22 September 2008

The Only Thing Worse Than Being Talked About

...is not being talked about. And finally, people around the edusphere are starting to talk about grades: the good, the bad, and the ugly of them all. Here are a few choice posts for you to peruse:
  • The WaPo notes that In Grading Levels, The Playing Field Is Seldom Even. Some parents of Fairfax students want the percentages associated with A's, B's, and C's to match those of surrounding school districts so that college entrance opportunities are "fair." But can that really happen where grades are concerned?
  • Todd over at Thoughts on Teaching is wrestling with the Rubric to Percentage demon. I've danced with that devil myself here and here. I don't agree with his solution, mainly because a rubric score really represents a range of performance, not a specific percentage; but, I'm glad to see someone else take a stab at it. Every approach helps me refine my own thinking.
  • Meanwhile, Corey has decided that Grades are Stupid. In some ways, he's right. He did provide some further explanation of his reasoning, but frankly, it's the others who make the most sense. For those who don't like the idea of the lowest "grade" being a 50, just make the highest grade a 50 and keep your zeros. The goal is to make the scale equitable.
  • And Hugh is atwitter over a Historic Board Meeting where standards-based grading practices will finally meet policy. Will it be love at first sight? Go see for yourself.
I am hoping that the grading buzz I've seen in the edusphere this past week is the part of a promising trend. Public education has put off this discussion for far too long. It's not going to always be a pretty road ahead, but it's time we started talking.


Hugh O'Donnell said...

Atwitter? :D

Hey, I'm not atwitter...I'm enRAPtured! :)

I'll follow your links to see what's up...

todd said...

I know what you mean about rubrics, but using it to ID a range of performance doesn't help me or the student get a grade on the thing. Looking back, I'd see that I just as often gave 2-2-3-3 an overall grade of 2 as I did give it a 3. Taking a look at your Number Crunching post, it really looks like we're talking six of one and half-a-dozen of another. I'd be willing to bet that our grades would be incredibly close. We're just going about it different ways, but it looks like behind the scenes we're doing the same thing ultimately, the same way of turning those scores into a grade.

Students come to us understanding A, B, C, D, F. Why take the time to get them to know what a 4, 3, 2, 1 is? This is the exact opposite of the question you posed in Number Crunching. Doesn't C also mean they have met the standard? Isn't just meeting the standard familiarity and not mastery? Isn't that average performance?

The Science Goddess said...

Do students really understand the A - F system? I don't think that they do, mainly because so much of a grade is beyond their control. It is a field where the teacher sets all the rules and many enjoy the "reward" and "punishment" of extra credit, points removed for late work, nebulous decisions about "effort." An "A" in one teacher's class is not the same as it would be for another teacher.

The 4 - 1 scale breaks whatever preconceived notions there are for grades and allows them to just focus on learning. Whether a student can meet a standard is a very different question from "What is passing?" I would argue that "mastery" and "average" do not mean the same thing at all in terms of performance.

Very interesting ideas! I'm glad you stopped by.

todd said...

Sure they understand the A-F system. An A indicates incredibly good performance in a class and an F indicates the exact opposite. Do you have any students who wouldn't know what an A is if they scored it on a paper? The trouble you point out is trouble with teacher consistency, not the scale used.

I'm thinking that if students don't understand A-F, then they probably don't understand 4-1 any better. They signify similar ideas, don't they? An A in one class is not the same as it would be in another class and the same could be said of a 4. The trouble there is teacher bias, inconsistency, and subjectivity in grading, again not the scale used.

And I was saying that familiarity is a C and that, further, having met the standard is familiarity, not mastery. Meeting the standards of a course is the way to pass, isn't it? So whether a student can meet the standards and "What is passing?" become the exact same question.

Yeah, I must be missing an essential point you made because it seems to me that the scale, whether it's A-F, 4-1, Apples-Peas, Wolves-Sharks, those all indicate pretty much the same idea: at one end there is exemplary performance, at the other there is poor/no performance. This applies to a standards-based report card, too. Showed only familiarity with the standards? C. Showed mastery? A. Showed nothing? F. Right? We don't use such a report card (and I shudder to think it in a subject area with 52 standards), so maybe I'm missing that mindset somehow.

The Science Goddess said...

The main issue with trying to understand that A - F system is that (in general) teacher mix in student behaviors with learning to determine a score. Did the kid turn in their work late? Points off. Have some extra credit? Add some points. Work "really hard"? Add more points. No wonder some kids associate getting an F with teachers not liking them. Teachers have made a game of grades. They might say they care about kids learning, but that is not what happens when ink meets the gradebook.

In the standards-based system (1-4), scores represent learning only. It's a fair approach for all students.

You're right in that the label itself (A-F, 1-4, wolves/sharks) doesn't matter. What does matter is what the label represents. That's what we have to change.