Species Identification

Unless you’re a resident of the Wild West or the Great Lakes region, I wouldn’t expect you to identify this fish as a wild River Canyon steelhead (a big, anadramous rainbow trout). Note the sleekness, the coloring, the spots, the fins that are sharp and haven’t been worn ragged by the concrete walls of a fish hatchery.

My favorite guide took that picture. (One of his many fine photos that appear on this site.)

That fish was born in fresh river water and then spent two or three years in the ocean, feeding on bait fish before returning to the River Canyon to spawn. If he (it’s a buck) is lucky, he’ll go back and forth to the ocean once or twice more before he cashes in his chips.

What does a gorgeous wild steelhead have to do with grading? Well, when I’m talking about fishing and fish with other fishers, we assume that there’s a base of common knowledge, a common vocabulary, and common points of reference, all allowing facile communication and discussion of different points of view. Failure to establish baselines can lead to very difficult discussions.

I want to correctly identify the direction in which I’m going with the grading discussion. And I thank The Science Goddess for reminding me with a remark she made on her blog about secondary standards-based grading, namely that it would be very difficult to move away from the ABCDF system in high schools because our system of higher education currently understands and is set up to process only the alphabetical shorthand.

I presently have very little interest in moving high schools away from the ABC grading system. Higher education currently requires it. But we can do a great deal to clean up what the letters represent. Someday, perhaps, higher ed will be able to process more information about individual achievement, but until then we have to make the best of what we have, and there is a whale of a lot we can do.

The grades that I want to link to standards are the As, Bs, and Cs. (It’s hard for me to imagine Ds and Fs unless a student makes an effort not to achieve!)

PS: For you fishers out there, we are required by law to release wild steelhead. I would anyway.


6 thoughts on “Species Identification

  1. I am reminded of an extreme example (always the easiest to conjure!). I work with someone who, when in high school, made it his goal to earn a 0.0 GPA one semester. He said it was a near impossible task—teachers just wouldn’t believe that he would fail. And today he is a teacher who seems to delight in handing out F’s to students.

    I look forward to thinking and hearing more about how to repurpose the symbols we use to report grades for secondary.

  2. We need to drop a net on that guy and remove him to a quality control job in a Chinese toy factory.

    We’re going to have a fun conversation on grading. But remember, it’s an imperfect world! 😉

  3. Steelhead trout are pretty; grading is often not. I have made my grading as objective as possible, with clearly defined expectations for assignments and overall letter grades. I get very few complaints or inquiries. There are a few kids who don’t understand that if they are absent and don’t ever turn in the assignment, it’s a 0 in the gradebook. They seem to think I can just give them some kind of missing grade. (?) My older daughter went to a non-graded college her first year, and hated it. She needed the structure of letter grades to help her guage how she was doing. I thought the evaluations that the professors wrote were actually much better and comprehensive than letter grades. Now she’s at UW–which is a miracle because they don’t take very many transfers, and she had NO gradepoint from her first year of college. She seems to be happy there, and is doing very well. By the way, I can’t get your blog to feed into my bloglines! It’s weird.

  4. Why can’t you give them some kind of missing grade—an Incomplete? If there’s no evidence that they either did or did not learn the material…how can you grade it (even as a zero)?

  5. What a beauty!
    I agree with the science goddess, although I do occasionally give a student a 10 out of 100 (we don’t use ABC) if he repeatedly refuses to hand in his work. A 10 expresses a total lack of involvement.

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