I was intrigued by a comment left on a post over at Laura's place. It referred to "The Power of I." One does have to read carefully. It's not "I" as in the Roman numeral for "one," although "The Power of One" is a good book to read. It's also not a mathematical reference to i...that magical mystery number. (Is it just me, or is there something kinky about a guy saying he wants to use his imaginary unit?) No, no, gentle readers, it refers to a component of Making Middle Grades Work that deals with grading. In this case, I = Incomplete.
The idea is that if a student does not complete an assignment, s/he doesn't have a grade of zero assigned. Instead, the student receives an "I" along with a consequence (e.g. assignment to a lunchtime or after school study hall) and then makes up the work. Behind all of this is the belief that kids know how to play the system---both at school and at home. If you can slack off and not have to worry about learning, then why bother? You don't have to learn to do the hard thing. Meanwhile, these same students fall farther and farther behind in their learning because they don't have any practice with the content. By having a school-wide system to hold kids accountable for learning, they raise expectations for students and support their achievement. (If you want more information, there's a giant PowerPoint on this page---scroll over to the right to link to the "Power of I" ppt.) As much fussing as we public educators make about the lack of parent and student accountability in NCLB, maybe it's time that do what we can to change that within our schools.
As far as I can tell, there's a good research base for the Power of I. (Trust me, I'm doing a ton of reading these days about standards-based grading for my EdD. If you don't want to take my word now, I'll send along a copy of my dissertation later. :) ) Are there barriers to implementation? Sure. Not only does a school need buy-in from all staff members, it needs a way to manage the program. Where and when will supervised opportunities for students to make up work happen? What if a kid still refuses to do the work---how does this translate to the grading policy? How many "I's" are allowable? Schools which navigate these waters are finding success with the program---and fewer students needing remediation and/or assignment to a time/place to make up missing work.
We can't get all kids to standard by doing what we've always done in the past. We're going to have to stretch, try something a bit different, and make kids understand that we care about them. Maybe the Power of I is one step on the path to get there.
Update: Welcome Kitchen Table Math and RightWing Nation readers! Somehow, those bloggers missed the beginning of this post referring to middle grades. The "Power of I" was never intended for a university context, but hey, it's a good example of why we need to hold students accountable for standards like reading comprehension...rather then giving them 0's when they don't do their homework.