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Gary Rubinstein's Blog: Success Academy Parents Speak Out. Part 2 “I Was Told My Seventh Grade Daughter Had to Repeat Entire Grade Because She Failed One Course by One Point”

Part 1 of this blog post is here.

A few months ago I published the first part of this series where parents of current or former Success Academy students can share their stories.  As I hoped would happen, another frustrated parent found that post and contacted me with his own disturbing story to tell.

Success Academy is known for its high 3-8 standardized test scores and its extreme rigidity.  In a way, the rigidity is part of what causes them to have such high test scores.  They demand compliance from their students and from the families of those students.  When a student or the family of a student is not conforming to the expectations of the school, that student or family are going to be harassed, humiliated, and punished until they either fall into line or ‘voluntarily’ transfer to another school.

The heartbreaking saga of a girl I will call ‘Carla’ began pleasantly enough eight years ago when she was accepted into Success Academy Springfield Gardens as a kindergartener.  From kindergarten through fourth grade, she thrived at the school.  Her fourth grade report card grades were mostly the highest or second highest category, except for writing where she was struggling.

In fifth grade, she started having problems academically, though not catastrophically, and then as we all know, the pandemic hit and schools in New York went remote for the next year and a half.  For the end part of fifth grade and all of sixth grade, Carla struggled to learn remotely.  She had various connection issues and would wait in zoom waiting rooms endlessly.  She was really traumatized by the pandemic year and was eager to return to in person classes for her seventh grade year.

But she was still suffering the effects of the 18 months of remote learning.  She was having mental health issues and was seeing a therapist about them.  At school she was failing several classes.  Carla is a very hard working student and someone who really tries her best and her parents work very hard to support her needs and to keep on top of what assignments Carla was missing.  Everyone knows that Success Academy has one trick in their playbook which is to make students repeat grades for failing courses.  So Carla managed to improve most of her grades but she still failed two subjects, writing and science and was told that she would have to pass those two courses in summer school or she would have to repeat the entire seventh grade.

How Success Academy can make such a threat is incomprehensible to me.  For elementary school grades it makes more sense, but in a secondary school setting, why not just retake the courses that you failed?  But that wasn’t the threat, it was that she had to pass both courses with a 70 or higher or she would be repeating the entire seventh grade, including all the classes that she had passed.

A lot of students had to go to the Success Academy summer school program which, unfortunately, was remote and asynchronous.  So the very thing that set Carla back in 2020 was now back in her life.  She struggled but with her parent’s support she completed most of the work by the time that summer school was ending.  When she got her report card, however, she and her family were devastated when they read it.

She passed one of the courses, but the other she failed with a 69, one point below the threshold.  The school sent the family the news in this cold form letter.

Basically a form letter and ending with the bizarre ‘Warmly, Your Principal’ can there be any less warm way to end a letter than that?

Her father reached out to the school and then the board.  The board responded in a similarly cold way

He then filed a formal complaint with the charter authorizer and never heard anything back from them.

He pulled Carla from the school and she now attends a private school and she is, thankfully, doing well there.

Making a student repeat seventh grade for failing one class by one point is cruel and possibly illegal.  The father told me that he believes that the 69 grade is in error anyway because he has screen shots of all the work she submitted.  Either way, any grading system produces a grade that is really just an approximation for the work the student did and what they learned.  There is certainly a margin of error in the calculation so usually if a student fails a course by one point, you give the student the benefit of the doubt.

This is a student that Success Academy had been teaching for eight years.  They saw her thrive for five of those years.  They saw her start to struggle and then saw her suffer through remote learning and trying to rebound from the remote year.  But Success Academy cares about their systems and their standardized test scores (Carla did get 4s on her state tests still) and about pressuring students and parents to fix mental health issues that the school has no idea, nor any desire to learn how, to help with.

So while this is just the second installment of Success Academy Parents speak out, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of parents with similar experiences and feelings of frustration when they get on the bad side of this heartless organization.

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Gary Rubinstein

Gary Rubinstein is a high school math teacher. He is the recipient of the 2005 Math for America Master Teacher Fellowship. ...