31 January 2007

The Green Green Grass of Elsewhere

Who has it easier: elementary or secondary teachers? Elementary teachers have fewer students (some of our 1st grade classes have just 15 kiddos) but have to teach nearly every subject area. Most secondary teachers have at least one prep that repeats during the day (meaning they can reuse lesson plans), but the amount of paperwork is more intense. There's no way that it takes a kindergarten teacher as much time to look at homework as it does for a high school teacher. Instructional expertise may be more greatly valued at primary grades whereas content knowledge has an equal value at secondary. You don't need to know calculus in order to teach a first grader, but only knowing basic math facts if you teach math to high school seniors is likely not a sufficient knowledge base. Are there grade levels which are truly the promised land?

Kindergarten teachers in our district are squealing about their work load. One of their pieces of evidence is the report card difference. Here is a sample for kindergarten and secondary (click to enlarge...names removed to protect the innocent):

As a teacher, which one would take you longer to complete at reporting time? Elementary, of course. But during the course of the grading period, which evaluation takes longer to determine? Could be either, but more likely secondary. Beyond that, think about these as a parent. Which one tells you how your kid is really doing and lets you see progression (or the lack thereof) throughout the year? Only elementary. Meanwhile, an entire 9-week period has to be represented by a single grade at secondary. "Simply put, it would appear that grades are often measures of how well a student lives up to the teacher's expectation of what a good student is rather than measuring the student's academic achievement in the subject matter objectives." (James D. Allen)

The argument as to where the grass is greenest is not new to educators. But using the format of a report card seems like a poor way to make a point. Should we not be focusing on what is most meaningful for students? Isn't the better question why secondary isn't making the effort to report student progress in a way that truly reflects learning?

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