Monday, April 26, 2010

Making the grade: story ideas.

Okay, yeah, sorry about the headline. Such an easy fallback title that shows up practically everywhere.

The topic, though: so much there! Over the last five years or so, school districts have taken a hard look at the way students are graded. Efforts to make grades more “meaningful” butt up against efforts to leave no child behind, as a lawsuit in Austin demonstrates. Minimum-grading policies that set a floor of 50 may seem like coddling, but then again, isn’t the 0-100 scale, with a 40-point range of acceptability and 60 points of failing, sort of arbitrary, mathematically? Reporters grapple come to me frequently looking at one piece of the puzzle, grade inflation—the idea that it is easier than it used to be to get an “A.”

The aspect of grading I find most intriguing is, I suppose, not a question of grading at all but of curriculum and alignment. I don’t think we can have enough stories at the moment (with real people and data) about students who get all A’s and B’s in college prep classes and then test into remedial classes once they are at college. Does that constitute grade inflation, expectations deflation or simply a complete disconnect between what you learn in high school and what you need to know in college?

A potentially illuminating story I have never seen, even in districts completely remaking their grading metrics, walks the reader through teachers’ gradebooks and shows how those numbers and letters got there.  Take us beyond the school board disagreements and show us: What do the grades mean?


  1. Dirty little secret: most teachers assign grades "holistically," as least that's what I have seen in schools in which I have taught.

    Rather than actually averaging and weighing and all that -- with serious thinking about how to weight different elements -- teachers scan the row of grades in their book and eyeball.

    And that doesn't beging to get into the subjectivity of "participation" grades.

  2. The dirty little secret is that most teachers assign grades holistically, and that is good. Professor Emeritus Lynn Canady makes a great case for both the 50 floor, and for not getting to holier than thou about grading. I just grin when people claim to be objective in grading for mastery or whatever. But I've also been reluctant to embrace the 50 floor, because once you've institutionalized the lower standard, its set in concrete. Real world, teachers typically face huge institutional pressures to just pass everyone on. As Canady says, social studies teachers tend to say, "that's seems about right" when grading and that's my honest feeling. I'm not going to cheat anyone, so I feel better grading for effort.

    This semester I gave into the pressure and adopted the 50 floor. so far, its not working very well.

    When I taught seniors, I always had success motivating without grades, and weaning them off grades, and barely giving grades in the second semester. so, when others were battling their seniors, I'd be getting great results, and learning to the end, by treating the kids with respect.

    With younger students, it seems to be harder every year to motivate without grades. They've been subjected to so much educational malpractice by the accountability hawks. The phrase I hate the most is "I did my work" which they use to lobby, knowing that administrators help with the lobbying to just pass them on. But even with freshmenn and sophomores, you've got to persyade them that learning is their job, not just doing enough stupid worksheets to get credit.t