Texas Teacher Fired for Maintaining Grading Standards

The blogosphere is a funny place. I check my Google Analytics account every few days to see how people get to this site, including the terms they use in search engines to find the articles. If there’s a search term that surprises me, I search it myself to see how this site came up and who else is around it. That’s how I came across E.C. Huey, a candidate for the Guilford, North Carolina school board, who weighed in on a recent injustice in public education.

Mr. Huey pointed me to a story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that exposed the firing of a 6th grade teacher for refusing to give students grades that they didn’t deserve:

Problems for sixth-grade math teacher Michelle Kevil began last fall when parents complained to school authorities at Bear Creek Intermediate School in the Keller district.

One set of parents wrote Principal Tedna Taylor asking that their child be transferred from Kevil’s class. The parents hired a math tutor, they wrote, who couldn’t understand the child’s poor math grades.

I’ve heard this record spun on the Victrola more than a few times, but it never quite seems to wear out. Parents, unhappy with their child’s performance in a class – usually because the student just isn’t making the grade – go outside the system to prove that their child is, in fact, the genius they thought he was. It is true that some students have difficulty in a particular class for any of a host of reasons. It is not true that this is always the teacher’s fault. Encountering difficulty in management/staff relationships, teacher/student, parent/child, etc. is a normal part of life and it is important that we as educators and parents give our kids the strategies to work through them rather than avoid them altogether. Then another parent complained:

A second mother, whose child was an A student, also complained to the teacher. She disputed a half-point reduction on a math test on a question about a mixed number and a fraction. She asked that her child’s score “be adjusted accordingly.”

The mother added in an e-mail to Kevil, “We have been frustrated with this math class. It is hard for me to not view this [test] problem as trying to ‘trick’ the students.”

The teacher wrote back, explaining how she graded the problem and adding: “These issues have manifested themselves into an obvious personality conflict. We both only want what is best for your child. If your perception is that I am perpetually trying to ‘trick’ the students, perhaps this is the time to pursue changing” teachers.

And then another and another – discontent with a teacher tends to snowball in a community. I haven’t seen the math problem in question, but it’s safe to say that a “half-point reduction” on one test doesn’t warrant inciting a lynch mob. Kevil did the right thing by explaining her reasoning in full. One can only wonder how angry the parent’s e-mail was [or if it was one of many] if Ms. Kevil had to suggest that the student consider transferring classes.

It shouldn’t have come to that. If a parent is that unhappy, it’s time for the administration to mediate the conflict and, presumably, support their staff throughout the process. The administrator should determine whether the ruling was fair and if the teacher had done her job properly; if she had, she should be supported. If she hadn’t, she should be disciplined accordingly and given all available resources [especially peer/departmental guidance] to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. What happened? Principal Tedna Taylor wrote the following memo to Ms. Kevil:

“Michelle, I checked the grade averages across the campus and your failing rate is above the sixth grade average. I believe you have as many as 24 percent failing in one class and around 17 percent in the other classes. In the educational climate we are in at the federal, state and campus level, this is not acceptable. NCLB [No Child Left Behind] is clear, no child will be left behind and at BCI we embrace that philosophy. You should have 100 percent passing. We will discuss a plan of action when we return from the holidays.”

Principal Taylor harkens the blandest interpretation possible for No Child Left Behind [NCLB]: that indeed, no child should be left behind. According to Principal Taylor, this school interprets that mission as making sure all students are pushed through the system because the government tells them to do so. It is folly to expect 100% of a teacher’s students to pass; it is deeply offensive to suggest that a failure rate greater than 0% proves that a teacher is ineffective. This tendentious memo speaks volumes about how the Bear Creek Intermediate administration handled the issue. Ms. Kevil sums up her response succinctly:

The teacher says she believed that she was being asked to compromise her standards. “Don’t think I’m going to give grades out when a student doesn’t even deserve it,” she told me.

The Watchdog, the Star-Telegram’s consumer advocacy/news section, reviewed the documentation collected from the struggle between Taylor and Kevil:

The Watchdog reviewed more than 100 pages of letters, memos and e-mails provided by the teacher that show how the situation was handled. Nothing in the documents or in interviews indicates that the teacher was asked to alter grades. But Kevil said she believed that she was under pressure to do so.

“It put me in a position to regrade, add points, to change your grading policy, to change the material you were presenting so you don’t have any kids failing,” Kevil said. “Honestly, that’s how it was presented to me.”

Few principals are careless enough to express in writing such an embarrassing, shameful stance. Even so, an environment that encourages, “grade inflation and bumping and social promotion,” as Mr. Huey puts it, can pervade a classroom and render a teacher ineffectual. At the least, it creates irreconcilable [and wholly unnecessary] tension between everyone involved: administrators, parents, teachers and, of course, the students who are caught in the middle.

And then the district decided to terminate her contract at the end of her probationary year. Ms. Kevil maintained her will:

Other teachers, she said, told her to just pass the students. “Well, I can’t pass them,” she remembers telling her colleagues. “They have to do the work to pass.”

For that she should be applauded [and her peers who suggested to pass students unjustly should be decried]. Principal Taylor called this a “cop-out statement” and implied that Kevil didn’t know how to motivate students properly. The pressure continued:

The documents provided by Kevil show that Taylor performed walk-throughs during Kevil’s classes, asked administrators to meet with Kevil to discuss her methods, checked grades and tests designed by the teacher and requested that she make sure that her assignments mirrored those of other sixth-grade math teachers.

This is not the supportive environment I mentioned before; based on the evidence in this article and the [brief] testimony of both parties, it is reasonable to conclude that these interventions were closer to bullying than staff support. Kevil requested a transfer and was asked specifically by Taylor whether she was resigning; at that point she withdrew the transfer request and wrote a letter of grievance to the school board. She couldn’t follow it up because she couldn’t afford a lawyer [and in this case, she needs a skilled practitioner of employment law]. Because she didn’t pursue the grievance, the school board was unable to hear her case in full and voted 6-1 not to extend her probationary contract. Trustee Gerry Knowles said:

“A high failure rate, to me, tells me the subject is not being properly taught,” Knowles added.

Apparently Knowles concluded that the only force at work here is Kevil’s inability to teach. Remember, though, the vote wasn’t unanimous:

The lone dissenter in the board vote was Randy Pugh, whose wife is a math teacher at Bear Creek.

Pugh said, “I spoke to Michelle once when she was demanding a higher standard for the children. She was being pressured to lower that standard in order to have children passing, and that concerned me.” He said he referred her to the district’s grievance policies.

I laud Pugh for not bending to the majority, but the school board should have been more than concerned – horrified would be a more appropriate response – and voted to investigate this situation immediately and to the fullest. They didn’t.

Kevil wrote school board members this final statement: “I refuse to compromise my integrity because of an uninformed parent, a weak administration and a district that turns a blind eye.”

Kevil and other teachers with a commitment to standards and integrity face persecution by those who lack that will. Kevil’s not the first casualty and she won’t be the last; as administrators worry endlessly about the accountability of NCLB, exclusion rates and appearing on Newsweek’s best schools list, we’ll hear about teachers who keep their focus on teaching being thrown under the bus. Students and their parents are in a sense customers with the school serving as the business, but in education the customer is not always right.

I have no doubt that Ms. Kevil will approach her next job with the same conviction with which she carried out her duties at BCI . Her next employer will be better for it – and so will her students, who will be given genuine evaluation instead of being cheated by an administration that pushes them through a system with a shameful disregard for their well-being. I would wish Ms. Kevil luck, but those who maintain their integrity require little luck to be successful.

Asked how many of her students failed on the most recent report cards, Kevil answered three out of about 100.

The bad guys may have won the battle, but if teachers like Michelle Kevil stay committed, they won’t win the war.

28 Responses to “Texas Teacher Fired for Maintaining Grading Standards”

  1. Angie says:

    Thanks for this rundown. The pressures a teacher faces come from all possible directions. It absolutely encourages me to see educators who have the self confidence to stick to their guns.

  2. This is exactly why my father spent his career teaching college instead of high school or elementary. His lost his first job, teaching junior high science, becase he didn’t pass enough kids through.

    I hope Kevril finds a position where her convictions are appreciated.

  3. Darren says:

    I would not teach in Texas. Too many horror stories from out there–and I’m politically moderately conservative.

  4. Polski3 says:

    Great Post ! Many teachers who give a crap about standards have suffered at the hands of such parents…..myself being one of them.

    Bravo for this young lady, falling on her sword to uphold high standards. I wonder how much assistance her principal provided her in techniques to improve her instructional practices? I wonder if the parents are always right at BCI school ? I wonder which school will be lucky enough to get this math teacher who has high expectations and standards. I wonder how many of these failing students were failing because they were not putting in the necessary effort to do their work? I wonder how many of these failing students were socially promoted and found themselved in a situation where they now realize that they should know how to add, subtract, multiply, divide, do decimals, fractions……..

    Life will reach out and take a BIG bite out of these kids. And their parents will wonder what the hell went wrong…..but then again, it simply must be the schools and teachers fault their child turned out ignorant, stupid, cannot keep a minimum wage job or handle classes at the local community college.

  5. Mike says:

    Dear Matthew:

    Interesting post. I too am a Texas teacher, and I don’t think Texas schools are any different than schools elsewhere. Manay Texas schools and communities are quite conservative, and if there seem to be many horror stories coming from Texas, I suspect that is so, at least in part, because there are so many teachers in Texas, compared with most other states.

    In this case, this young lady is certainly better off leaving. Understand that I know only what I’ve read about this case, but I do bring many years of experience in a number of school districts to the table. Her principles are laudable, but ultimately, she’ll have to choose her battles more carefully or leave education.

    I teach in a good school, but there is subtle and not so subtle pressure to pass students who don’t actually pass. It’s never in writing, it’s never overt, but it’s always there. That said, my administrators are realistic and rational, unlike, apparently, the administrator/villain in this story.

    I have no doubt that even in my school, if I insisted on absolute standards, I would be fired. And so I have to ask myself what would be served by sticking to lofty principles? Does my school district–my community–really value high achievement? Sure, but mainly in the abstract and mainly on state mandated test scores on the whole. I don’t pass everyone who doesn’t deserve it, even fail kids who richly deserve it, but I document everything, and communicate with parents constantly and primarily through the mail and keep copies of absolutely everything.

    I feel that being in the classroom, even if I can’t maintain perfect standards, is better than not being there. Sure, it’s wrong. But is it so wrong that being unemployed and unemployable as a teacher is preferable?

    Ultimately, we serve the will of the public. If the public demands little or no individual responsibility for it’s kiddies, whose fault is that? If we conclude that the public’s will isn’t up to our standards, our choices are clear. It’s not what should be, but it is what is.

  6. Scott McLeod says:

    I confess I have a different take on this. As a former 8th grade teacher and current college professor of educational leadership, I’m troubled by the lack of emphasis on the teacher’s responsibility to create learning conditions that work for students. To be honest, I share the principal’s concern that somewhere between 1 in 4 and 1 in 6 students is failing in this teachers’ class. Students have responsibility for their learning but so do teachers. Is a teacher doing her part effectively when so many are failing? Is this an issue of ‘maintaining high standards’ or simply not knowing how to connect with and reach kids? I’m hesitant to jump to quick conclusions here. It’s easy to blame the administration and the kids, but we also have to take a hard look at what the instructor is doing and I don’t see much inclination to do that by anyone other than the principal.

  7. Matthew says:


    I see this from both sides as well. An administrator’s responsibility in this case is to a) find out why the kids are failing; b) determine if there is negligence/malice by the teacher, c) if not, align the teacher’s standards with the district.

    It is clear that the administrator did not satisfy a). There’s no mention of any reason for failure other than the students deserving it. If there was, the administrator could’ve nipped this situation in the bud and expedited Kevil’s dismissal with an unchallengeable justification. This did not happen, which suggests that there was no wrongdoing or that the administrator is incompetent. Neither is good justification for pushing through the case in this manner. In addition, there appears to be no documented malice/negligence.

    The effort made to align Kevil and the school was a total failure – the insulting interpretation of NCLB attests to that. I would have a very hard time believing that you as a professor of educational leadership would condone the principal’s methods here [if I am wrong, feel free to correct me].

    We haven’t seen all the documentation, so I recognize that my analysis might not be 100% – but I’m willing to bet it’s close. If a teacher receives students who are terribly underprepared for her class, is she at fault for not knowing how to “connect or reach kids?” No. Are the kids at fault in that situation? Probably not. Does a good teacher pretend that her kids can do the work set out of them? Absolutely not.

    There does not appear to have been a concerted effort to troubleshoot the situation at the beginning. Then the handling of the personnel matter was botched [and downright offensive]. Should anyone trust a conclusion based on this process?

  8. I have been through this hoop of fire this year. We have the added thrill of having a problem child’s parent on our faculty as an aide. She starts the gossip and innuendo, it filters down to her neighbors who then take every word from my mouth out of context, or who think their child’s every utterance and product is destined for a museum. Thank God my class doesn’t count toward the GPA or I would really get complaints. As it is, students seem unconcerned with due dates, and often don’t do the work at all. Parents are then shocked to learn their child is failing, even though our district spent MILLIONS for online grade access for parents to use as a contact and monitoring school. And now our state legislature wants to tie our income to achievement, meaning that our raises will be based on the whims of fourteen year olds and their parents. Nice.

  9. Mike says:

    Dear Scott and Matthew:

    Again, we know only what’s been published about this case, but there does not seem to be any evidence of incompetence on the part of the teacher here. Of course teachers are responsible for providing the best possible educational opportunity they can manage. Part of this is helping and encouraging kids in a variety of professionally accepted and valid ways. However, if a teacher is doing this, it matters not if one in four or three in four of the students in a teacher’s class are failing, because it is clearly not their fault. Now, if one is of the NCLB mold where students and parents have no responsibility whatever in the educational process and where teachers are wholly accountable, then you’d tend to see this differently, wouldn’t you?

    At various times in my career, at various times during a school year, I’ve had 50% and more of the students in a given high school English class failing. True, most were able to pass by the end of the semester and year, but if one cared primarily, or only, about pass/fail rates, I would have been learning new phrases such as “would you like fries with that?” long ago.

    I’ve been fortunate to have competent principals who actually determine who is at fault when a student is failing. One skill too many principals seems to lack is the ability to read a gradebook. As most are computerized, it’s easy to access them. If student #6 in Mr. Smith’s gradebook is failing, and out of 42 assignments done thus far, there are 18 zeros, and five failing scores, but the remainder are 84% or higher, what might a reasonable principal conclude? Student #6 is obviously capable, Mr. Smith gives them high scores when they earn them, but student #6 isn’t bothering to turn in most of their work. Hence, this is not the teacher’s fault. Of course, these issues can be more complex, but an experienced principal would inevitably draw these conclusions from a review of the data as I’ve presented it.

    I’ve gotten away from the original thrust of this story, but any teacher working for a principal who isn’t competent to accurately judge such issues is better off finding one who can. Deciding which standards are acceptable to you is another, related, issue.

  10. Scott McLeod says:

    It’s a tough issue. The balance of when to hold students v. teachers ‘accountable’ for student learning / motivation / etc. is so contextual. We all know students that are complete slackers. We also know students who would be more successful in class if their teacher were more motivating / taught differently / etc. I do tend to be of the opinion that if you’ve ‘taught’ something but your kids haven’t learned it / hate it, you’re not doing your job as in instructor. This doesn’t mean that teachers have to kill themselves to please students but neither should they be allowed to put in minimal and/or ineffective effort and then absolve themselves of responsibility for student learning. Is this a teacher that goes the extra mile and still has so many students failing? My hunch is no given her results; outstanding teachers find a way to help students be successful, even when they’re not interested in the material. But I don’t have any evidence to prove this so it will remain an unfounded suspicion.

    One thing that’s very clear from reading the professional learning communities literature is that schools that take on greater responsibility for student learning than they have in the past see increases in student achievement. You only have to read a little DuFour, Schmoker, Stiggins, Reeves, Bernhardt, Supovitz, etc. to see this.

  11. Scott McLeod says:

    Oops – one more thing re: Mike’s comment. When is there a responsibility to ask WHY students are doing so few assignments as opposed to simply assuming they’re interesting / valid / authentic and blaming students for noncompletion? I’m not saying this is the situation in Mike’s example, but I can remember an incredible number of school assignments that were completely pointless / busy work. I’m guessing everyone can. So there becomes a point, I believe, when we have to look at the data as an indicator of the quality of our assignments, not our students.

  12. Jessica says:

    I have a real problem with moticvation in my classroom this year as well. The administration in my school has instituted a no zero policy this year. Students may not earn a zero even if they refuse to do an assignment. We must hold them during lunch until they agree to complete all missed assignments. I have always had a makeup policy in place for students who failed to turn in work, however there are always students who fail to complete something purposefully. There is NO teacher in my school who as 100% of the work turned in 100% of the time. Is that an issue of whether the work is “valid” or “authentic”. Why does every assignment have to be interesting? It would be impossible for me to make every topic “interseting” to every student. When my students are reading on 1st and 2nd grade levels in 7th grade, why should they pass? (By the way the average reading level of my students is 4th grade, and I teach 7th grade science.) So, is it my fault that 4% of my students are failing? Well, according to my administration it is. So I have to create a miracle and ensure that they all pass, including the student who has a 63 average for every nine weeks so far and needs around a 91 to pass for the year. Well, I guess since they don’t remember 90% of what they were taught this year, I didn’t teach it, when they didn’t even try.

  13. I would first like to thank everyone for the overwhelming support in my cause. I do not want to get into details, but I thought I would give a couple of facts to reduce the suspicion.

    Polski 3: The wounds from falling on the sword are healing nicely, thanks. You hit the nail on the head – “I told you so” never sits well with a former student that is trying to pass Algebra from the third time.

    Mike: I think you are making a leap calling my standards absolute and my principles lofty. I myself keep impecable documentation and felt that I was justified – and had the paper to back it up – in making a stand. This was not an issue three students being unsuccessful and their parents questioning my teaching practices. This was an instance of a couple parents wanting to get their way, and another two points added to an A grade already. Being unemployed is not my priority, we all know we don’t do it for the money. And if this makes me unemployable in another district’s eye then that’s not the place for me. You have been blessed with good principals and I look forward to finding one that jives with my philosophies as well.

    Scott: Quoting percentages is always a dangerous game. The initial failing rate report was taken at a progress report where zeros had been entered for assignments that were not turned in. After meeting with administrators and adjusting my gradebook entering there was obviously a huge difference and administration was pleased that my “number of unsuccessful students was in line with other teachers on the campus”. I also encouraged others (math coordinators, curriculum directors) to take a hard look at what I was doing. In fact I requested it to no avail.

    Call Me Missus: Amen Sister!

    Matthew: Thank you for bringing this situation to light and allowing so many others an avenue to share their experiences.


  14. Ed Darrell says:

    One might wonder, considering the time spent getting administrators to review materials, checking on the teacher, etc.: Had the principal spent the same amount of time and effort working to get administrators to look a the kids’ work and trouble, getting administrators and others to work with the kids to get them to master the material, would there have been an improvement in the students’ performance?

    A failing student is a problem, but rarely is it the teacher’s fault that the student doesn’t learn the material. As the old “Chinese” saying goes, teacher opens door, student must walk through.

    Somebody said “There’s no royal road to geometry.” Nor to any other math.

    And, that reporter missed the boat. The quoted memorandum can only be interpreted as NOT a threat with a lot of careful denial of the clear language of the memo. I think in a court of law, it might be fairly interpreted as meaning “pass the kids or else.” There is no discussion of how to help the kids learn the material to pass, only a discussion of getting the grades to pass them on. Unless the principal can make a whale of a case from other memoranda that there was effort to help the kids, the implications are quite clear.

  15. P.Schilling says:

    Dear Matthew:

    Hey! Loved the comment (note) you sent over vis-a-vie The Thinker. I have also been enlightened to more horror stories regarding grade changing. It seems like a bump of class participation just isn’t doing much these days; therefore, I too have been victim to student grade changing and indeed the stories out of California where entire classes are being summarily changed is a travesty.

    I trust Michelle K. moved on to bigger and brighter endeavors? She sure seemed very talented and very high in demand—as it goes with math and science teachers. It is ugly indeed; yet, better she learn now than later. I’ll write you at your site re: Essay Grading. Cheers!

  16. ella says:

    To Mike, Teachers do not serve the will of the people! You are employed and empowered to serve the needs of the children. I just retired from a lifetime of teaching and I am sure glad it was not in Texas. Although I was not a fan of NCLB, its message is not to pass everyone! It is to reteach when necessary to those who need it, offer remediation, summer classes, turoring etc. to help kids. If schools are just passing everyone, the national tests results will not correlate with these students’ grades. Since NCLB is punitive in nature, the schools will ultimately be culpable anyway. Yes, it is a teacher’s job to motivate, but the learner has to want to learn (number one in the laws of learning).

  17. I wish I were as optomistic as you are, with your final comment, but I see every day attempts to undermine teachers who want to teach, who challenge their students, and want their students to actually learn. Throughout Texas at least NCLB is being interpreted as “pass every child.” My wife teaches Kindergarten, and she has been told several times to pass students who had nobusiness passing, precisely because of NCLB. The same is true of a mutual friend who teaches 2nd grade at a different school. The situation on the ground seems to be this: any teacher who can get the students to pass the TAKS test through teaching test-taking methods gets rewarded, while those who actually teach get punished.

    I go on and on about this kind of stuff on my own blog. Come by and visit and let me know what you think. I like what I’ve seen here so far.

  18. Matthew says:

    Dr. Camplin,

    I hopped over to your blog and poked around a little – it’s good stuff. I’ve added you to my Smart Blogs and look forward to more content.

  19. Kevil's colleague says:

    In case anyone is still “following” this situation, I am very happy to say that I have had the privilege of teaching with Mrs. Kevil this year. Thank goodness we were able to snatch her up! BCI’s loss! She is now teaching at the highschool level and is a wonderful teacher, very comitted to her students and their success. Does this mean she has a 100% passing rate? Of course not, I would be disappointed if she did. How unrealistic would that be?!? Would that really be educating our students about what the “real world” will be like once they graduate? I don’t think so! Anyway, we are so glad to have her…she is awesome!

  20. Matthew says:

    Thanks for the update – I was thinking just this week about how things had turned out. I can’t say I’m surprised at all, and your school is lucky to have her.

    Unfortunately, it appears that Bear Creek Intermediate is still burdened by Principal Tedna Taylor’s flawed, ineffective leadership. That she’s still involved in public education is a travesty.

  21. elptuxman says:

    I wonder how many of the readers have ever read “No Dentist Left Behind” see ( Many administrators misconstrue the purpose of NCLB, and go after seasoned professionals rather than the ailment itself…

  22. Julie M says:

    Kudos to Kevil for upholding her standards, what should be all of our professional standards. Students should earn the grade the grade they work for.

    We have moved away form a culture of self-responsibility and independence to a culture of blaming teachers and others for our hardships as part of our sue happy lawsuit climate and the I deserve it all attitude. What happened to work ethics? Students who are struggling should study extra or seek help from their teacher and a tutor. The younger the student the more a parent should advocate on their behalf to get them additional support. Not every teacher a student comes across will be able to provide one on one attention in a sea of kids nor is every teacher experienced enough with our high turn over rate.

    No Dentist Left Behind is a great analogy to the problems we face with NCLB. It is amazing how educators do things so differently from place to place and how NCLB is interpeted so differently. This is what irks me about education. Nobody seems to agree on best practices, yet other professionals at least reach some sort of consensus. They use research to improve their practice and drop outdated and ineffective practices. But not us. So many of just blindy do what we feel is best.

    I teach in California, and although I have had difficult parents who disagreed with grades, and sought out principals to have the grades changed or assignment deadlines extended, I have never been in a climate where I felt I had to have a 100% pass rate. I’ve always documented their progress kept protfolios of work and test.

    I’m in my 8th year of teaching elementary school and we’ve always tell it like it is where I worked (3 different districts). You must as students either a)demonstrate almost complete mastery of standards taught at any given subject and grade level and demonstrate some competency of higher skills in the next grade for a rubric score of 4 on the report card also defined as Advanced, b) demonstrate 75% to 95% mastery of standards taught for a rubric score of 3, At Grade Level, c)60% to 74% mastery of standards taught for a rubric score of 2 (Below Grade Level, At Risk of failing and retention, and finally d) 0-59% mastery of standards demonstrated for a rubric score of 1 Far Below Grade Level, Failing, Need s to be retained. On top of that many principals require grades to reflect more than what had been taught up until that grading period, because you must consider grades to be cummulative and include standards not taught yet. So we actually are told to make sure our first period grades are not to high as they should reflect demonstation of their knowledge of all standards that will be taught. If we’ve only taught a 1/3 of the standards by first period then their grade should refelct that.

    What if a student does great with number sense first grading period then blows geometry the second grading period. So grades should be lower the first period, to encourage students to work harder and to show growth in accumulating mastery of all standards as the year goes by. The philosophy is echoed by many administrators I’ve worked with over the year. It’s not fun to tell a parent well I thought they were a 4 in math at the beginning of the year but now they are a 2.
    Also our grades should not be to far off from what they show they are capable of doing on state test. If Johnny gets a 4 at the end of third grade and then recieves his state, national scores that say he is well below the 70th percentile how does that add up for parents when you say you’re grading by standards mastered, yet the state exam is also based on standards mastered. Is this so different from how thinigs are done at the middle school and high school levels?

    It would be impossible to have 100% passing given our system of 1-4. What happened to the bell curve? Since when do all grades only fall on the other side of the hill? Does everyone posess the same abiltiies to climb up a mountain at the same exact speed and skill to all end up on the other side? I have students with I.E.P.’s, major learning disabilities and deficits and still learning English. I push them just as hard if not harder then my proficient students to catch them up. Yet some are reading 2-3 grades behind, and even though they may make a years progress in reading and move up a grade level or two in reading capability, they may still be a grade level behind.

    By the end of each school year I am pleased to have 75% or more of my students at grade level or higher. I started out with only 25% somewhat prepared or ready with enough prior skills for the grade I teach. Isn’t that amazing progress? Shouldn’t we reward progress? Marty couldn’t read at all , but now he is reading. Would I be let go if I taught in other states for this number 75%?

    I can’t see how educators can bascially lie about a students actual performance in order to make themselves or a school look good. If we have a 100% pass rate are we lowering the bar so they can get there? How will our students compete in a global econonmy when they are all deemed proficient when they are not. Do people actually think employers won’t notice? How absurd. They have already taken notice, hence the highschool exit exam in California orginally an effort by business leaders and colleges to raise the bar and even the playing field. A highschool diploma means nothing if it comes from a district who just passes kids on.

    When I first started teaching I almost bought into this infamous line by old, bitter, worn out teachers not receptive to change and new testing accountability pressures, “We shouldn’t have to teach to a test. There are so many things the state tests don’t measure and some many other valuable lessons we want to teach.” So we shoudn’t be have standards is what they were saying? Why can’t I teach the way I’ve always taught? Life is a series of test, and hoop jumping and students should be taught to play the game so they can win!

  23. Julie,

    Thanks for the incredibly thoughtful comment. Schools seem to be increasingly promoting “self-advocacy” and responsibility for students, but they undermine their own efforts by not grading responsibly. It’s a mixed message and it isn’t helping anyone.

    I’ve wondered about whether to keep the link to this post in the site’s sidebar. After all, at some point, poor Ms. Kevil probably would want to fade out of the debate. But the sheer number of comments and e-mails I’ve gotten over a year that mention how reading this post – and *especially* the comments – has made them feel better about their teaching is tremendous. Ms. Kevil showed us all that it’s ok to grade appropriately and stand your ground.

    Carl Chew, the WASL-weasel, an everyday American hero? No, no. Ms. Kevil? Yep.

  24. Ed Darrell says:

    A year down the road: Can we look back and say what we learned from this incident that is of lasting value?

    What should we classroom teachers take as the key learning points?

  25. Ed,

    This is a rough one because, I think, part of the truth stinks.

    The truth is that high standards and integrity are good things and that neither should be compromised. That part of the truth is palatable to me.

    The other part is that those commitments are dangerous – check one of today’s stories:

    That’s the ‘sad but true’ half.

    The silver lining is that of all the people I’ve known in person or read about who have maintained high professional standards and suffered for it, not one has failed to land on their feet – and most of the time they wind up in a far better situation.

  26. robert stockburger says:

    How does this cohort of students do on standardized national tests?

    I tried teaching science and was transferred to a minority school after 3 1/2 yrs at a middle class school and was nearly lynched for applying the same standards. The bar does move and the coaches insisted the athletes pass. Virtually all the administrators were ex-coaches.
    Now, practicing a high risk specialty (obstetrics) seems easy compared to teaching public school. I say we should “leave no doctors behind” in med school.
    The administration and principal and school board should be ashamed.
    Bob S

  27. riverhorse says:

    As a nontenured teacher who is soon to be fired– termination is currently being negotiated as a “separation” – nice language for a settlement agreement that reflects satisfactory performance and three glowing letters that send me packing — I have to tell you that ethical standards inside public schools is sorely lacking. For far too many school administrators who are young, inexperienced and continually bouncing from district to district propelled by CYA is too often the norm. Commitment to actual learning and real student achievement is a joke- and idealistic teachers have become the new Joan of Arcs.
    Believe it- teachers being fired for refusing to pad grades. Teachers are frequently being subject to physical abuse and verbal assault by unruly students. Ironically, rather than deal with the hard cold reality of “proper placement” and “bad P.R.) many administrators prefer to view discipline problems as a “classroom management problem” that is the responsibility of the classroom teacher.
    I am a veteran teacher- (though nontenured due to many years teaching in the private sector prior to teaching in the public sector) special educator. My teaching duties included providing LS reading instruction that amounted to a full teaching load (LS reading). My class sizes for my grade 8 students was actually much larger than the class sizes for gen ed reading. (20 vs 12 in gen ed) and I had no classroom aide or push in support. I was responsible for a full IEP roster that required copious amounts of IEP writing and hours and hours of instructional support for students with a high degree of social/academic failure.
    Long story short, behavior problems included my being pushed, shoved, and verbally assaulted, a bomb threat, and verbal terroristic threats including death threats to me. A few extremely aggressive students also repeated terrorized other students in the classroom. Requests for parent/teacher meetings with an administrator present were repeatedly denied. When I began to compile anecdotal evidence which was presented to admin- It was deemed that I WAS UNABLE TO CONTROL/MANAGE MY CLASSROOM

  28. I read through these posts with frustration aware that all were viewing this issue of teachers and integrity with a very small lens. I cofounded an organization for teachers like Kevil, who have been unfairly treated because they stood for what was right for children. I wish Kevil would become a member because she would serve this mission proud. To the teacher who shared his practical outlook on this – or one must compromise to a point to keep one’s job – I say when you are on a slippery slope you need to check if you reached the bottom. Unfortunately, education has sunk so low that children are dying literally and figuratively to tell us about the bullying that is going on not only against them, but against teachers or anyone who doesn’t “play the political game.” I recently published a book called White Chalk Crime: The REAL Reason Schools Fail, in which I put the pieces of this puzzle of how schools got so bad together for outsiders or people whose limited view misleads them. Folks, we are up against tax subsidized propaganda that makes it nearly impossible to see what is REALLY going on. If you look at Kevil’s situation within the context of White Chalk Crime, or the dirty politics combined with lawlessness going on in our schools, then you can judge this situation accurately. Otherwise, you are floundering without an education trying to define how to educate. Become educated in White Chalk Crime and then try to make an impact. All – educators, citizens, or parents, are welcome as members at This is a problem that needs to be tried in the court of public opinion, but first the public must be educated with the facts of White Chalk Crime. You won’t get that education anywhere in which those in power have control. And their accomplices range from the unions to the media to anyone with a financial interest in White Chalk Crime. Hopefully more people will become educated by those of us who can speak the truth. I for one will not give up as this is about our children and our future.


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  3. Textbook Evaluator » “Another opening, another show…” - [...] out Matthew K. Tabor’s post about a Texas teacher fired for upholding high academic standards. Seems that some of ...
  4. Tickets Please... « Teaching in the Twenty-First Century - [...] Texas Teacher Fired for Maintaining Standards–sometimes I scare myself, my colleagues and I just had a conversation about this ...
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  6. a.Blog » From the Trenches: Best Practice - [...] Tabor, an educational consultant and policy blogger, writes about a sixth grade Texas teacher fired for being too tough. ...

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