16 December 2007

The College Grade Game

I sat in on a staffing this week. The word "staffing" around here refers to a meeting with parents, student, counselor, and all teachers in which the student's progress is dissected in nauseating detail. I find them incredibly unpleasant and uncomfortable...and I can only imagine how hard it must be for the kid. "Not only are you a poor student, but all of us are here to show you exactly what you're doing wrong over and over again." I haven't been to one yet where the kid didn't break down in tears. I really hate that. There has to be a better way of approaching these things...but I digress.

I was the last teacher to say my piece at the last meeting. I listened to five other teachers go on about poor skills and how it was just too late to do anything about parts (or all) of the grade. What I didn't hear was any teacher offering any type of support. If these meetings are truly about bringing all of the parties to the table to help the kid be successful, then why are we focusing so much on the past and not on the future? Why are we pointing fingers at the kid and not working together to find a solution? But I digress...again.

Anyway, when it was my turn to talk, I didn't say a word about the kid's grade. What I did say is that what I was hearing was that the kid was spending a lot of time "studying," but was struggling to learn. I said that it's all good and well for us (teachers and parents) to say "You need to do something different." but if that's what we think she should do, shouldn't we offer her some concrete ways to do that? She's a smart kid who didn't have to develop any study skills until now. Is it reasonable to expect that she will automatically know what to do? We have to teach her these things. I like to think that we ended the meeting positively---with some hope. I gave the gal a variety of different note-taking and study strategies the next day. I told her to look through the stack and find 2 or 3 of interest and give them a try. I'll check in with her again and see what's happening.

One of the other things I said at the meeting is that I am okay with her doing alternative assessments for me. I told her that she will have to learn to "play the game" for college and there isn't anything I can do to change that; however, if she can use opportunities with me to find out how she learns best, she can translate things into ways to prepare for her exam-laden college experience. I also told her not to believe any adult that told her that life doesn't have second chances or "do overs." How many people would not be driving if you could only take your driver's test once, for example. College is its own ball game, but the goal for us should be to prepare her for adult life, with or without college.

Two articles of interest in relation to college and grades were published this past week. First of all, the Roanoke Times is reporting that students will choose easier classes over harder ones. Maybe this doesn't read like breaking news, but there are two things of note here. One is the comparison of median grades---and the implication that these "easy" classes might somehow be noted for employers on the transcript. If a teacher at the college level had the same kind of grading as I do---and allows students to reattempt summative assessments or alternative assessments---their median grades may well be higher than teachers with traditional grading practices. Yet, doesn't the learning matter? The second piece of note from that article for me is that in a performance environment, students always choose easy over challenging. Perhaps if college classrooms emphasized mastery over performance, students would take more difficult classes. In article number two, the AP is reporting that all-nighters may not improve grades. I had a few of these---mainly involving finishing papers---in college. They were dreadful. I quickly learned that I would much prefer to get a few hours of sleep and then get up very early and finish working on things. The findings of at least one of the studies cited in the article supports this idea---sleep deprivation is not good for concentration.

Call me crazy, but I think that learning experiences should be meaningful, whatever the age of the student. I hate to think of getting an education as some sort of game with winners and losers based on who can intuitively figure out the rules. I hope that students start to ask for more than that from their time and efforts.

via today's edition of PostSecret


Hugh O'Donnell said...

Sigh. You done nailed that one to the door with 40 penny spikes and a two-pound sledge.

Couldn't agree more.

(Have you been to one of those meetings where your so-called peers look at you like you have two heads cuz you're saying something positive and encouraging? Of course you have!)

The Science Goddess said...

I think that the other teachers assume you're a "bad teacher" if your information differs from theirs. If you're not flunking the kid the same as the rest of the teachers, you must not have a very challenging class or high expectations. To which I say "Whatever." LOL

Hugh O'Donnell said...

That kind of situation once led to the famous "you need to grade on a curve" talk I got from one of my principals in the late 80s or real early 90s.

We had a serious heart-to-heart about populations, samples, and criterion-referenced learning (and disgruntled peers), and he never bugged me again. (Thank goodness for my two stat profs -- saints, actually -- who were practicing "assessment for learning" and "grading for learning" before anyone thought to put all that into a framework.)

Hugh aka Repairman

Tom Brandt said...

I thought I would read one more of your postings before I braved the traffic and rain to drive across town to my daughter’s. I glanced at the title and the cartoon at the bottom and started reading.

What the heck is this “Staffing”? It sounds like an inquisition. Who invented this entire inappropriate way of confronting a student? How could this ever help a student learn. (Note: rhetorical with no question mark.) I can’t see how this has anything to do with aiding the student to learn. Who sanctions this behavior on the part of teaching professionals? I really feel sorry for any student who has to endure this.

Tom Brandt

The Science Goddess said...

I don't know how the "staffing" idea got started. It's been a part of my 12 years in the district---and is to be found at every school (although at the elementary grades it looks a bit different since there is only one teacher).

I spoke with one of our counselors today and we're going to kick around some ideas for reformatting this event. I would be hard pressed to believe that any of these meetings actually made a positive difference for kids.