A survey by a teachers’ union and an organization devoted to empowering teachers concludes that teachers are pressured by administrators to make their schools look good.
The survey, conducted by the Washington Teachers’ Union and EmpowerEd, showed that District of Columbia Public School teachers feel pressure to change students’ grades and attendance records.
According to the survey’s results, 46.5 percent of teachers said they felt pressured by a school administrator to pass or change grades for students who didn’t meet expectations. When the survey singled out high school teachers, 60 percent said they felt pressured.
Between November and December 2017, 616 teachers responded to the study.
In neighborhoods with high poverty rates, teachers say the pressure is greatest. In the system’s 40/40 schools (a name given to the district’s 40 lowest-performing schools that were targeted by former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson for a 40 percent increase in proficiency rates) 50 percent of teachers said they felt pressured to change grades or attendance records.
The WTU-EmpowerEd survey also revealed that 47 percent of teachers (61 percent in high school) said their employers set up barriers to prevent them from failing students, citing “excessive documentation” as one of the barriers. Twenty-two percent of teachers said that someone at their schools changed grades without their permission and 26.4 percent felt school administrators didn’t trust their professional judgment.
WTU President Elizabeth Davis said the system by which administrators evaluate teachers is broken.
“Teachers are being pressured to make the changes or else their evaluations will be affected,” said Davis in a statement. “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.”
“A couple of years ago, I received a phone call to change a grade for a student I had never seen,” stated one teacher in the comment section of the survey. “Student was a senior and my class was needed for graduation. After initial refusal, I was called again the next day by a different person and asked for the same thing. I felt pressured, so I changed it. I was new to Roosevelt, so I didn’t have courage to stand up to people who have been in school for longer than I had been.”
Another teacher discussed being pressured via email, conferences with administrators and during staff meetings to change the grades of students who hadn’t completed the work or attended class and mark students as present when they weren’t attending class.
Davis and EmpowerEd Director Scott Goldstein recommend overhauling the teacher and principal evaluation systems, more teachers and school administrator collaboration and finding solutions to high teacher and principal turnover rates.
“This moment presents us with an opportunity to fundamentally shift away from the culture of fear and mistrust in too many of our schools and build an empowered and inclusive system that works for everyone” stated Goldstein. “Significant research has demonstrated the link between relational trust, teacher leadership in schools and increased student achievement.”