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Education Reporter

New York Principal Encourages Grade Inflation, Social Promotion
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The principal of a high school in East Harlem, NY provoked outrage when he sent out a memo ordering teachers to lower standards in their classes. The memo reminded teachers of the difficult circumstances faced by many students at Central Park East High School, and advised teachers to adjust their expectations accordingly.

"If you are not passing more than 65% of your students in a class, then you are not designing your expectations to meet their abilities," wrote Principal Bennett Lieberman, "and you are setting your students up for failure, which, in turn, limits your success as a professional." Teachers at Central Park East will receive $3,000 bonuses if the school improves, local news channel CBS2 HD pointed out.

The memo became public when an anonymous staff member sent it to the New York Daily News. High-ranking officials in the New York City school system rebuked Lieberman and publicly condemned the social promotion and "dumbing down" of classes implied by the principal's memo.

Students also protested the implication. "That's not the way to pass," said senior Richard Palacios. "That's not the way to get your education, so you're basically cheating yourself."

Principal Lieberman gathered his staff in a special meeting after the memo's publication to berate whoever sent the memo to the Daily News. Lieberman lamented the damage to the school's and his own reputation.

Nationwide, social promotion is widespread but hard to measure. In one survey, by Peter D. Hart Associates, a majority of public school teachers admitted they had promoted unprepared students in the preceding year. 60% of teachers surveyed said principals or other administrators had pressured them to promote unprepared students. 52% said they were also under pressure from parents.

Social promotion's partner in crime, grade inflation, has also done its part to transform American education over the past few decades. The makers of the ACT, by comparing 11th- and 12th-graders' ACT scores and their grade-point averages, found that high school grades inflated at least 12.5% between 1991 and 2003.

The ACT analysis is all the more alarming since this inflation applies only to students who take the ACT for college admission, a subgroup for whom the pressures to disguise school failure largely do not apply. Dr. Donald Thomas and Dr. William Bainbridge, authors of Grade Inflation, the Current Fraud, found that the lowest achieving schools actually had the most grade inflation. In some cases, test results from schools in the same district showed that the schools with the worst test results had the highest grade point averages, much higher than the GPAs at high-performing schools.

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