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PAUSD needs grade inflation

Original post made by Mom on May 3, 2012

My daughter is in the second highest lane of math at Paly, called the AB lane. This lane is the highest lane at other schools, so it's the lane where students have to be good at math and is a step above regular lane math. They just took a test where there were only 3 "A"s and there were plenty of "D"s and "F"s. This occured not only in her class, but in other classes too. So the teachers allowed students to retake the test but the most they could do is gain 10 more points on their test grade. This lane is not for the slacker students. How can the teachers distribute such low grades? Obviously, the material was not taught sufficiently or the test was too difficult. I asked my daughter why she did not do well when she studied with her tutor beforehand, and she didn't know why; she said she knew the material.

Yes, I am asking for more grade inflation! Why can't they distribute higher grades, yet still teach difficult material?

My older son had some teachers in other subjects who made it easy to earn "A"s or "B"s if they worked hard yet did not torture the students. And he learned a lot from those teachers.

With Mr. Toma as head of the math department, however, grade inflation in math will never occur. "They get what they deserve" would be his response.

I'll bet there is grade inflation at Castilleja and Menlo, which the reason parents send their children to those schools. A student told my daughter that Castilleja was easier than Paly. I heard there are counselors at those schools who contact colleges with names of students they recommend.

Comments (52)

Posted by funny, a resident of Barron Park
on May 3, 2012 at 9:47 pm

you are asking for grade inflation? shame on you.

Posted by Past Paly parent, a resident of Downtown North
on May 3, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Don't panic Mom. My daughter was in the same boat when at Paly (although she never had tutors)... I worried too. Obviously she did not go to a "top" university. Long story short. 3 years after graduating from college she does better professionally than many classmates/colleagues who went to more prestigious universities than she did. Additionally, she is grateful for the education she received at Paly. It all works out in the end for those who truly deserve it.

And I agree... asking for grade inflation is not a good idea.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2012 at 10:09 pm

My daughter also did not get a good grade in Math while in Paly. That was NOT the teacher's fault. She did better in other subjects and finally went to a good college. She graduated and now she has a very good job in high tech. Her math still is not very good but she is making up for that with her other skills. I would not recommend blaming the teacher for giving bad grade. Instead, I will keep working with the student and encourage her to try harder next time.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 3, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Oh, I think there's a lot of trying to weed out perfectly capable students from ever trying to go into high tech. Math hasn't changed in a very long time and yet there's a certain pride in making it as difficult as possible for new members to join the guild.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 4, 2012 at 3:25 am

Handing out low grades on tests is a good tactic for students who have never gotten one before - it gets their attention and adjusts their attitude in a helpful way. It doesn't make sense, though, to turn hard working A and B students into B and C students, unless you are trying to weed them out of the subject. High school seems kind of early for that. I read an article in the NYT about the drop in college engineering majors that pointed this out - the professors thought early weeding out was part of their job, but realized they could teach and grade differently and retain many of the middle students who formerly switched out.

Posted by Agreed!, a resident of another community
on May 4, 2012 at 8:02 am

I agree with the original poster. My son went to a top private middle school, worked extremely hard, scored in the top percentile on standardized tests, and never got straight A's--nor did any other kid we knew. Parents in the upper school reported that the teachers were grading too strictly and their kids weren't getting into top-tier colleges. (To be fair, despite those reports, quite a few kids there did get into those colleges, but many who should have didn't.) The parents lobbied (unsuccessfully) for a change in the grading system, particularly since other top private high schools were grading more leniently and had better college admissions results. Although we decided not to continue at this school for other reasons and instead to enroll our son in a top public high school, the grading difference has been dramatic: he still works just as hard but now easily gets straight A's. This has had a very positive effect on how he views himself--his confidence has increased dramatically. In addition, he has a more realistic view of his "competition." Instead of being completely surrounded by privileged high achievers, he sees the whole range--from motivated, hard-working students like himself, who are rewarded with top grades, to complete slackers, who end up with C's and below. He knows that when he goes off to a top college, he'll be around other high-achieving, motivated students and may not always get A's, but that will be fine then. For now, he's enjoying working hard and being appropriately rewarded for it.

Posted by mmmMom, a resident of Downtown North
on May 4, 2012 at 11:09 am

Are you kidding? You are actually asking for fake grades?!?
Shame, shame, shame.

If you want a better grade, drop down a lane. Otherwise, take the reality of the situation, & deal with it.

And PLEASE do not pass on that lack of ethics to your children.

Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 4, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Well, there is inconsistent grading and this injures some in Math, make no mistake.
I disagree that private schools grade "easier" than Paly and other public schools. I have quite a bit of knowledger of both private and public schools and in various regions.
I DO believe Casty may have much smaller courses; this may constitute a learning environment whereby it is easier to earn an A even with the same challenging material.
At Paly, the top Math courses were filled to the brim in our day, which meant no personal help. Add in that many peers were carefully tutored, this meant stress for ours (who did their own work).

Posted by Local Gurl, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 4, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Are you kidding me? Entitled, entitled, entitled!! We are ENTITLED to high grades. We are ENTITLED to get into the "best" schools. No wonder these kids have the issues they do in the Palo Alto school system . . . their parents have outrageous entitlement issues that they pass on to their kids.

Posted by Annie, a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2012 at 4:33 pm

It's not grade inflation that's needed, it's math teachers that actually teach. Because so many kids are tutored, and a number are just amazingly bright, many of the HS and even middle school math teachers don't teach. They expect the kids to figure it out on their own. This is great for those that can, but the others really suffer. And no one seems to care.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 4, 2012 at 4:55 pm

We don't need grade inflation, but in the Math Department we need teachers who actually teach. Teachers who cover the material that they test on (kind-of a duh, but many Paly math teachers are VERY comfortable testing kids on brand new material). And we need teachers that grade fairly.

As mentioned above, high school is not the time to weed out kids that are not math whizzes. It is time to challenge them and to encourage them to take challenging math and science classes.

Posted by Phil, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 4, 2012 at 8:10 pm

I'm not sure what tune I'll be singing when my elementary school child is in High School, but I do remember when I taught Algebra in college. It was hard to build tests that covered the material appropriately, could be completed during a single class session, and adequately separated the students' skill level with the material.

It seems that the concern of the original poster was she thought the gap of her high-lane child was lower than that of lower-lane children, even though she felt that her child was likely at a higher level of math proficiency.

I don't know if colleges do a good job of assigning relative weights to different-laned classes. I can understand that it might be frustrating to come up with a strategy for getting into college when a family values learning but is trying to be practical and makes choices that will maximize their chances of being accepted into a good school.

My strategy was to try to maximize learning, and assume that the rest would work itself out, whatever my grades were. I can understand that other people might make different choices, particularly in an era when it's hard to get into school.

Posted by Education1st, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 4, 2012 at 8:46 pm

It seems to me that all the classes in this lane had trouble with this unit test. That seems to imply that there is something lacking in the teaching. I'm not for grade inflation. I'd just like my child to be taught and the emphasis be on learning! We are not talking about a couple of kids not doing well, we are talking about only a couple doing well. Clearly, the material being covered is not being mastered, which is what I am concerned about. This discussion should be about educating our children - not about what grade is being given. I do not think there is a lot of teaching going on. PAUSD scores well because of the caliber of the student, not the quality of the teaching! Should I start a thread on the US Govt./Contemp. World classes being taught by a Resource Specialist - this class is an embarrassment, at my kids expense (fyi this course is the advanced course for 10th grade).

Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 4, 2012 at 9:18 pm

@Education 1st "at my kids expense (fyi this course is the advanced course for 10th grade)."

There is no advanced course at the 10th grade level at Palo Alto High School for social studies. All sophomores take the same social studies class - US Govt/ContWorld.

Question(s) - Has there been a need for a similar "make up" for any other test in this course? As for learning, it seems to me that the teacher is concerned about learning or why would he or she give a retest, instead of just moving forward with the curriculum. Obviously the teacher wants to make sure the students are learning the material. Might it just be that this was a difficult topic? Might it be that the little bit of good weather we recently had (coupled with the Prom) caused a number of students to be less focused than usual?

Posted by Education1st, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 4, 2012 at 9:32 pm

@Palo Verde you NOT entirely correct - there is a distinction between the Social Studies /Hist courses offered in 10th grade (not being taught by a "teacher" look up "Resource Specialist" is that a teacher? . Your points I really don't see?? The make up is not a make up and does not ensure that the kids have been TAUGHT the material. The teacher DID move on with the curriculum - you clearly are not invested - there was no review or re-teaching of the materials. It was just a chance given for a majority of the kids to slightly improve - this happens every year - it is not education!

Posted by recent paly grad, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 5, 2012 at 7:06 am

This is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever read. As someone who was in the AB lane myself, I recognize that there are some courses, for example AB Calc, that could use better teachers. Often, many students are forced to teach themselves math from the textbook instead. But to ask for grade inflation across the board? Who do you think you are?

People tend to have a misconception at Paly that it's the most challenging education they could be receiving, and that once they get to college everything will be easier. I loved Paly, and I would never say it didn't prepare me for college. But to pretend that Paly is the hardest education anyone will ever receive is just not the case. If your daughter can't keep up in math now, there's honestly a high chance that she won't do much better in college.

Furthermore, the fact that you feel the need to hire a tutor and then ask for grade inflation seems counterintuitive. One of the biggest problems with Paly's math department is the fact that almost every student in the higher lanes has a tutor, so people tend to act as if that is a normal thing. I completely understand the need for tutors if one is struggling, but your daughter is in the AB lane, so she clearly does not have too many difficulties with math.

The AB lane at Paly is difficult at times. But don't pretend like there are only two people in every class who get As. There are always tests that people do badly on, that holds true for every school besides Paly as well. The reality is that a good portion of the class that works hard to understand the material succeeds, whether or not they have a tutor. Many Palo Alto families seem to see the need to use tutors in the higher lanes so that their children don't have to put in the time and do the work themselves.

I don't doubt that your daughter is a very smart and capable student. But you seem delusional in your quest for her perfect GPA. Sure, AB is hard. Sure, it's advanced. But come on. Look at all the people in BC and Stanford math. It's not as if your daughter has reached the peak of difficulty in her math career and should be acing everything.

And as for your comment about Castilleja, don't be naive. Of course private schools across the nation have contacts at certain universities. What you need to realize is that the college application is not fair, it never has been, and it probably never will be. The important thing to remember is that as long as people try to put in the work themselves and do their best to succeed, they will almost always end up at a college they can be happy at. So try not to focus on ranking and entitlement for a second and just focus on ensuring that your daughter is actually learning.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 5, 2012 at 8:46 am

If the curve in this math class is truly 3 As and "plenty of Ds and Fs", then the problem is with that teacher and that class. Meet with the head of the math department and complain.
The real problem for your daughter is that the grades in a few classes are distributed unevenly, but for the school as whole, there is massive grade inflation already.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 5, 2012 at 8:51 am

Education 1st - there is only one lane of history in 10th grade.

Posted by Student, a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2012 at 10:08 am

As a student of that class, one who took the test, I put forth that the teacher involved are doing a fine job teaching the material. The test was fairly written, with nothing we were unfamiliar with. Grade inflation is not the problem, end-based education is. Teachers will be offering two extra-credit assignments, as well as the final to replace the lowest grade. If a child works hard to learn and understand the material, they will earn points towards a grade that reflects it.

Posted by A Castilleja Student, a resident of another community
on May 5, 2012 at 10:49 am

I understand that grade inflation is a big problem, but I don't think that it is fair to compare Castilleja and Paly. They are extremely different schools, but neither is better than the other. I go to Castilleja, because I prefer smaller classes. I have a learning disability and because of Castilleja they have helped me to be successful. At a large class at Paly, it would have been very hard for me. Castilleja Students may get into to good colleges, but so do Paly Students. The difference is that Castilleja is a smaller school only containing students with very high aspirations. I'm sure everyone in your high lane class has high hopes for college, but Paly is so big that not everyone has the same dreams. To address the issue of grade inflation, I'd like to say that I know very few students who have all A's, and I am in all the highest lanes as well. I have plenty of friends whose report cards have never had an A on it. We have an English Class where the teacher told us that a B meant you did a very good job. Castilleja has the same issues and grade inflation isn't something limited to Paly. All the colleges have the same issues. The ivy leagues have some of the worst grade inflation ever. I understand you are worried about your child and probably did not mean to be rude, but I personally found your comment very offensive. I work really hard at Castilleja, just as I am sure your child does. Please be careful about making judgements about other schools.

Posted by Casti Student, a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2012 at 11:08 am

I am also a Castilleja student and have been going to the school for six years. I can tell you that I even the best of students at our school don't have all A's. One of the reasons this girl might have told your child Castilleja was "easier" is because Castilleja prepares us with study skills, peer tutors and other accessible resources for academic help. It's also very possible that this student said Castilleja is "easier" without thinking. Kids tend to do stuff like that, as I'm sure you know seeing as you are a parent yourself.
It is very hard to get good grades at Castilleja. I can assure you that people study at all times of the day (lunch, break, before school, in the car etc.) and still do not get A's. In my math class, we often have quizzes that the entire class gets below a C on and we do not get a retake. This low grade is just part of our calculated semester grade.
Clearly Paly and Castilleja are different schools. The lowest junior math lane at Castilleja is the highest junior math lane at Paly. It's just different. Colleges understand that Castilleja has a certain rigor that other schools do not and this is why a Castilleja student with a 3.0 can get into a school that a student from school X with a 3.8 cannot get into, although this is certainly not always the case.
One of the benefits of going to Castilleja is there are two college counselors to cover 60 girls. That means that the counselor is going to know the student well. We meet with our college counselors multiple times each month to ensure that we are on the same page regarding the college process. This is one of the perks of going to a school with 60 students per grade. So yes, a college counselor can probably put a good word in for a student but that doesn't mean this cannot happen at Paly either. That said, college admissions officers do not accept students just based on what the student's college counselor has said.

Posted by Cindy, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 5, 2012 at 5:16 pm

@Mom of Old Palo Alto: There is NOT massive grade inflation at Paly. My child works hard and has no extracurriulars. To keep an A grade, he has to keep 90s/100s. One hiccup, and he is in B territory.

The head of the math department prides himself on the rigorous program and parents have complained but get nowhere with him. I agree that Ds and Fs should be reserved for students who don't study. My son has earned As but it has not been easy. He has a math tutor because there is almost no other way to gain an A in math at Paly.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 5, 2012 at 5:36 pm

@Cindy - while I don't know anything about what goes on in your daughter's math class or how the grades should be set, I do have thoughts about the college admissions process. While good grades are important, perfect grades are not a pre-requisite for getting into to even the best schools. My senior had B's in AP Chem and AP Physics (along with A's in many other things of course), but had college admission results that anyone would be satisfied with - even you ;-).

So try not to stress too much over the occasional B - the colleges know how to read a transcript and they have seen plenty from Paly over the years, so they know how to size it up.

Posted by Relax, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 5, 2012 at 10:28 pm

As someone who went to both Castilleja and Paly, I can tell you that both schools are roughly equivalent when it comes to academics. I have also had Mr. Toma as a teacher for two years of Paly math and, in my experience, he is PERFECTLY reasonable when it comes to curving tests on which students performed poorly. Your daughter will not suffer academically too much for this test if she works hard and does well on the final. Relax.

I usually refrain from making personal comments on here, but I, too, find your comment about Castilleja and grade inflation inappropriate. Grade inflation is certainly not the reason that my parents sent me to Castilleja, and I certainly didn't benefit from it while I was there. By making such an assertion you are disrespecting the students at private schools as well as students at Paly. I graduated from Paly recently and now attend a top-tier Ivy League school. I was admitted with no outside recommendations, no legacy, and no athletic recruitment, and a 3.93 GPA. I can assure you that there are Paly students who get to great colleges without gaming the system and without being perfect. Please give them the benefit of the doubt.

Posted by Relax, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 5, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Another thought - despite what a lot of people think, the calc teachers actually do know their stuff and are happy to talk with students outside of class if they are struggling (I went to mine many times throughout my Paly career). Have your daughter ask her math teacher to walk her through the test and talk to her about what she missed. I guarantee that that strategy will be much more effective than ranting about grade inflation on here.

Posted by parent2, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 6, 2012 at 1:19 am

To mom original poster: I think by asking for "grade inflation" you invite misunderstanding of the core problem here. What is happening is that our students are getting too low of grades. Critics think you are suffering from "entitlement" but that is not the case. The problem is that many hard working students do not get a comparable grade that would be attainablre in surrounding high schools that offer equally rigorous math courses. It is like taking the freshman class of Stanford and deciding only a few could make As or Bs and the majority receive a lower grade no matter what.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 6, 2012 at 5:46 am

It is no wonder that Paly students are stressed...why is there a giant wall of college rejection letters posted on the main quad? If students have to see that every day as they walk to class or into the library, how does that make them feel?

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 6, 2012 at 9:28 am

@Mom - that rejection wall is put up by the students and for the students as an outlet, enabling them to show each other that they weren't alone in being rejected. They have the same at Gunn (as we did in college for job recruiting rejections). Most kids enjoy it - for my senior, the second priority after cheering her successes on Apr 30 was printing out her rejection letters to take to school the next day for posting. It seems healthy to me.

Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 6, 2012 at 11:10 am

There seems to be some deviation from the original post - complaining about the grades on ONE test to a leap that there are low OVERALL grades in the class. I would be willing to bet that a low grade on one test does not translate to low grade in the class. What is the distribution of overall grades in the class? If more than 50% of the people have below a B in a higher level lane class then I think you can talk about a too rigorous a grading policy. Also, I wouldn't trust your students to "know" the grades of the other students. If you really want to find out the distribution of overall grades in the class, then you should ask the teacher directly. I also think that the original posted should have first checked with the teacher to get a little more information.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 6, 2012 at 2:19 pm

I don't understand celebrating college rejection letters. Most students applying to selective colleges will get some rejection letters.
What are we telling our children when we make a bigger deal out of the rejections than the acceptances?

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 6, 2012 at 2:44 pm

@Mom - I don't think the kids make a bigger deal out of rejections than acceptances. Gunn and Paly both had "wear your college swag to school day" on May 2 - there is plenty of celebration of acceptances. The rejection wall is just a way of showing that rejection is a normal part of the process, as you pointed out, and not something to be ashamed or embarrassed about.

Posted by Trentz, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 6, 2012 at 7:14 pm

FYI- a good reminder film in case you haven't seen in Palo Alto yet:

Web Link

The director will be on hand at the May 7th screening over at St. Marys-

Web Link

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 6, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Thank you @ Trentz. This should be mandatory viewing for all PA parents.

Posted by Hyer23, a resident of Community Center
on May 7, 2012 at 7:38 am

I am appalled by the "deal with it" attitude in some of these comments. Thank you to the mom for this post!! Isn't the grade an Indicator of what was learned. We send our kids to school to learn and if the majority of a higher level class are getting d's or f's, YES you blame the teacher!!!! It has nothing to do with grade inflation, more to do with TEACHING!!!!!! if the material was taught then the scores would reflect learning.

Come on... STOP protecting the school system and teachers when something is wrong. Deal with the teachers and stop placing blame on the students and families,,, Notice that this student and many supplement with tutors.

Posted by Relax-best comments, a resident of Community Center
on May 7, 2012 at 7:49 am

Dear "Relax". Thank you for your post ... It is wonderfully written and reflects the maturity of our students. The respect and honest feedback from someone at two schools both private and public is important to those outside the situation.

Posted by a_student, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 7, 2012 at 5:48 pm

The test wasn't that hard. It's just a lot of people made mistakes and the test had a lot of room for errors. Students had plenty of opportunities to get help (if needed) and to study hard for this test. This test also taught many students to not take tests lightly, to work harder, and to double check their work.

Although high grades would be nice, that is the price of attending PALY. PALY's standards are higher and that shows when colleges are looking at its students. Students and parents have to accept the realities of a high standard public high school.

Posted by Cindy, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 7, 2012 at 10:49 pm

The people posting as Student and a_student are clearly adults! Get real, students don't speak in such a manner.

My child re-took the test and both days available, the classrooms were packed. We don't need grade inflation, which implies students are working less for high grades. We need teachers who adjust the tests to their teaching. A parent spoke with one of the teachers and the teacher said there were only three As in her class, when usually there are 6 As.

Those who have children in the higher math lanes understand this thread, while the others who think parents are whining for "free As" have no basis for calling parents entitled. "Just go down to the regular lane" statements are those of uninformed people without experience in the high lanes of math. "It's only one grade, they can make it up" are also uniformed posts because they had a couple of other tests where students performed poorly also.

Posted by C, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 7, 2012 at 11:46 pm

First off, I will admit: I was not eligible for the redemption test, so I did not score so terribly myself. Perhaps this biases my judgement of the matter, perhaps not.
I'm going to assume you are discussing the Trigonometry test. It was, by all accounts, the worst test of this year for this lane. That doesn't call for grade inflation. And you don't even need grade inflation, because at the end of the school year the lowest test grade (whether it be a 84 or a 54) can be replaced with the grade of the final. If a grade on the final is lower than any other test score, they won't replace. This can only help, and exists so that the super "hard" tests of the year don't completely destroy grades.
Also to note: This particular test was out of significantly fewer points than the traditional test. Normally, tests are out of 72-ish points while this was scored out of 60. Scores are entered into the gradebook as percentages out of 100 to weigh all tests equally, and for this particular test this means that just by missing a few problems your grade could slip to a B.
Also, to those saying "blame the teachers," although I do sometimes agree with this sentiment in this case it is just flat out wrong. I am in this lane, without a tutor or any outside help, and did well enough on the test. True, my score was worse than my average test score, but I still pulled a B. I also didn't spend outrageous amounts of time studying.
And about grade inflation: It's nice to have good grades, but be realistic. In college if everyone does well they will curve the test downward. Can you imagine the uproar if, here in PA, any department curved a test downward because everyone did well? In college, a 1-2% score difference can be curved to a 10% one. Here, they just give free points away instead of making a bell curve. It's already different enough from the college process -- why differ more?
Also to note is that though there were significantly fewer A's, there were plenty of B's and C's, both of which are fair grades.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 8, 2012 at 6:42 am

To C: you state that you are in this class without a tutor or outside help. Do you think that is typical, or do you think most students in the class have some form of outside help to learn the material?

Posted by C, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 8, 2012 at 7:20 am

I don't really know the ratio of students without to students with. I know that the Juniors (from a lower lane, but who's junior class is the same as our sophomore one) don't have tutors or any outside help. But the sophomores? I can think of two or three people with outside help quite easily, but I can think of more who do fine without it. Outside help isn't needed as much because the teachers (in this lane, at least) put notes online and actually do problems. There are people with tutors, however, not as many in the high lane.
But in all fairness: the reason people have tutors is also because of class size.... If a class size is 32 in the highest lane and there is no one on one time while in a lane one or two lower there are 25 students or fewer, it's not all that surprising that the higher-lane student gets a tutor to make up for the disparity in one-on-one time.
Oh, and I know at least two people who got A's on the test. Neither have outside help. And B's? Well, that would be myself and quite a few other people who don't get outside help.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2012 at 10:40 am

C's posts are the most helpful and so well-written. I see success in his future.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 8, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Our Paly senior is in the AB lane, now taking Calc AB (AP). No tutors, no outside help. Doing just fine. If anything, the kids use Facebook and texting to help each other. And now and then they do it the old fashion way, study together at each other's houses.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 8, 2012 at 7:00 pm

My senior in the Gunn BC lane has not had tutors and gets good grades in math. She believes that while some do have outside help, most did not. Like CP Dad says, she studies with her friend.

Posted by Everybody STOP, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Plain and simple... this parent is 100% correct. Everyone who disagrees is ignoring a HUGE issue that is currently taking place at Paly. As an alumnus, I couldn't stand Paly math (I actually earned my math credits at a community college instead-- which I highly recommend) and landed at a very prestigious university.

Here's why:

They are taking the positive reinforcement out of education. I remember studying hours and hours for a Geometry test my freshman year. I knew the material backwards and forwards and was confident that I'd get an A. I remember walking into that classroom assured I'd do well, then seeing the test and not knowing how to solve many of the problems. I felt hopeless. Not only did this destroy my day, but it also made me stop trying. Why was I going to put in 3-4 hours of my precious time just to earn a D on the test because the teachers was incapable of producing a reasonable test. I wasn't the only one struggling either... like the parent stated, 3-4 kids earned A's and the rest D's and F's. I think cheating was certainly a possibility. By making the tests extensibly difficult, one had to cheat in order to receive a good grade. The teachers couldn't care less about the kids doing well. The only one who did was Mrs. Bowers (best teacher at Paly as far as I'm concerned.)

The bottom line:

Change NEEDS to be implemented. Paly Math needs to be restructured from the top. Toma needs to be replaced by someone who genuinely cares about educating kids.

Posted by Gunn Grad, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 10, 2012 at 12:29 am

I actually think there is a valid argument to be made for grade inflation. The fact is that both Gunn and Paly courses are significantly more difficult than they need to be.

I spoke to two Gunn alumni who recently graduated from UC Berkeley, which is notorious for having grade deflation and a workload that is even tougher than Harvard and Stanford (this comes from my brother, a Stanford grad). They told me that taking a workload consistent with being at the top 10% at Gunn is MORE difficult than intro courses at Berkeley (freshman-sophomore years).

You might say to yourself that this means Gunn and Paly are excellent preparation for college. I would say that this means classes are really overkill, and that more grade inflation (i.e. slightly easier tests, etc), could be implemented with no loss of college preparation at Gunn/Paly. Gunn and Paly high-lane classes should be slightly easier, or, if you want to be masochistic, "on par" with college courses at Berkeley, NOT *more* difficult.

Posted by Gunn Grad, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 10, 2012 at 12:31 am

I would like to add that the Berkeley grads I spoke to were pre-med and are in the process of applying to medical school. So they definitely took tough science classes at Berkeley.

Posted by an_observer, a resident of Mountain View
on May 14, 2012 at 12:24 pm

I wholeheartedly agree with those who complained that a lot of teachers don't teach well (or don't teach at all). A Los Altos/Mountain View middle school math teach is notorious for not teaching. Most of the class time is spent on chatting about non-academic stuff, and a day or two before the STAR test, would hastily "teach" some topics and tell students to memorize formulas. A lot of students in the most advanced class do well because parents put in a ton of time teaching at home or send their kids to tutors or math schools. And some truly math-inclined ones can figure things out on their own. The teacher is well aware of all this and feels even more comfortable with not having to teach. (Ironically this teacher often complains to the class that elementary schools don't prepare kids well for middle school!)

Posted by Bye, a resident of Barron Park
on May 24, 2012 at 9:09 am

For everyone who agrees with the original poster, could you please consider moving your kids to a private school? Maybe you could pay someone for higher grades for your children. But please don't sacrifice quality education for grades in our public schools. You have obviously never been a teacher yourself or you wouldn't write such a thing.

Posted by UC grad, a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2012 at 2:20 pm

The person who posted about Berkeley being harder on grades than Stanford is, from what I know, correct. I graduated from a UC school where one of my professors also taught the same class at Stanford. He told us that people in our UC class getting a B would have received an A at Stanford, C at UC = B at Stanford. He told us that such grade inflation at Stanford was the norm. While Palo Alto schools may be tougher than most other schools, we cannot expect all the students to receive A's. That said, grading on a curve may not be appropriate if almost all the kids are putting in more work and at a higher level than their counterparts elsewhere. The grade should reflect the level of the work done/knowledge/understanding.

Posted by Gunn Grad, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 31, 2012 at 10:57 pm

To Bye,

Grade inflation is entirely consistent with a quality education.

Here's how: teachers teach exactly the same material as they did before, give the same difficulty of tests, etc...

The only change is that they shift how tests are curved (lower the cutoff for an A, for example). This would be easy to implement in math/science classes, which have tests that are usually scaled (curved).

I also spoke to an MIT student who I got to know at Gunn two years ago. He told me that it was actually quite disappointing that, despite MIT's reputation for being "hardcore," he found that the caliber of many MIT students was not on-par with many Gunn students he knew had gotten rejected.

Posted by east coast schooled, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 31, 2012 at 11:27 pm

The question of grade distribution is this: are they relative or are they absolute? In an relative grading system, the goal is of a test is to compare the students amongst themselves.

In a relative system, if you have a class of 22 geniuses, you have to pick the smartest genius and give him/her an A, then you have to pick the worst genius and give him/her an F. A thoughtful teacher can easily tune a test to produce this result.

In an absolute system, if you have a class of 22 geniuses, all of them will get As on tests. A thoughtful teacher can design this too.

Is the goal of Paly Math tests to identify, the smartest of the smart? Or is the goal to train them well and send each off to the best colleges possible?

In other words, I don't think the original poster should be asking for grade inflation, I think the orignal poster should be asking for the math department to be explicitly focused on absolute grading. If you have a class of bright kids, it would be morale-killing to design tests to seek out the "weakest" of the bunch, not to mention unnecessarily punishing them on their college prospects.

Posted by CC, a resident of Barron Park
on May 31, 2012 at 11:42 pm

Gunn Grad: MIT has Affirmative Action admission Policies.
UC grad: But you can't argue that Stanford receives more donation $$$ than UC .. and you know why.

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