Are high school seniors Googling their way to graduation?

"It was very common for me to go around, and a student would have their iPod on and they'd be cruising the Internet" -Frank Jones, 77, volunteer at North High

Are high school seniors Googling their way to graduation?

In 2008, North High School had the lowest graduation rate among Denver's eleven traditional public high schools. Just 46 percent of its seniors managed to graduate that year. And the problem was nothing new.

North has been the target of reform efforts for years, prompted by low test scores, a shrinking student body and the abysmal graduation rate. Denver Public Schools has tried one improvement strategy after another, including changing principals, firing teachers and switching out its academic program and grading structure.

In 2006, DPS instituted a new program called "credit recovery," which allowed students who'd failed core courses such as geometry and literature to retake them online in a computer lab overseen by staff members. The program is now in all of Denver's high schools and will be added to any new schools next year. North was a prime candidate for the program and began using it in 2008.

And it seemed to help: In 2009, North's graduation rate jumped to 58 percent, the second-highest increase in the district. In 2010, it rose to 64 percent.

But two former North staffers say there's a darker side to those rapidly increasing numbers: They claim that seniors in the credit recovery program were allowed to cheat on computer-generated tests in order to graduate last year and that they were encouraged and even helped by an administration desperate to improve graduation rates.

They also say the students learned to game the system on their own. Some used Google or other websites to look up answers. Others took multiple-choice tests over and over again in order to figure out the answers by process of elimination. Once they did, the two staffers say, the students would pass the information on to their friends.

And since North allowed students to get credit for an entire semester simply by taking a single final exam, the staffers question whether they really learned anything at all. One of the staffers — who worked in the credit recovery lab and asked for anonymity because he fears retribution from DPS — says he tried to raise the issue with the district and with North assistant principal Nancy Werkmeister but was rebuffed.

Both staffers' stories are backed up by other North employees and volunteers, who describe a culture of complacency and disrespect in the classrooms and a desire on the part of the administration to improve graduation numbers without improving education.

"[Credit recovery] quickly began to feel like a giant Band-Aid. Is the sweetness of immediate gratification worth the long-range consequences of maybe you can't survive in the real world?" asks former North counselor Pat Salas. "Teenagers tell me the credit recovery classes are extremely easy, and going through the lessons is just the punishment. The finals on most of the classes are so easy that your average kid could do that — and that any kid, with the help of their friends, could do it."

District officials and outgoing North principal Ed Salem insist that the credit recovery program is rigorous. So, too, are the district's graduation standards, they say.

"We are committed to setting a high bar for our students and making sure they have the support and access to educational programs needed to reach and exceed those expectations," says Antwan Wilson, assistant superintendent for post-secondary readiness at DPS. "The district is also absolutely committed to holding all of our schools and their staffs accountable for serving their students well and maintaining a high level of academic integrity in every single classroom."

But Wilson adds that in light of the concerns raised by former staffers through Westword, the district is auditing the transcripts of every student who graduated from North over the past two years. "The district places the highest priority on the academic integrity of all of its programs," he says. "If we determine that any employee has compromised that integrity, we will act immediately."

Salem, who deferred most questions to Wilson, recently announced that he was leaving North to become principal at Abraham Lincoln High School this fall. But shortly thereafter, he backed out of that job, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. Nicole Veltze, the principal at Skinner Middle School, is slated to take over at North; she'll be the school's fourth principal in six years.

This past year, North made several changes to its credit recovery program, including limiting to once the number of times a student can fail a test before it locks the student out in an effort to encourage him to re-read the lesson before retaking the test.

The biggest change is that North has gone from hosting credit recovery in a single computer lab with a single staff member to having a full-blown "Engagement Center," where 150 full-time students are overseen by ten teachers or other employees.

On May 23, more than 100 seniors graduated from North High. But, current and former North teachers wonder, how many of them are equipped for life after high school?

******

North's Engagement Center comprises four classrooms in a less busy wing of the school. On a May morning, just a week before graduation, between five to ten students were sitting quietly at computers in each classroom. In one, the students worked on math quizzes with the help of a roaming teacher.

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117 comments
Firemedic_30ca
Firemedic_30ca

I was a teacher at DPS working at CEC with DPS students all over the district. i was told point blank by several staff members "kids dont fail here. If you give a student an F, you're risking being fired." I was asked to create a program which lead to students obtaining a certification to work as health care professionals on the public. I created the program to adhere to all federal government standards, making this a college level program as i was asked. The students, who are not used to receiving homework or any type or tests greater than 30 questions which count towards their grades, began to fail heavily. I was fired for unrelated reasons according to the administration just before the end of the semester. They immediately went into the electronic grade books and changed the grades of every student in the class to a B or an A. We are talking about kids that were absent 20 times or more, never did homework and failed every test. They walked away with an A. That should give you an idea of what DPS is doing and the level knowledge their kids are leaving with...

Emilyrobarge
Emilyrobarge

I have two degrees a BA and a BS. The truth of the matter is the public education system fails at teaching usable life skills. One can only learn those via experiencing life, not sitting in a classroom studying for a standardized test. I applaud the kids who use the resources available to them to get the job done. Honestly, in the workplace, a boss doesn't care how the work gets done, just how it is done. It's not cheating it's being resourceful. A very important part of adult life if you're paying attention.

ILL Refugee
ILL Refugee like.author.displayName 1 Like

Lower the bar to ensure that everyone can pass? Reinforce poor work ethics and cheapen the successes of students that put forth the required effort? The American education system is a joke you fools wont be laughing in 20 years when your illiterate kids are still living in your basements when they should be holding down jobs or running the country. Please don't procreate if you are not willing to take responsibility for educating them.

manyougottafeelthisshirt
manyougottafeelthisshirt

If another article like this is posted during another holiday weekend like the 4th or labor day I promise I will be to busy to even read it, but during this memorial day weekend Im posting threads until the wheeels fall off.

Oh and I didn't graduate by the way, so 100 people already did more then I did at their age. Congrats!

Claire
Claire

You really didn't have to tell us that you didn't graduate; we were able to figure that out by your pathetic input.Being that you lack academic skills, as well as social skills, heed the advice of our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln: "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt."

manyougottafeelthisshirt
manyougottafeelthisshirt

And you mam are the biggest Hater on the westword comment board for May of 2011. May all your days be rainy and all the males who find you attractive Alpo eaters. Get it?I had a feeling posting that would get you going but I see three were afraid to post reply and just hit the like tab, you my friends are the lazy ones or maybe you just don't know how to spell.

Until next Memorial Day, and in case you didn't do it already, 'Man you gotta feel this shirt!'

Bea
Bea

Is this supposed to mean "I posted several. Which one are you in reference to?" Poor dear. These are what we call five-cent words. I won't suggest that you get them straight, since you are probably operating at your own highest level of ability already. Poor dear. Well, Jesus loves you and so do I, whether you learn basic English or not.

Jenny
Jenny

Ignorant cretins like yourself have no business commenting on a story about education. You have added nothing.Please shrivel up and blow away !

anon
anon

Perhaps these schools should consider switching to the Classics education some schools have tried, with success. now of two Catholic schools who do this, with great success. More rigor is required, not less. Schools need to be harder, not easier. Stop focusing on graduation rates, and focus on skills. And stop coddling. Kick out the behavior problems and warehouse them elsewhere. No one wants to say that, but it needs to be done.

Bea
Bea

Prior to 1975, schools could expell behavior problems. In 1975, the government handed down the special education act which charged public schools with identifying behavioral problems and providing services for them. One reason that private and parochial schools can offer excellence in programs is that they can't be forced to include the most difficult students, which is what your comment addresses head-on. Delivering excellence, expecting excellence, and offering everything from nurturing to tough love are the least of a day's unappreciated work in a public school...

manyougottafeelthisshirt
manyougottafeelthisshirt

Then add on teaching for CSAP a third of the year, teaching for student count day a third of the year, and of course not teaching due to burnout a third of the year. Add on complaints of a longer school day or a shorter school year and you get a melting pot of headaches, excuses and teachers, students, parents and administrators all trying to add thier own ingredients while taste testing what they have done so far.

Its a mess, but the kids are still growing in a system called the socially unacceptable contract.

All jokes aside, all a teacher can do now is put a finger in the hole in the Dike and wait until help comes and hopefully be celebrated if that doesnt work levees should already be in place. I see what is going at North not as a solution but a plan put in place to stop the mass flooding of drop outs into the system.

Erik
Erik

Your understanding of "a plan put in place to stop the mass flooding of drop outs into the system" is shallow, meaningless and in no way relates to this article. This story is about the North H.S. administration (Salem, Werkmeister, Assistant Principals, etc.) that allowed cheating to take place to make their 'leadership' look effective. It is the worst that DPS has to offer. All these immoral cowards need to be banished from public education for good!

private school
private school

I have heard that most student cheat no matter what type of school they attend. It seems that maybe the system itself needs a change in infrastructure. Students in IB programs think they are God's gift to earth and they are dumb as rocks. Public education in general is a joke. George Washington, Overland, Cherry Creek, Smoky Hill all filled with sub par kids awarded for their mediocrity. I'm guessing North has a high amount of diversity, so people are making an issue out of this. The kids at Creek get nanny's to do their homework and I do not see an article about that...

Fred
Fred

Your comment about Cherry Creek High is way off base. The average ACT score at Creek is a 25. The average ACT score for the nation is 21. The last score I could find for DPS was dated 2004, and it was below 18. An average ACT score of 25 at Creek proves that it is an incredible public school. It is even more amazing when you consider it is a regular public school, not a magnet, that only takes the top students. And yes, Creek does have a minority population, over 15 percent.

Creek won a silver medal in USnews: http://education.usnews.rankin...

Bea
Bea

15% minority? And how many are on the free lunch program? How many are homeless? How many have illiterate parents working more than one job? Cherry Creek's population is very well-heeled. It's not about ethnicity, but it's very much about socio-economic groups. A huge portion (way more than 15%) of Denver's kids are struggling to survive, not coming from comfortable homes where they get the genuine head start of educated parents and an enriching environment. The kids who ace the tests at any school, North included, come up in that same type of educated home and would be acing tests NO MATTER WHERE THEY WENT TO SCHOOL. There are just a whole lot more of them in Cherry Creek, Boulder, private schools, and selective public schools like D'Evelyn.

testpilot
testpilot

As a volunteer in DPS, I observe that the bar is set very low and allows graduating students to have a sense of accomplishment; DPS is not for college-bound students.

More than 10% of the students that I encounter are not U.S. citizens and do not even have a path for college education after high school.

School reform is crucial to create separate learning environments for productive skills-based tracts and college-bound preparation. Mixing the two is confusing and results in the lowest common denominator.

Bea
Bea

Exactly.

crbaily
crbaily

I find it a little ridiculous that, simply because this article concerns education, people feel entitled to play "grammar police" and belittle and condescend to well-meaning posters who are simply trying to add their thoughts and insights to this "conversation". And how sad when full-grown adults get their kicks from trying to make the very people whose education they seem to care so much about feel "studid" because of spelling errors that are common to the writing of - let's face it - plenty of college graduates.

I recently completed a doctoral degree in science education at CU, and have a great deal of experience teaching students who are the products of Colorado's public schools - I am not a high school teacher (and would never want to be, not in this mess of a system) but I care deeply about education, and about fostering a love of learning in my students. I am still dismayed by the poor writing skills I encounter every day (and I see it as my job to help them improve), but I've come to understand that these students are lacking in these skills because they have less relevance to their lives, and not because they are somehow "dumber" than we were when there was no internet or spell check or whatever tools that today's students have come to rely on. Kids today know far more about the world around them (thanks to the internet) than I did at that age, and also most of you, I'm sure; they're smart and savvy in ways that you can't appreciate when you dismiss their thoughts and ideas because it's not being communicated with perfect English. I think that a LARGE number of functioning and successful adults in America would not be able to pass a GED exam if they had to take it tomorrow, which really only goes to show that high school doesn't teach us much that we actually "need" to make it through life...

I would like to see every child getting the education they deserve (it is all about creating opportunities, in my mind), in a country where real education is actually valued (sadly, not this one), but it's not going to happen in a system that values the memorization of facts over the development of knowledge; where teachers are blamed left and right by parents who can't be bothered to ask their kids what they learned in school that day; in a state that underfunds its schools, and takes away even more funding when they don't get the "right numbers". These people (teachers, administrators, AND students) are under tremendous pressure to produce better statistical results at the cost of actual learning. Colorado, you get what you pay for, which is practically nothing.

Adogg
Adogg

don't blame this on the teachers people like you like to do so much of the time. this was an administrative decision to raise grad numbers. it is not always the teachers.

woodrow t justice
woodrow t justice

so, how much do TAXPAYERS spend to fund a school that graduates just 100 students a year?

This entire country is a mess, and the KIDS are stupid and unmotivated HOMEYS! They just wanna be pimps n hoes!

USA? In trouble.

FedUpCitizen
FedUpCitizen

Woodrow, many of these kids are hardworking and want to learn. It's not fair to condemn them when the adults here are the ones that allowed them to cheat and manipulate the requirements.

This is why leadership, character, and culture are vital to high quality education.

NWD native
NWD native

hardworking...yeah, sure. I don't believe that at all. And I would guess that most are products of bad, dysfunctional backgrounds with parents that don't really care. We need to stop babying and hold accountable - period. And stop pretending that every kid is destined for college.

Rod Will
Rod Will

I feel for kids who grow up in metropolitan areas. There are so many distractions - not only for the students but their parents, as well. I grew up in the country, where there was nothing to do BUT go to school. Paying attention in class was a small price to pay for being able to see your friends on the bus ride to school, at recess and the bus ride home. Also, there was plenty of motivation for the parents to take a keen interest in their children's education, as a lot of the parents made a living shoveling cow shit, digging irrigation trenches and driving tractors for 10 to 16 hours a day and wanted a more comfortable life for their kids. It seems that this does not apply at a similar rate to parents in the 'city'.Relying on what many perceive to be "bone-head" jobs to support those allowed to fall through the cracks, you may be underestimating the skills needed to be proficient and safe at said drudgery. I am employed in an industry that, if someone were to casually observe me and my workmates, looks easy enough. Let me assure you, though, that if we weren't proficient at calculating ratios, sequencing long lists of numbers on the fly and being able to read at a level that allows one to comprehend how to handle hazardous materials, there would be small-scale mushroom clouds containing all sorts of foul stuff going off all over the country.

DC
DC

manyougottafeelthisshirt, what makes you think the information in the article is not true? Just because it doesn't reflect positively on North High School doesn't mean the writer made this stuff up. I believe it is true, mostly based on what I knew prior to reading this article. So one counselor said some unflattering things about North - what about the other faculty and students, as well as email messages supporting these claims? Did they make that stuff up too? Seriously.

And for the folks who want to say it's the school, the system (DPS), or the state of education in the United States, I ask: Where does the responsibility of the parents lie?

In my opinion, the parents of these failing kids are largely responsible for the lack of family values when it comes to education, showing up for school - or work, finishing what you started, etc. If a kid doesn't show up for school (see North's attendance rate), they are not going to succeed. However, there are many kids at every high school in America who are succeeding in spite of their lame parents. While schools and school districts are in need to major restructuring, parents need to step up & take some responsibility for this failure too.

manyougottafeelthisshirt
manyougottafeelthisshirt

And in your opinion its the schools and the parents, then what is left for these young people to depend on?

Jenny
Jenny

That ALMOST meant something !

DC
DC

Exactly my point. I'm not blaming the kids, but how can the schools be 100% responsible for educating kids who won't show up?

And the proof is in the article.

Happygram2002
Happygram2002

High school graduation is necessary to get a job at McDonalds etc, Let the kids get through. I am sure the college bound kids are getting good enough grades to go, these kids that may be getting out with a little ease are not hurting anyone. The military and service industry have need for applicants too. If you are worried about the knowledge they leave with start in elementary high school is too late!

Bea
Bea

Do you have any idea how many of North's students have been hired to work the lunch shift at McDonald's before graduating? Do the math. Working lunches guarantees no attendance in regular classes. This whole country is a joke.

NWD Native
NWD Native

You mean over there at the worst McDs on the planet - the one on 38th, near Lowell? even 20 years ago that was the slowest McDs on earth.

And assuming this is true, why doesn't the school then publicize this, and go after McDs for this? My guess is that the kids who are working the lunch shift weren't much for attending school in the first place.

GToddle
GToddle

Try to find another country that's better

manyougottafeelthisshirt
manyougottafeelthisshirt

(COPIED FROM MY PREVIOUS POST)Everyone uses a computer to do their work and if the students at North only figure it out in the 10th-12th grade I'm happy for them and give them one piece of advice...... In college do the same thing when possible but never take credit for someone elses work or go outside the rules to get ahead.

Now to Miss Asmar where is the proof that they are doing wrong by citing the DPS code, CDE code or USDE code that says they cant do what they are doing.

Then when it is all said and done look up the top five countries for education

top 1: south koreatop 2: finlandtop 3: norway (COPIED AND PASTED OFF GOOGLE)top 4: japantop 5: lux

Now check it- "South Korea was the first country in the world to provide high-speed internet access from every primary, junior, and high school" (COPIED AND PASTED OFF GOOGLE)

Why I hate the attack of one school1. The reporter is biased and wrong2. The public is misinformed3. When the truth comes out no follow article is printed4. Schools with a high level of minorities are still "SCHOOLS"5. Kids that are considered minorities are still "STUDENTS'

On May 23, more than 100 seniors graduated from North High. But, current and former Students wonder, how many of them are going to be productive members of society or how many of them will see this article and start their early years of real life feeling defensive and as though they are being targeted as cheaters when they have not broken a rule that says they cheat? (once again where is it written).

Please write an apology for this Negative biased untrue piece of writing, or I suggest the westword look towards North Students to write articles that do not have alot of effort put into it SINCE that is what the article is implying and that is what Miss Asmar has done.

Friend of North
Friend of North

Sorry, but the article is based on very solid reporting. The students were allowed to take advantage of a failed system - they were encouraged by adults who need to show evidence of success. The Werkmeister's and Salem's are the problem. They are more concerned about their careers than about students and their futures. DPS requires that schools meet specific criteria - graduates, college apps, ACTs (North's was about 14 on the last recorded year), CSAPs, parent involvement, etc. The support is in the form of yelling and degrading teachers, rather than creating a team that can focus on success. North's administration of the past 3 years is at fault - the kids just did what they were expected to do, regardless of the efforts of teachers and parents to educate them. The sad part is they lose more than anyone else. Shame on Werkmeister, Salem and the rest of their cronies.

NWD Native
NWD Native

"Now check it- "South Korea was the first country in the world to provide high-speed internet access from every primary, junior, and high school" (COPIED AND PASTED OFF GOOGLE)"

Correlation does not equal causation. Basic logic - which they didn't teach at North, I guess.

manyougottafeelthisshirt
manyougottafeelthisshirt

Common sense tells you it can work, logic doesn't apply to our education system. To try an have a logical discussion about young people, and education and the effect using a computer program will have on evryone based on North high school is illogical as well as dumb.

Jenny
Jenny

You seem to be the expert on illogical and dumb!

Bea
Bea

The rants published by the students who believe in the program are the best proof that it does not work. Learning to write well enough to command some respect is rarely fun. It involves working closely with a teacher who will sort your mistakes and make you correct them until you no longer repeat them. Very few journalists have a strong command of the written language these days, and it's unlikely to change for the better since the dollars for education will continue to be spent on technology instead of human expertise. Rather hilarious that they address me as "sir." Scroll back those overblown estimates of reading level, folks.

L
L

You guys sit there and judge this kid because this article is talking about his high school specifically but here's the thing, that's the problem with all high schools anymore. Have you all read anything other kids have typed recently? And no I don't just mean the use of u and cuz and stupid shit like that. There are so many kids graduating that don't know how to spell the simplest of words and don't know how to use a lot of the most basic grammar. Thats not a problem with this school or with this program that has to do with the school system in america. We're lacking, we're falling behind and all these budget cuts sure as hell aren't helping. Lets see how much further behind we can fall from other countries around the world. It's sad when foreign exchange students come over and they are put grades ahead because their school systems are getting their kids to learn a lot more by the same age. Don't pick on the school pick on the system. And sorry kid there is no way you are typing at a college level (and yes it's college not collage that's a different word.)

GRskins
GRskins

I'm a student in the engagement center and let me say I've learned more from it then regular classes in school, the teachers actually help us, and are always looking over our shoulders half the time to make sure no one cheats, the teachers are respected and very nice people I've learned more from the engagement teachers then regular teachers in classes so i suggest this article to be false, take it from someone who goes and does it not some reporter or journalist. I hope they don't shut down the engagement center it has helped me so much, and I never once cheated, it was simple work and with a good work ethic to get stuff done i did and so did many other students, i can't believe someone would put down North's way of teaching and tell everyone we cheated our way through high school! pathetic!.

Bea
Bea

What's pathetic is that you have no idea of how to write at a 5th grade level. There really is a reason that "simple work" does not equal mastery of college preparatory skills.

Gssns
Gssns

whats also pathetic is that you sit on the internet commenting on tons people comments saying we are wrong or judging our writing level etc, like i care how my writing is on this like I'm going to sit here checking every single error, please get a life in the process. I'm 16 years old and i have a collage level in reading and writing so no i will not care how my grammar etc. looks on here :) but cool story bro, in what part do you shut the fuck up?

Bea
Bea

Education doesn't FAIL those people who bother to do the work of becoming educated.

Erik
Erik

"This shows the epitome of why education will always FAIL." Please, stop embarrassing yourself, already. You have shown yourself to be a complete and utter fool.

manyougottafeelthisshirt
manyougottafeelthisshirt

College was the 1 word. This shows the epitome of why education will always FAIL. So I guess I will be the one idiot amongst sooooooo many scholars. DUH Winning!

Tre
Tre

One (1) word ? Several words...idiot.

Erik
Erik

Put your "collage level reading and writing" to good use and re-read the entire article. This story depicts the cheating that the North administration allowed LAST YEAR in Credit Recovery. The story really is complex, and that is a reality that makes you irrelevant.You were hopelessly led down the path of ignorance and nothingness, filtering empty information.Please think before you write.

 
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