No Pass, No Play. That’s the idea behind a Harford County Board of Education policy directed at the high school students who are failing one or more classes. At some schools, they make up more than half the population; on average, it’s closer to 37%.
Officially known as the Eligibility Policy, the idea was to motivate students to pass each class, every quarter, by making students ineligible for extra-curricular activities if they failed even one class. The policy gives Freshmen a free pass for the first quarter and all students the chance to pull up their grades each quarter, so one-time ineligibility doesn’t necessarily trash the whole year.
Exceptions are made for special circumstances (which some schools allow more than others) but otherwise, the policy is strictly enforced. At a recent meeting the Board was told the number of students with at least one failure on their 4th quarter report card dropped by 2% over three year life of the policy. As Board member Mark Wolkow noted, the results were disappointing.
Executive Director of Secondary Education Dave Volrath offered that there had been fewer course failures since the policy was enacted. Good news, but he failed to mention there were also 445 fewer high school students enrolled in Harford County Public Schools since that time. Volrath should have provided that context.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that some students improved their grades – each one, whatever the reason, is cause for celebration. But any serious analysis of the Eligibility Policy should have included all the relevant data, starting with the percentage of kids who were failing before the policy was enacted. Once the policy was implemented, what percent gave up when they became ineligible and dropped out? What percent of ineligible kids brought up their grades, became eligible and participated in extra-curricular activities? And historically, what percent of failing students weren’t in extra-curricular activities in the first place? This policy might be aimed at so few students that the feeble effect is not only understandable, it’s predictable.
The goals of the Eligibility Policy are laudable, but laudable goals are not enough. Evaluations to determine what works, what needs adjustment and what does more harm than good are where the real work begins. Policies that are ineffective and can’t be fixed should be dropped. In other words: No pass, No play.
Three years ago, in the first year of the Eligibility Policy, 38% of enrolled students had at least one failing grade (“E”) on their 4th quarter report card. The following year, the board was told the rate was unchanged. But a handy calculator indicates the number of students with at least one E (3,573) divided by the total enrollment (9,190) equals .38879. This was inexplicably rounded down to the 38% rate reported to the Board. But failures were not flat in year two of the policy, they were up. Up slightly, but up.
The miscalculation may have been an honest error, but the same Everything-Gets-Rounded-Down Rule was used again with the data from year three: 3,213 students with at least one E divided by 8,713 total enrollment equals .36879, but it was reported as 36% and the staff told the Board that over the life of the policy “the number of students who received failing grades dropped 2%”.
I won’t bore you with a complete, to the last decimal point analysis, but the rate was up the first year, down the next and the overall decline for the period studied was not 2%, it was 1.57%. In school, that kind of error would earn someone a failing grade.