objectives are met. Teacher’s are encouraged to interpret their students’ incorrect responses to discover where a disconnect may have arisen and prevent such a disconnect in the future.


As expected, many teachers were skeptical and shared their objections.

Objection 1: “But what about the LAZY kids!?”

One teacher asked this as the policy was introduced. It was gently explained that motivating children is as much a part of the job as teaching them skills.


Objection 2: “Well my kids aren’t going to have any grades then!”

The hope is of course that teachers learn from these small assessments, tweak lessons and get students to meet objectives the next day. A teacher who fails to ever get 70% of his class to meet an objective, has bigger problems than not having any grades to enter, and will be supported by administration and coaches.


Objection 3: “But what about the kids who do get it right. Don’t they deserve a grade?!”

Students who show mastery of an objective that their fellow classmates are struggling with should be given a supplemental assignment the next day as the lesson is spiraled to push them further – this assignment can then receive a grade. That way, every student’s achievement is moving forward.


Just like any new school policy, this one is bound to need some tune ups, but in the meantime, teachers will at least begin to reflect on their planning in a measurable way, and students won’t suffer for an unsuccessful lesson.

How do you authentically assess students? Share in the comments section below!

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