17 October 2006

What's in an A?

I've mentioned before that our district is gradually moving toward standards based grading and reporting for students. This is just taking root at the elementary school level for the time being, but over time, it might be able to move up into the secondary levels. This article in the Washington Post details that college admissions officers might welcome such a move.

"Grades have long been contentious in education because they are so subjective. Grading scales vary widely among K-12 school systems -- and often within schools -- making it increasingly difficult to accurately compare grades.

Science teacher Terry Shales grades students based on tests and quizzes, daily class work and projects, with a little homework thrown in. But the teachers on both sides of his classroom at Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego, Ore., have their own systems.

The inconsistency bedevils college and university admissions directors, so much that many are focused on efforts to make grading less subjective in school systems across the country. They also are working to find better ways to level the field when considering GPAs. Admissions officers rarely take a GPA on its face value, and many recalculate the averages to make them more comparable.

Many factors go into giving a grade: A student's academic progress, homework or class work may be examined. Then there's the question of whether teachers should grade on a curve. And, researchers say, admissions directors cannot forget about the unintentional biases inherent in grading."

Colleges which monitor the relationship between a state's standards based tests and high school grades don't find much to correlate. As much pride as many high school teachers might take in that (at least in this district), it only reinforces to colleges that teachers aren't evaluating students against the requirements of the curriculum.

Interestingly enough, some colleges are recalculating student transcripts and eliminating weighting factors for honors and AP classes. This way, applicants from small schools which don't offer as diverse of a curriculum aren't penalized. A few colleges are also tracking student success in college along with whatever high school they attended. They can then make future recommendations for acceptance based on how previous students fared.

On Thursday, part of the discussion science teachers in our district will be having will include "What is an 'A'?" In other words, when a 10th grade biology teacher looks at a transcript and sees that an "A" was earned in 9th grade physical science---what does that mean? That the kid didn't cause any problems? That s/he is a good test-taker? That s/he had great attendance and worked well with others in a lab group? How much of that grade really represents what a kid knows and can do? Should make for an interesting conversation.

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