26 August 2007

Thanks, But No Thanks

This was part of a letter mailed to some high school staff in the area:

Another important thing to remember as you determine your grading criteria is the appropriateness of using participation as a grading criteria. We all know it is important for students to attend class daily and engage actively in class each day. Participation points are an excellent way to provide an incentive for students to be in class and to help hold them accountable for class attendance and participation. Consider adding participation points in your grading criteria if it is not already included.

If you've been reading here, then you can already guess that these statements didn't sit well with me. In fact, I think I threw up a little in my mouth.

The first sentence was okay. But instead of mentioning that grading participation was in no way appropriate, it got worse. Grading kids for behavior was suggested as something excellent. Furthermore, grades should be used to help hold kids accountable for attendance...fer cryin' out loud. Don't we have behavioral (and legal) policy for that?

I can't tell you that I have ever been or may ever be the perfect teacher. I freely admit that I have had some bad practices in the classroom---including my grading policies. I still have a lot to learn about working with kids. But it breaks my heart to read the words of an instructional leader that are so...off. How many teachers and students will be impacted by this? I hope that many of them read that paragraph and think "Thanks, but no thanks." to the idea.


Hugh O'Donnell said...

Thanks for posting that, SG.

What is there not to understand about separating behavior from academic achievement?

The more non-academic factors for which a teacher assigns "points," the less valid the grade if we define grades as indicators of academic achievement.

It's just nuts to add other stuff into the mix. That's not rocket science.

As far as "holding students accountable" goes, "holding them hostage to the teacher's inability to inspire respect and cooperation" is the name of the punitive grading tune.

What's really sad is that we bust our buns sharing and practicing research-validated instructional strategies, including grading for learning, and the punitive grading faction doesn't even know or acknowledge that there isn't a shred of research to support their position. What does that mean for the rest of their professionalism? Are they paying attention to anything, or do they just "know better" as one math teacher once told me. ("I've been teaching for 28 years, and I know better." She had me by one year at the time. Double Dumb because she didn't recognize the fact that she'd use the fallacy of "appeal to authority" to avoid the lack of evidence in her argument.)

The other factor is that grades should be about learning goals based on standards. If a teacher willy-nilly adds their own goals (like "participation") into the mix, what does that do to the grade. By definition, the grade is no longer about the standard.

Now, if "participation" is a measurable part of the standard, or the learning goal that reflects the standard, that's a different story.

See there, you got me all wound up. My wife's plane is an hour late and I want to vent about teachers who won't learn. ;-)

The Science Goddess said...

LOL Vent away! You've definitely captured things much better than I could have. I was just plain dumbfounded to read that.

I hope you get wound up some more. :)

Anonymous said...


Your blog is terrific, and the fact that you used the phrase "threw up in my mouth" wins my admiration. You have a kindred spirit in Rob Wilder, a fellow teacher who has just published a book called Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge. Rob genuinely loves his chosen career, but that doesn’t mean he can’t see both the humor and pathos inherent to the profession. Rob tells it like it is, with wit and insight.

Like his essays, Rob is funny and engaging in interviews, and he’d be happy to do a Q&A with you on your blog. Here’s the publisher’s link to his book, which includes an excerpt:


Please let me know if you’d like more information about Rob or his book, or to set up an interview.

Thank you for your time,

Deonne Kahler

Robert Wilder, author of Daddy Needs a Drink and Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge. Visit www.robertwilder.com for more info.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

You are a stitch. I'm laughing as I type. :-)

The plane got in safely. Wife was off to school this morning with her cup of coffee, happy to be wearing jeans on this inservice day for all teachers, and showing no ill effects from getting only 5 hours of sleep.

And don't worry -- I'll get wound up plenty. ;-)

Margaret said...

I do grade on participation because I teach a foreign language so using it is pretty important. I have an oral grade, which includes attendance(if they aren't there, how can they practice?) and a written grade. (tests, quizzes and written activities)

The Science Goddess said...

EI, care to weigh in as a World Languages/SBG uberkind?

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Margaret, no doubt oral practice is important for learning a foreign language, but isn't practice, just that, practice...formative assessment?

A summative oral performance, after students have been given ample opportunity to internalize the learning, should tell the grading tale, don't you think?

I would certainly keep track of the practice opportunities because they will help validate your report card grade, but the grade, I believe, should be based on a summative performance -- in other words, "hey kids, it's showtime!"

Students may perform well on the summative assessment and their grade should reflect that, but if they missed some practice, well, should that knock their grade down?

What do you think?