The New Education …

I have spent the last four months in and out of the classroom taking part in a working group that is examining how we in our district assign grades.

I think it is always a good thing to take time and examine why we do things, even if you think things are honky-dorry.  I am constantly tinkering with how I do things to see if I can make them better.

But no sooner than I had sat down in the first meeting, than I got one of those Han Solo “bad feelings”.  There was some of what I considered “legit discussion” regarding things like some teachers giving too much extra credit, and inflating grades …. some teachers counting too much homework, and thus artificially raising grades to not reflect mastery of material.

But some of the other things got me queasy …. like some teachers saying “homework shouldn’t count at all” …. “late work should never be given a zero” …. “anything behavior related should not count toward a grade” … “if a student chooses not to do something, it is incumbant on the teacher to come up with something different”.

I got into some trouble because I started asking questions …. the answers did nothing to dissuade the queasiness.

“If I have a student do a lab experiment, and they refuse to do it, am I allowed to give them a zero”.

“Can you replace it with another form of assessment?”

“No … lab experiences cannot be easily replaced.”

“Can’t dissections be replaced?”

“They are by mandate when students have ethical or religious objections, but very few teachers consider them an acceptable alternative.”

“Oh.  I would say that you should do everything you can to have them do the lab.”

“And if they refuse?”

“This isn’t likely.”

“I agree, but I find it more likely if our district adopts a policy that allows students to opt out on a whim.”

“THEN you could give a zero”.

“Can I even grade labs?  They are a behavior oriented experience.”

“Behaviors should not be graded.”

PE Teacher: “What if a student opts not to dress and perform in PE … the entire grade is behavior oriented.”

“I think you mean ‘skill oriented’, and you should have a rubric to decide how to grade”.

PE Teacher: “No, I don’t mean skill oriented … we don’t grade students poorly who can’t run a six mile or shoot a basket … their grade is largely based on participation.”

“That may have to change”.

This went on and on … the point is that more and more, there is this belief among some educators that grades don’t mean anything because a grade can be based on something other than strictly “this is what you know”.  I would argue that in some cases, a grade becomes meaningless if some of the lazy inteligentsia can get high grades without actually doing something … something that becomes easier to do by choosing to take classes below your ability level.  A student might be advertised to colleges as an “A” student, but be completely incapable of functioning in a collegiate environment.

Let me take some perspective here:

I think that different levels of students need to be dealt with a little differently.  Take your AP/accelerated students.  I think teachers need to be careful about inflating grades (you wouldn’t dare have an AP class where even 1% of your grade was extra credit).  On the other hand, you want to make sure that these students can handle a college level work load (in addition to some college level knowledge.

The more average students, depending on the school, may also be college bound, and while they may not need to know as many details, they had certainly better be ready to handle a college workload.

Lower level students (and I am assuming that they have the chance to move up if they can handle the skill set/knowledge base) often times are not going to remember a great deal that they learn in terms of details, but they can be very hard working students … a trait that can pay off for them in future job situations, or even a community college setting.

It seems that “ability to complete work” needs to be a part of everyone’s grade … though to what extent may be a point of debate.

The other thing:  the current feedback we are getting from colleges has very little to do with “the kids are too dumb” … quite the opposite … the kids have a good knowledge nad skills base, but they are dropping out in large numbers before their junior year because they cannot handle the combination of workload, independence, and separation.  At least a part of this can be blamed on helicoptor parenting, but I think that a great deal of this is the push toward removing “work” from a student’s grades.

I handle my students a little differently.  I never do extra credit, and I don’t accept late work for credit.  I de-emphasize homework with my seniors a bit, but really hammer them with tests, so we spend some time talking about study habits.  With my sophomores, a great deal of their grade is “Behavior” based (I look at their notes, I look at their homework … their tests aren’t quite worth as large a part of their grade.

After three meetings, the team is taking the summer off, but will reconvene in the autumn to try and put together some proposals to the Board for their consideration.


One Response to The New Education …

  1. Beth says:

    I would only be able to agree with the “if they don’t do the work, they can’t get a zero/fail” mentality if, as part of the over all grade (or perhaps even a separate grade) it is included as “percentage of work completed”. This way, a student can still earn an “A” (I guess), but with the separate disclaimer “but this is how much s/he actually did”..I guess it’s kinda like the old “effort” grades we used to get in elementary school. I remember my mother telling me that if the effort grade was as high as it could be, that a lower letter grade would be accepted. Surprisingly though, the two always seemed to go hand-in-hand (sarcasm).

    Just like with other “rating systems” there needs to be both and qualifying and quantifying information in order to be valid. IMHO, Number/Letters on a report card can only be worth something when accompanied by actual work product/result, or rater narrative.

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