By Sally Absher

Jani Norman, a retired classroom teacher of 28 years, spoke during last Monday’s BOE Public Forum on the Five Year Strategic Plan and how Knox County Schools can better prepare students and increase the number of college ready students.

She addressed the Common Core, academic coaching, and programs like blitzes and credit recovery that artificially inflate graduation rates. She said that students are leaving the classroom and going into the workforce not career-ready.

One politician is campaigning that he will ‘Hold teachers accountable.’ She asked, “How about holding our administrators, supervisors, and superintendent accountable?”

Business leaders are pointing their fingers at the teachers. Politicians are questioning, “What are the teachers doing? Why are they not doing their job?”

Norman said, “What the teachers are doing is exactly what they are told to do by their administrators. Pad the grade average. Blitz. Credit recovery.”

Academic Blitz allows students failing a class with a grade between 65 and 70 to complete additional assignments to pull their grade up to passing.

Credit Recovery allows a student who has failed a class to make it up in summer school or the following year by completing an on-line interactive program. The student receives both academic credit for the class, and an elective credit in “Skills for Success.”

Norman said, “We are not educating our students, we are simply graduating them. Grades are manipulated and not earned.”

She said that as a classroom teacher, she was asked to change the grade of a graduating senior three and a half years after she had the student in class. “It was at this point I realized that the graduation rate was far more important to administrators than truly educating our students.”

Indeed, the increase in KCS graduation rate from 81.4% in 2009 to 87.7% in 2013 is a statistic that both Dr. McIntyre and BOE Chair Lynn Fugate have frequently used to show the effectiveness of their administration. McIntyre expects a “slight increase” in the graduation rate for 2014.

Yet, Knox County’s preparation rate, the percentage of high school students who meet all four of the ACT “college and career readiness” benchmarks for English, reading, math, and science was only 21% in 2013, unchanged from 2012. The rate was best at Farragut High School, with 40% meeting all benchmarks. Just 3% of Austin East students met all four benchmarks.

Norman made several recommendations on how to better prepare students for college and career. She said that she would favor having Common Core re-evaluated, and having teacher input into the concept.  She suggested eliminating coaches coaching teachers. “Our money would be better spent putting more teachers in the classroom, to lower teacher-pupil ratio.”

She recommends that KCS concentrate on educating the college-prep and low level students, instead of placing emphasis on AP classes which may have as few as 6 students in a class. “We need our experienced teachers in college prep and low level classes.”

Finally, to ensure that students are truly being educated, the ACT exam must be used to measure our students’ success in learning, not artificially inflated graduation rates.

She encouraged supervisors and politicians to get out into the classrooms and see firsthand what is going on in Knox County Schools.