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.)

New Jersey Teacher’s Union Endorses Thomas Guskey’s Position on the Use of Zeros in Grading

Apparently not all teacher unions are averse to rational and unbiased conversation about grading policy. Go to page 16 of the New Jersey Teacher Association’s NJEA Review magazine for October 2005 to read their cover story on whether or not teachers should use zeros in grading.

Grading for Learning: Dealing with the Student Who “Won’t Work” (Revisited)

Teacher grading policies need to be grounded in reality. That reality is this: most students will conform to the teacher’s expectations, especially if those expectations are reasonable. Teachers who set up punitive grading systems create self-fulfilling prophecies by gearing their policies to the exceptions, the what-ifs. Those teachers go looking for trouble and they find it. There will always be exceptional students on both ends of the normal population curve who will confound, amaze, and frustrate us, but creating a classroom management and/or grading policy that speaks to margins and drags the majority of students into an academic minefield is counter-productive.

So, what do we do with the student who “won’t work”?

Step One: Analyze the situation. What work is he or she refusing to do? Class work? Homework? Group work? Attending to the teacher? Taking notes on presentations? Is it “make or break” for succeeding in the course? Is the work necessary for learning or has the student already demonstrated understanding of the topic? Is the work a stated requirement of the class, grounded in district curriculum? Is the homework necessary, or does the student already have the subject under control?

We need to determine if the student is learning enough to satisfy the requirements of the course and not get hung up in procedural minutiae. “Fairness” is not treating all students alike. Fairness in education is meeting students at their own level of need. Our job is to evaluate learning, not “give credit” (the district gives “credits” for courses completed successfully).

I will do what I can to help and persuade a student to engage in learning, even to arranging mandatory after-school tutoring for the student with the permission of the parent. If it’s simply a matter of homework not completed by a student who can score high in the test on that subject matter, what’s the point of hassling the kid or reducing the grade? Power struggles backed up by punitive grading solve nothing and don’t facilitate accurate reports of academic achievement.

Step Two: Get help. Recalcitrant students often have multiple issues that accompany their refusal to engage in learning that have to be handled professionally by all school personnel involved. Involve the parent, counselor, and administration. Go over IEPs, 504s, and make sure that all the ducks are in a row: those that will help the student and those that satisfy state and federal bureaucracy. Keep the feedback going through that loop.

Step Three: Continue to grade for learning. If the student can’t or won’t meet the requirements of the course, summative assessments will tell the tale and that’s that. No need to engage in punitive grading for “school work” that is not completed. Keep the parent, principal, and counselor informed and meet with them all as needed.

Keep a record of summative assessment scores and formative assessment evaluations. Use INC (Incomplete) or NS (Not Submitted) rather than zeros when recording late or missing assessments or assignments. Use only summative assessment scores for report card grades, and use the formative set to back up your report card grades and your good (professional) judgment.

So, What Else Did the Board Discuss Last Tuesday? (Tempest in a Teapot, Part 2)

From my comments on The Oregonian Forum re Lighthouse:

The irony in this discussion of the Board’s faux “division” is that our OSBA Lighthouse Project instructors are competent, experienced, and successful education professionals who are, as the Board is, locked into a rigid program that needs data on the Board’s performance as measured by future student achievement, and therefore [the program] cannot adapt or change to improve.

Also ironic is that of all the topics the Board discussed last Tuesday, this one is merely “sensational,” while the other topics were much more relevant to the continued improvement of student achievement.

The Board received updates on the District’s rollout of standards-based grading (see Policy IK) accompanied by increased professional development in classroom assessment — the day-to-day, moment-by-moment feedback teachers give to students about learning, which, according to exhaustive research, is our most powerful teaching tool.

The Board also continued the discussion about the upcoming renewal of the HSD 1J Strategic Plan that will involve a large cross-section of the HSD community. Board members Adriana Canas, Rebecca Lantz, and Hugh O’Donnell will serve on a core committee with 27 other community representatives to determine which of the current plan’s objectives have been met, which should be maintained, and which still need work. The core committee will also deliberate on perceived need for new objectives.

Following the work of the core committee, still more educators and community members will serve on action teams that will determine the steps needed to realize the objectives.

Any volunteers?

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.”