Erica Bloom, a geometry teacher from Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn, has accused administrators of pressuring her to give passing grades to two failing seniors so they could graduate on June 22.
“They said if I didn’t change them, I could expect another ‘3020’ [disciplinary hearing], which would mean the removal of my license,” Bloom said. “So I lose my job, my insurance, my pension — everything, after 14 years.”
The issue arose after one student scored a 53 on the Regents exam and the other failed to turn up. Incoming Principal John O’Mahoney had required all students at the school to take the exams and mandated that they account for 10% of their final grades. The students ended up with failing marks of 55 which Bloom claims she was then pressured into changing to a passing 65 after being hounded by the assistant principal. Bloom claims the change was forced on her via the threat of termination for excessive absenteeism. Bloom had exceeded her allowable sick days in both 2009 and 2010 due to an eating disorder. She thought she had stuck to the approved limit of 10 days for 2011:
“But they went back and found one day where I left early, so they said I took 10.33 sick days.”
Facing a third straight year of exceeding her sick day allowance and probable termination Bloom felt like she had no choice but to comply with the demands when the Principal failed to support her:
“I was pressured by everybody,” she said.
She then went to O’Mahoney’s office but he refused to intervene. “He didn’t say a thing,” she said.
This is not the first accusation of teacher being pressured to change grades and pass students, or being forced to allow test cheating so the school doesn’t look bad in league tables. There is so much pressure on schools to succeed that organizations like FairTest claim they are losing sight of the goal; school should be about educating students not simply making sure they pass tests.
The Department of Education has responded to the accusations in Brooklyn with the somewhat bizarre claim that:
“The principal acted properly,” said spokeswoman Margie Feinberg. “This was not an issue of changing grades.”
Bloom’s excessive absenteeism is a significant second issue, but when two flunking seniors are passed it’s clearly very much an issue of changing grades.