Go Back to “Traditional” Grading?

You want to return to the traditional grading system. Is this what you’re wishing for?

10 Reasons to Return to the Traditional Grading System

  1. The teacher puts anything they choose into the grade. Test scores, quiz scores, homework, participation, tardies, absences, headings on the right side of the assignment, neatness, responsibility factors, citizenship, miscellaneous behaviors that are important to the teacher, MMPI scores…you name it. (With all that stuff in the mix, what does that “traditional” grade tell you about your child’s achievement?)
  2. The teacher may or may not impose penalties through the grade, such as zeros or 50% off for late/missing assignments/assessment. (And not give feedback to the student, which was the purpose of the assignment/assessment to begin with.)
  3. The teacher is free to ignore the mathematical rules of statistics (measures of central tendency) by putting zeros for missing/late assignments/assessments into grade calculations, thereby having a disproportionate negative effect on the report card grade, and possibly college admissions (This is where the lawsuits could really come from.)
  4. The teacher isn’t concerned that another teacher in the district, the building, or just down the hall, who is teaching the same subject at the same level, has different grading criteria. Your child could get an A in one class, and a C in the other class – for the same level of actual achievement. This could be due to punitive grading (zeros and 50% off) or different grade cut-offs (90%=A in one class, 94%=A in another class). There’s no consistency in the “traditional” system, and your child gets “the luck of the draw.” (And it’s really tough to get the principal to pull your child out of one class and put them in the other. Building politics play a big part in a “traditional” grading system.)
  5. The teacher may collect and give credit for homework without knowing if it was the student, parent, or friend who did the actual assignment. (Check out those busy students in the cafeteria before school starts…lots of homework copying going on there. How does that foster responsibility and character development?)
  6. Your child’s grade can get dragged down by the poorest performing student in a group work assignment. (Not the way it’s supposed to work in group learning situations, but it’s all up to the teacher in the “traditional’ grading system.)
  7. Kids don’t learn from mistakes – they get hammered for mistakes. (The learning environment is tense, conflicted, much less effective, and directs student attention to scheming about acquiring “points” rather than actual learning.)
  8. Grades can be inflated through the addition of “extra credit” for academic or non-academic factors. (Exactly how does bringing a box of Kleenex factor into a grade that’s supposed to indicate level of learning according to standards?)
  9. Grades can be severely deflated if the teacher chooses to use grading as a tool to force compliance by punishing students with zeros or other grade reductions unrelated to actual performance linked to an education standard. (The belief that the threat of punishment through grade reduction has a positive effect on student performance is wishful thinking on the part of some teachers. Can they find some evidence out there – research – that punitive grading is a force for improving student achievement? No, they cannot. There is no evidence to support punitive grading.)
  10. The acquisition of learning – both for the student and the teacher – is compromised in the “traditional” grading system by the inclusion of “practice” (formative assessment — also known as “assessment for learning”) in the report card grade. You can read about this in a report on a 1998 research meta-study by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam titled “Inside the Black Box.” (The saddest aspect of “traditional” grading is that its advocates don’t seem to care that we are shooting ourselves in the foot by ignoring this powerful research. The teacher’s most effective tool – feedback to the student about learning – is compromised by attaching “credit” to everything a student does. That same feedback loop also gives the teacher information about the effectiveness of their instruction and may suggest to the teacher ways to improve their instruction, and your child’s opportunity to learn more effectively.)

ASCD Wants You!

From the ASCD website:

Educational Leadership is doing an upcoming issue on Promoting Respectful Schools (September 2011). We’re looking for stories about creating respect among teachers and students. Selected responses will appear in the September issue.

Contributions need to be under 200 words…not much for such a worthy subject.

Here’s what I wrote (198 words):

Displayed on my classroom wall and in the window of my classroom door was a sign that said, “Respect Zone/Zona de Respeto.” I talked about this when I briefly introduced myself to a class.

After telling students who I am (and why I was there in the case of post-retirement substitute teaching), I explained “The Respect Zone” like this: “Unlike a lot of teachers you know, I only have one rule in my classroom. I respect you. You respect me. All the rest of the rules are in your student handbook.” Lots of surprised and attentive faces greeted that announcement.

 I further explained that The Respect Zone extended beyond the classroom…in fact, everywhere.

If a student disrespected a peer, or challenged me, I gently reminded them of The Respect Zone. Often other students offered verbal support for the idea of mutual respect, something we all crave.

If a student needed to pay more attention to mutual respect, I invited them into the hall for a private conference and explained that teaching is a difficult job and I can’t do it alone. “I need your help too,” I told them.  I usually made an ally that day.

Paring the subject down to 200 or less words required some thought. But here on my blog, I’m free to include all my rough draft thoughts on student-teacher respect...the key to effective classroom management and augmented student achievement.

Respect in the Classroom (rough draft)

As a middle school social studies teacher, and after retirement as an occasional secondary substitute, I would introduce students to the concept of “The Respect Zone.”

Prominently displayed on my classroom wall and in the window of my classroom door was a bilingual sign that said, “Respect Zone/Zona de Respeto.” Both as a regular teacher and as a substitute I would talk about this when I briefly introduced myself to a class.

Keys to The Respect Zone: After telling students who I am (and why I was there in the case of substitute teacher), to give them a connection to a fellow human being, I would explain The Respect Zone like this: “Unlike a lot of teachers you know, I only have one rule in my classroom. I respect you. You respect me. All the rest of the rules are in your student handbook.” I would further explain that The Respect Zone extended beyond the classroom…in fact everywhere.

If a student disrespected a peer or challenged me, I would gently remind them of The Respect Zone. Often other students would offer verbal support for the idea of mutual respect, something we all crave.

If a particular student acted out and needed to pay more attention to mutual respect, I would invite them into the hall for a private conference and explain that teaching is a difficult job and I can’t do it alone.” I need your help too,” I would tell them.  “Come on, let’s go back inside and make it work for everybody.” Besides avoiding a public confrontation, I usually made an ally out of the previously recalcitrant student because they felt the respect I was giving to them.

This isn’t a foolproof “fix” or system. It sometimes fails and I have had to issue a behavior referral, but I never averaged more than five referrals in a school year (and that included mandatory referrals for the occasional hallway fight I had to break up).

The Respect Zone requires a large degree of humility on the part of the teacher, which means, not being perfect myself, that if I ever spoke sharply to a student, I would apologize to them in front of the entire class. But encouraging respect in this fashion pays off for me because it results in more instructional time and less time devoted to behavioral intervention. And, did I mention, way less stress.

Dividing the Board? Not.

An article in today’s The Oregonian suggested that a recent discussion at a Board work session on Tuesday, September 14, centering on HSD 1J Board of Directors training, is dividing the Board. Certainly we Board members have differing opinions, but is it really news that we disagree on something? We disagree all the time, but we come to consensus, or, in formal meetings, vote. And nobody walks away mad.

My comments on the article are as follows:

Wendy, just a slight course adjustment here…I’m with John on the ponderous waste of time, and I’d just as soon discontinue the project. But with four Board members (and probably five, but the fifth was missing from the meeting) wanting to continue the project, it doesn’t much matter what John or I have to say.

Perhaps you didn’t have space in your article, but it would be nice for folks to know that we, the Board, are lab rats in the Iowa Lighthouse Project. Not that that’s a totally bad thing, but because the Iowa folks are gathering data based on our performance as a Board over the next few years, the content and delivery of Lighthouse instruction has not, and cannot be, altered or the data gathered might be less valid and reliable as compared to other Board’s performances nation-wide over the last few years. That’s just the facts of life in a research project that depends on good statistics.

And that’s a piece of the picture that none of us had explained to us going into this thing.

The best thing we learned from Lighthouse was to follow up with District administration on Board expectations. The rest has been to micro-analyze District performance data (an admin job) and encouragement to micro-manage our administrators, which is something that the Oregon School Board Association has discouraged in the past, according to all our training to date. At least until Lighthouse.

I’m all for high-performing Boards of Ed, and I think we have a very conscientious group, but we barely have enough meeting time and opportunity to take care of A-1 priority issues, let alone waste time with the glacial pace and questionable learning opportunities of Lighthouse.

If the Lighthouse curriculum could be condensed and presented the way a competent teacher would be expected to present it, I’d be willing to go for it, but not the way it is now.

Bottom line: this Board is made up of seven reasonable adults, and our differences of opinion on the Lighthouse Project are no big deal. Certainly not enough to cause a “division” among us.

Last, I “feel” the comment by Mad As He** talking about irony. Remember, Mad, I’m a retired teacher. Part of my (latent) mission as a Board member is to encourage better, more differentiated professional development that is actually welcome and valuable, and positively affects student achievement.

Further comment:

singa September 17, 2010 at 6:58AM

“The school board needs to be conversant enough to be critical consumers of the reports put in front of them by staff thus enabling them to ask appropriate questions and set reasonable and challenging educational goals for the district. The next step is to set reasonable parameters for the admin. to work within to achieve those educational goals through board direction and policy.

In the end the buck of district performance stops with the board.”

Right as rain, singa.

From the Board page on the HSD 1J website, http://www.hsd.k12.or.us/District/BoardofDirectors/tabid/64/Default.aspx :

“The Board of Directors received several distinguished accolades from the Oregon School Boards Association (OSBA), both collectively and individually, for their commitment to community engagement and developing their skills as Board members. The awards were presented at the 2009 OSBA annual convention in Portland, which was held in November.

OSBA Continuing Board Achievement
The Board received the Continuing Board Achievement award for the sixth-consecutive year. This award signifies the Board’s successful completion of substantial board leadership training activities through the Leadership Institute. The award represents the Board’s commitment to continually enhancing their skills to strengthen their effectiveness as a school board.

OSBA Leadership Training
Three individual Board members were recognized for their leadership achievements though engaging in OSBA’s leadership training last year: Patti McLeod, Rebecca Lantz and Carolyn Ortman received Platinum Awards.”

Happy Blog Birthday to The Science Goddess!

Better late than never, here’s wishing Happy 5th Blog Birthday to The Science Goddess of the provocative edublog What It’s Like On the Inside.

The Science Goddess once was a classroom teacher whose adventures in eduland made for humorous stories about the foibles of our stereotypical edutyrants and eduposeurs. Nowadays, with a doctorate about to be conferred, she often forces us to think of our grading and assessment practices that impact, sometimes with terrible irony, the success of our students in middle and high school.

The Science Goddess now works at the state level, but still finds time to share with us the fruits of her explorations into the frontiers of education as it may, and probably should be, in the next century.

Read The Science Goddess. Subscribe to her RSS feed. Your brain will thank you.

Ning’s the Thing

teacher meeting

I first heard the word “Ning” from The Science Goddess a while back. I’m not sure I understand the full potential of nings, but from what I can see, there’s plenty of opportunity for collaboration and learning. I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of them.

I’ve added a new link category, “Nings,” to my sidebar for folks who visit here and would like to be pointed in new, helpful directions.

My first ning link is to The English Companion Ning, a meeting place for English/Language Arts teachers. Jim Burke, the administrator of the ning also has a web site called English Companion. And he is seriously published. Check out his books.

If you want to create your own Ning, go here.

(A few clicks later…)

I’m in the exploration mode here, in real time. Mr. Burke has a blog also. I’ll be looking at that for a while!

Additional Note (October 4, 2009): I just viewed a bunch of education-related nings using the search term teacher ning. There’s lots out there. Surf’s up!

The Thoughtful Teacher


I’m not just talking about me…I’m talking about you, too.

Let me know if the blog name change is too much, or whether it’s more in line with what I hope to achieve, which is exploring education topics that defy universal agreement, but demonstrate a commitment to caring and professionalism.

Why didn’t I call it The Reflective Teacher? I’m thinking that the word  “reflective” is overused jargon, don’t you? The ideal reading level for understanding and being understood is around eighth grade. That’s what newspapers shoot for, and I’m thinking they have a good idea.

Had To Share This…Intergovernmental Whatever


I shouldn’t say that I feel like she looks, but “bedraggled” may be an apt description of her situation and mine, although I’m glad to say, I’m happily bedraggled (and not wet). Lots of good stuff to do and not enough time in which to do it. Know what I mean?

Short update on our regular board meeting of 25NOV2008: All action items passed unanimously.

Short comment on Susan Gordanier’s recent Argus article describing the combined City Council/HSD 1J Board of Directors meeting: Susan, in her zeal to make a big deal out of the Thomas Middle School demolition discussion (a non-existent “stalemate”), ignored a great agreement of the combined group of elected officials, namely that the “policy makers” (the Mayor’s term for councilors and board members) needed to encourage high-ranking administrators in both the city and the school district to meet on a regular basis to maximize our partnership for the benefit of the citizens of the City of Hillsboro and the patrons of the Hillsboro School District. These officials do meet and strategize, but not on a regular basis. That’s what I call “news,” but when a reporter is in the preconceptive mode, he/she can miss a lot of good stuff. That was the high point of the meeting, but the promise of benefits to citizens never made print.

The so-called “stalemate” on the issue of the demolition of JB Thomas Middle School was not a stalemate at all, but a denial on the part of the Mayor and two of his Councilors who are apparently willing to follow him. School board members endeavored to help the those city officials understand that regardless of how “feasible” they thought the Thomas site is/was for the City, it would never be feasible for the School District, hence our reluctance to waste taxpayer funds on a useless “feasibility study.”

The School District defends the needs of children. City officials, in their quest for control over the Thomas site, never mentioned children or the needs of the children.

In other news, I’ll be presenting two break-out sessions at the international Educational Testing Service 3rd Annual Conference on Sound Grading Practices (the last frontier in education reform) this Thursday and Friday in Portland. A good number of HSD administrators and teachers will be attending. See you all there!

Google Book Project Almost There!

Today, we have an E-School News report that a settlement has been agreed upon, and now needs court approval.

Here’s some background…

Back in February of 2007, The New Yorker magazine ran a feature about Google’s intent to scan every book on the planet (the one’s in English to start with), and make a searchable database out of the verbal brew. The publishing industry had gotten up in arms about the perceived threat to its very existence and set out to block Google.

According to the E-School News report, the project is moving along.

The Google project would offer snippets of books to folks like us, researching from home or office, and full text to library patrons on site, free at the library. We at home or office, could, for a fee, read or buy the full text of in-print books, read out-of-print books, and  presumably, given state-of-the-art print-on-demand technology, buy out-of-print books that interest us. Imagine being able to search the entire printed universe…an infinitely beefed up version of Mortimer Adler’s Syntopicon that accompanied the Britannica Great Books of the Western World series.

If this sort of thing excites you, be sure to visit Project Gutenberg where you can download thousands of free books.

And while were at it, I used to lust after the entire Yale University Press publication of The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. Only $50+ per volume for many, many volumes. Even as a devoted teacher of American History, I could never figure out how to get that past my wife, Linda, the chancellor of the exchequer. (She may be the reason I’m not currently living in a cardboard box on skid road.)

Now Yale’s The Papers of Benjamin Franklin are free here. Go figure. But I’m definitely not complaining! (Thank you, Yale University Press!)

The E-School News requires registration to read the full article, but don’t worry, it’s free. You can get their stuff in your Inbox on a daily basis.

This is virtual culture shock even for a digital immigrant. 😉

Taking My Medicine

I recant my intention to move lock, stock, and barrel over to Straight Talk. I was one of those ideas that seemed okay on the surface, but it didn’t survive four days of attempted implementation.

Frankly, the focus of Straight Talk is too narrow. The local folks who have it on RSS would tune out if I had too many discussions that were not directly relevant to what’s happening in Hillsboro, and other readers would tire of the local stuff. Tom Brandt was right. Two blogs it is.

My apologies for the false alarm. It’s embarrassing to have growing pains at my age! But I am significantly closer to being less bit-challenged. 😀

Big However: I did replace the stuffy links on Straight Talk with my home team. Some of those links will perk up the locals, eh? And I did unsubscribe to all “permission” Outlook emails (except the local weather) over these last four days!

I haven’t even visited my fly fishing forum recently, and I don’t feel like I’m missing much. My email’s in my profile, so I’m not unreachable to the fishing folks I know there.

So much for the personal drivel. I’m ready to take my medicine.