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.
Maybe they should do what the NCAA does in college sports. You have to have a 2.0 or better to play. There are exceptions for freshman, who get put on probation for failing below the threshold but are allowed to play while getting their grades up.
Now, as a parent, if my kid is failing classes, they wouldn’t be able to play sports anyway, as they would not be allowed out of the house after school…
Steve has a good point about linking “no pass, no play” to the overall grade point average or GPA. That would make the point that the school is driving for but also allow kids to participate in sports, clubs, etc. despite an occasional failing quarter grade. Many kids learn as much from extracurricular activities as from a class. There are also students who are motivated to stay in school by their participation in these activities and all of society benefits from having these kids stay in school. No on excels in everything. I know that much of the school’s current curriculum is driven by “no child left behind” but let’s be realistic.
When they implemented this policy they thought it would motivate students to do better but it hasn’t worked out that why. If you look at individual schools, most of the schools in the Route 40 corridor have 50% of their students ineligible. At a time when the Sheriff is trying to promote after school programs and keeping kids off the street, do we really want these kids doing NOTHING after school. Many of them wouldn’t be doing anything anyway but for the ones that are making an effort and are unsuccessful, this is tragic.
Other school systems link ineligibility with an overall GPA. Harford County should look at the same because it would at least help with students who are making an effort but may have problems with a particular class. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the E’s are in math classes. At least in most other classes, the parents might be able to help the kids but not in math. Apparently whomever did this Ineligibity Report has a problem with math and they are charged with making important decisions about the school system!
I was dead against the program from the start…It was a mean spirited directive given to children with no provision of circumstances.
If you recall this program started when Boss Hass was “getting her new digs”, her new bldg. She was riding high…oh…and that problem of kids with failing grades…send them a memo…that will fix it.
The program made no allowances for anything except , oh my god, the special kid of upper crust stature or with a special talent such as quarterbacking, or some special interest.
The bottom line became….read the memo…comply…do well….welcome to age 16 !
Now the reality is that 16 year olds with their funky bodies…hormones…pimples…have a multitude of problems and pressures. The ill advised attempt by BOSS HASS to mandate by memo that theses kids WILL get good grades or loose what may be the one thing that keeps a student having grade problems interested in school …in school is ridicules.
This entire program asks one to wonder if BOSS HASS has a clue…does she not realize that such a cold program has lifelong consequences for the kids in that it literally make many of them outcasts . The actions of this program shatter a kids world. Was her intention to run our kids outta school so that only high achievers attend and her STATS look good when compiled in her DIGS ! If this is the case we have a real problem.
The problem for low grade kids is incentive…combined with extra help…extra credit classes. The answer is not punishment and banishment. The answer is not public humiliation.
I wonder how many kids who hung on a thread just gave up because of this program after being given the big F.U. by BOSS HASS. How many of those 400 plus kids just gave up when there school slammed the door in there face.
Of course as I’m not a PhD in education I simply cannot have a clue….
Go Dagger ! !
I find the exemption in the freshman year very interesting…I guess it allows the coaches to evaluate .
If the program is fair, (in its cold hearted way), make it dependent on the grades from middle school to participate in HS. No coaches and special interests evaluation period in the freshman year.
Whats good for the goose is good for the gander.
Go Dagger ! !
Good point about the appeals RichieC. Appeals require an advocate – a parent, a coach, etc. to take part in the process. If a student is not a star athlete or doesn’t have involved parents, an appeal may not be filed, even if there were qualifying circumstances.
I can remember every season in high school there were eligibility concerns for some of my teammates. In cases where they were not able to play, their grades worsened after being kicked off the team.
I’m not saying they should be allowed to play, no matter what. I just think there has to be a better solution.
This isn’t just a Route 40 problem either. Northern schools are struggling when it comes to special education and the bottom 25% students. The HCPS solution seems to be to build more magnet schools and install FieldTurf.
R. C. Slutzky says
Concerning Steve’s and others who commented on using the “college” system. It has been a long time since I coached on the unviersity level and even a bunch of years since my sons competed on the college level but the system remains what it has been for decades a far as I know. NCAA athletes must pass 12 credits a term to participate. The average college course load is 15+ credits (usually 5 classes) per full time student. Many taking 17, 18, or even 20 credits a term. So, unless you are taking the minimum of 12 credits you can fail 1 or even 2 or more classes on the NCAA level and still participate.
So, if I have it right, college kids who are selected because they have the ability to do post high school work, who are screened through the NCAA clearing house, and who are usually 18 years old or older can often fail 1 or 2 college classes a term and remain eligible for athletic competition. In Harford County on the high school level where students are 14 – 15 -16 years old and where they have to take 8 classes they can fail none and still participate in extracurricular activities. Whats wrong with that picture?
Thanks for the comment Coach! When I was in college, I think you could cut down to 10 credits a semester, as long as you took a winter or summer session class to get back above 12.
Let me give an example of what happened to me in college.
My freshman year wasn’t pretty. I had a tough time adjusting to the new freedoms, the coursework that I feel my high school education did not prepare me for, and playing a very time consuming sport on the Division I level. And that first semester was the off-season! My grades were pretty bad that semester, and I got a letter from the NCAA. I took a winter session class, aced it, and was eligible for the spring season. Well, I guess I didn’t learn my lesson, add in playing 56 games in 2 months, and I’m officially on probation from the NCAA after failing 2 of my 5 classes (one wasn’t my fault, I swear, I wasn’t the only one, long story 🙂 ). I had to take a summer class (in order to meet the 12 credits per semester NCAA requirement) and get daily tutoring once the fall session started.
I HATED the tutoring. I really didn’t need it, as my poor grades had more to do with my studying habits rather than the coursework. But you know what? I didn’t have a choice. The advisors saw that it wasn’t the content of the classes giving me a problem, and instead worked with me on new techniques to manage my time. By the spring semester, I was out of the program, and never had any more problems.
I also never missed a game or practice due to schoolwork. Why can’t there be a similar program at the high school level for the kids? Alot of these kids simply don’t know how to study and/or don’t understand their homework. Instead of throwing them off the team and disenfranchising them, why not help them?
Steve- never knew that! 🙂
I also played division I athletics in college and yes Coach you have a great point. Some of my teammates that were 21 and had been accepted to a College through screening and testing and had been grown up for 3 years were able to fail 2 classes and still play that season- there were only a few that I can think of off hand as our coach had mandatory study hall and tutoring. Something needs to be changed with the high school situation.
I do think if we take some of these kids and say “you are off the team”- more failing grades and trouble will arise. They are no longer at practice after school but walking the streets and getting in trouble!
I think an overall grade point average with mandatory help for C’s would help.
In cases of an ineligibilty, why not make a mandatory study hall/tutoring program available? I know there would be an added cost but compare that to other measures that have been taken or proposed. As Steve mentioned and I feel is the case most of the time, the problem is not really the material but more likely the study habits.
What do you do with your kids if there grades fall (but not necessarily fail)? First, you check if it is the material, then study method/habit , then outside influences. From my personal experience with myself and my kids, it usually isn’t the material (although it may be how it is presented/taught).
Although I support the no failure criteria, I do not think it should be a stand alone. It’s sort of like throwing addicts in jail. If you don’t do some rehab while in jail, they’ll be back in the same place later. Tutoring is educational rehab.
You forgot the school system’s new solution – school uniforms. Maybe that will help with the ineligibility … or is it another way to distract the public from the real issues?
The school system doesn’t do anything either to deal with the teachers in the system who don’t teach the kids and expect them to learn on their own. They just get moved around from one place to another and some schools get stuck with them. One thing HCPS could have learned from this report is whether or not certain teachers have more failing students and why. My kids have had some great teachers and they have had some pretty bad ones. If a student who is struggling has many bad teachers, they are in a lot of trouble because their learning issues weren’t dealt with earlier and they aren’t learning much in the class.
School Uniform debate coming to The Dagger soon, stay tuned… 🙂
As for your second point, I would think the HCPS system would have some sort of metrics on the performance of the teachers. That is, if the teacher’s union allows it. But the metrics should really only be used for management purposes. An AP English teacher is sure to have better student performance than a remedial English teacher. That doesn’t necessarily equate into better teacher performance.
Parent, taxpayer and businessman says
Does anyone really think that the director of secondary education acts in good faith when presenting numbers to the Board or public? Please.
There is constant self-serving spin, misdirection and misrepresentation. Its a disgrace. The superintendent knows it; the board knows it (and if they don’t know it, that’s even worse); the business people and certain elected persons who arrogantly defend the status quo do NOT know it…..but they should. Some of them, if they did the homework to find it out, would apologize to the students for fighting to preserve this ridiculous appointment scenario. In ANY organization where oversight and accountability existed, this would have been nipped in the bud years ago.
JJ well said…kids don’t take memos seriously….no inegibility unless they are not accepting the help and unless they have an attitude problem.
I’m sad at the damage that has been done with this program.
Go Dagger !!
I understand they talk about the percentage or number of kids with E’s. But what I don’t get is we should look at the number of kids with E’s, who are still participating in sports. That is the real question in my opinion. I thought this was going to be a strict policy but in reality it isn’t.
The kids appeal to the eligibility committee and they get turned down because the reason they have an E is because they were lazy and didn’t do homework or something like that. I thought the language was something out of the students control. To me that is a parent who may have a major sickness, parent divorce, etc.
Once turned down, they appeal to the Principal. It is up to each principal to decide. So this is where each principal decision varies between schools. Some are stricter than others depending on the situation. Some schools this year, probably let few play where others let everyone get their appeals. That is not the intent of this policy, at least how I read it.
So, is the board or Mr. Volrath, reporting this many students got E’s and this many ultimately got to participate in extra-curricular activities? I think that is what needs to be reported.
We need to teach the kids that you need to step up to the plate and if you miss a football, field hockey, basketball, lacrosse, track season, then that is the consequence. There are opportunities for tutoring and getting help from teachers. Sometimes a hard lesson is needed for them to learn how important their studies are. Let’s stop coddling the kids.
So, is the board or Mr. Volrath, reporting this many students got E’s and this many ultimately got to participate in extra-curricular activities? Is there any way to get this data?
Lew Jr. says
While I applaud HCPS for a commitment to academic excellence on the part of the County’s student athletes, I agree with many previous writers that the current policy is flawed. As it stands now, my child could ace math, science, history, english…but a failing grade in say…art class…(no disrespect intended)…and they do not play. I support the notion that a students overall GPA is a more appropriate measuring stick.
Regard the inability of our esteemed director of secondary education to follow basic rules of rounding, rest assured that should my child average 59.2 in a class and receive a failing grade, I will appeal directly to him as he would surely round that to a passing 60!!
I just think if you are going to have a policy, then enforce it how it is meant to be enforced. It currently is not being enforced how it should be.
Why Not? Because then we would see all these kids not able to play on sports team. I just find it ironic that eligibility committe says no, then Principals say yes. Why have eligibility committee in the school?
Maybe have a county eligibility committe to hear appeals, with a rep from each school or something so each student goes in front of same people rather than getting treated differently.
Or better yet change the rule so we don’t have to say we have these tough new rules, yet you can look out on sports fields and still see players playing with different deals they have made. Is that fair if school A is doing that and school B is not? NO How do we know that school A is following up and checking to see if the student is doing his part of the deal?