Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Grading

A reader (he's ex-navy, but we won't hold that against him, because we're inclusive here at RotLC) sent me the following email:

Darren,

The district in which I teach 8th grade Algebra is wanting in the near future to move from a standard reporting system (A, B, C, D, F) to a Standards Based Reporting System (4-Exceeding Standard; 3-Meeting Standard; 2-Approaching Standard; 1-Below Standard).

What are your thoughts on Standards Based Reporting and Assessment, and what have you read/heard (if anything) about the negative impact that has on the grading system they’ll get in high school (which is back to the standard reporting system)?

Thanks.


My quick reply was that changes like this are made for only a couple reasons, the most likely of which is the attempt to hide something (perhaps, the achievement gap between different groups of students). Everyone knows what an A, B, C, D, and F represent; is everyone so clear on what "approaching standards" means? No? Then we can hide a lot of D's and F's that way.

Coincidentally enough, the current issue of the CTA mouthpiece rag has an article on grading--and contrary to what you might expect from such a liberal organization, they seemed to get it right:

When the West Contra Costa Unified School District adopted standards-based grades for elementary schools, report cards became more confusing for teachers, students and parents, says Gig Jenkins, a second-grade teacher at Grant Elementary School in Richmond.

Numbers replaced letter grades, with 1 showing that a student needs improvement; 2 showing the student approaching the standards; 3 showing the student meeting benchmarks; and 4 showing that the student is advanced. Instead of being graded overall on subjects, students are graded on many standards within core subjects.

Jenkins was part of a committee that helped create the report cards measuring student progress toward meeting state standards. With so many standards, not all were included.

“We used our district ‘power standards,’” recalls Jenkins, a member of the United Teachers of Richmond. “Our committee looked at report cards from other districts with standards-based report cards and created our own.”

The report cards are confusing and are not particularly parent-friendly, says Jenkins. “Many people, including myself, believe the standards-based language of the report cards is geared more toward guiding teachers than informing parents.”

Parents are baffled by such things as a math standard that evaluates students on their ability “to use the commutative and associative rules to simplify mental calculations,” or a language-arts standard that determines whether students “decode phonetic patterns — plurals and diphthongs"...

When schools go to standards-based report cards that mirror testing results, it can be more difficult for students to raise their grades through traditional avenues such as extra credit, homework and class participation. Parents may be mystified as to how their child compares with his or her classmates. While standards-based grades are increasing in elementary schools, high schools don’t use them, since college acceptance is usually based on a student’s grade point average.

I genuinely enjoyed this little slap of reality:

An ABC News report raised the question of whether eliminating failing grades — a trend nationwide — might be “coddling” students. Some education experts say it reflects a trend to “protect” children from the harsh reality that they have failed, such as when children receive trophies for “participation” in competitions they lost. Another question is whether eliminating failing grades adequately prepares students for college or life.

Several professors at Sierra College, a community college in Rocklin, were unaware of the “no-D” policy at the local high schools and said they now understand why some of their students expect extra chances.

“Learning this produced an ‘aha!’ moment for me,” says history professor Lynn Medeiros, a member of the Sierra College Faculty Association (SCFA). “Last semester I had a student say, ‘I missed these questions; when can I retake the midterm?’ I said there was no retaking midterms. She asked if she could just retake the questions she missed and I said no.”

Medeiros says students who have asked to retake tests and rewrite papers have told her they should be entitled to do so as part of the “learning process.” But college, she says, has stricter standards.
My bottom line on this: there's nothing inherently wrong with the traditional grading system. Given that, is there any justification for changing it?

5 comments:

Ellen K said...

Did you happen to catch the story on the Free Range Children? They aren't homeschooled, they are proudly "Unschooled." While some people may find this charming, I found it alarming because there were no goals, no aspirations. While some students may gravitate to reading or math, the majority would be content to play video games all day. Someone has to set goals. If parents will not and schools cannot, then who is going to do it?

Darren said...

Scary.

Anonymous said...

Ellen,

Free Range Kids and Unschooling are two separate things. One can do either, neither or both.

Additionally, "unschooling" is a pretty broad term and the term is used quite differently by many people. It would help make the panic more concrete if you could provide a link to "the story on the Free Range Children" since I don't know what the story is.

-Mark Roulo

Mrs. Schroeder said...

Oh, where to start with what is wrong with the traditional grading system. Ask Brittany.

The argument that "everybody knows what an A, B, C, D and F represent" simply isn't true. You might know what that letter represents, but it doesn't necessarily tell you what that child knows about Astronomy. I started SBG this year, and with my classes, it was HARDER to get an A. There was no "hiding a lot of D's and F's," they were there just like they always were, but now the kids knew exactly what they did and did not know. It WAS "more difficult for students to raise their grades through...extra credit, homework and participation." That's the whole point. None of those things show that the student has learned a thing in my class. Isn't that why I am here???

I used to give extra credit for bringing in a box of Kleenex. So that kid's grade might have gone from a C to a B. He doesn't know anymore about stellar evolution, but Mom and Dad are sure happier.

"Parents are baffled" when they try to interpret a specific standard? How is it more difficult to interpret a standard than it is to interpret a grade listed as "Chapter 7 Test"? Communication is the key here. Clarity is the key here. I spent a lot of time writing out exactly what I wanted the kids to know and I made that information available to the kids and their parents. I do realize that not all teachers are going to go to that effort, however.

We coddle our kids to much, I agree with that. The whole "participation" ribbon thing has gotten way out of hand. We are not protecting our kids from anything. We are setting them up to fail later on. But aren't we coddling them when we allow them to bump their grade up with extra credit and participation?

When a student earns an A in my class, I want to be confident that that student actually learned what I taught. Traditional grading does not allow for that.

maxutils said...

Mrs Schroeder;

I agree with virtually everything you wrote . . . except that you appear to be equating 'traditional grading' with grading based on things not pertaining to actual learning . . . The A-F scale, traditionally shows exactly that -- if it is based primarily on academic factors on performance. Obviously, if you're giving extra credit for bringing in kleenex, it won't. I guess it might be harder to justify bumping an approaching standards to a meets standards for bringing in kleenex, but there's no reason why you couldn't. It would make exactly as much sense, academically.