Failure Rate Spurs Debate

Laid off teacher says instructors pressed to not flunk students

Payson High School

Payson High School Photo by Andy Towle. |

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During the last week of the school year in May, a daunting 27 percent of the Payson High School (PHS) student body failed one or more classes.

Each week, PHS collects the data on how many students fail to determine eligibility for extracurricular activities including sports, music and drama.

If a student fails a class, they may not participate.

But former senior economics, government and sophomore world history teacher Ron Silverman, who was laid off in the spring, insists the school collects the data for another reason: teacher evaluations. Despite the seemingly high failure rate, he maintains that many teachers face pressure from the administration to pass students even if they do not turn in their work or pass tests.

An informal survey of other teachers found some support for Silverman’s claim, as well as comments from other teachers who say they have never faced that pressure. None of the teachers contacted wanted to talk on the record. However, Silverman’s appeal and the recent release of the statistics on failed classes have thrown the issue into sharp focus.

“I was confronted in the beginning of the year by (Payson High School) Principal (Kathe) Ketchem with the accusation that students were not doing well in my class and they MUST pass,” the former Payson teacher who has a contract to teach at the Whiteriver School District this year, wrote to the Payson School Board in an appeal of the decision to include him in the Reduction of Force (RIF) at the end of the 2011-12 school year.

Silverman’s fellow teachers gave a mixed response to his accusation.

“I always feel that pressure,” said one teacher.

“I’ve never heard the administration say that,” said another teacher.

One teacher explained, “One of the main reasons (for addressing the failure rate) is for parent contact. If you have failures or Ds, you’re supposed to call parents and tell them their child needs to focus on homework.”

The failure report covers the last month of the school year and reports the number of students failing and the number of classes they have failed.

“… I have evidence that over 60 percent of students failing my classes also had two or more failing classes that they were failing in other, unrelated subjects,” wrote Silverman.

The statistics on the report confirm Silverman’s statement, since most students failing one class were also failing at least one other class.

Silverman also said the former principal wrote a poor review of his teaching based mostly on the number of phone calls she received from parents. However, he said she did not tell him which parent had called or suggested ways to solve the problem.

Ketchem has since retired and did not have a comment.

Silverman said Ketchem removed students from his classes when parents complained, without getting his permission for the transfer. School district policy states instructors must sign off when a student leaves their classes and give the reason why. Silverman reported he started with 160 students and ended up with around 70 in all of his classes.

At the time the school board officially RIF’ed the five other teachers let go this year, school administrators said the reason those teachers were picked had to do with low enrollment. Less students in a class equals less dollars that teacher brings into the district.

The data shows that failures peak during the sophomore year, then steadily decline until the senior class, which has the least.

On the failure rate report, 26 percent of freshmen and 38 percent of sophomores failed one or more classes. The failure rate for one or more classes dropped to 29 percent of juniors and just 12 percent of seniors.

In the freshman class, the failing students bombed in an average of 1.5 classes. Sophomores rose to 1.9 classes per student, before dropping to 1.5 for juniors and 1.3 for seniors.

However, the number of students in the senior class also dropped significantly, from about 170 in the sophomore class to about 130 in the senior class. That raises the possibility that the dramatic reduction in the failure rate among the seniors stemmed from the decision by many failing juniors to drop out of school.

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