18 December 2008

Snow Day Two: Electric Boogaloo

I'm housebound again. Good thing I brought home plenty of work to do. My job responsibilities are undergoing a significant change when the new year begins, so I'm trying to finish up various projects now. I also have a few personal projects in the mix...and, of course, I have other things I'm chewing on. So, here are some things I won't be thinking about while working today---but perhaps you'd like to take some time with:
  • An article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about how some high schools are starting to drop the practice of determining class rank. As you might imagine, this is a load off of the minds of some kids and parents---but not so much for college admissions. If lack of a stated class rank hurts a student's chances of getting into college, then I don't think we should hurt the kid. But I also have to say that if college admissions hasn't figured out how to select students after 100 years of practice, then maybe they need to take a long hard look at themselves instead of depending on a number.
  • Or, perhaps you might be interested in thinking about other ideas related to evaluating students? As Hugh noted, some Canadian schools are dropping grades as measures of student achievement. (How do you like them apples, college admissions officers?) Hugh probes things a bit further in Do We Really Need Grades?
  • On the other hand, there is the Gates Foundation, who is looking at supporting a Cash for Grades program. I think the Gates Foundation has made some significant humanitarian efforts, but I am not convinced that they have ever made the right choices with any of their initiatives. (Small schools fiasco, anyone?) They are now looking to pour tens of millions of dollars into various educational efforts in several states. If cash for grades is any indication, they are off to a poor start.
  • There has been a lot of rumbling and grumbling in the edusphere about this recent report on students lying, cheating, and stealing (and liking themselves). Most of the educators I've seen posting about this seem unfazed and have something to say about the decline of western civilization. The part that I find interesting however, is that we are not asking why kids don't perceive these activities as being wrong. I'm particularly interested in the "cheating" part---because I think that in the digital environment kids are growing up with is greatly changing what "cheating" means. In an age where you have all sorts of tools available to mash up text, video, and audio, where does cheating start and creativity end? And is this the same as in the past? This is more or less a continuation of the conversation started with Cyberspace and Meatspace, only we have some numbers now to attach to things.
There you have it. The list of things I'm not thinking about while working today. You believe that, right?


Teacherninja said...

My college in FL didn't have grades and we never had a problem with it or getting into any grad schools. It helps that the school has a good reputation, I suppose.

Roger Sweeny said...

I hope you never use numbers to figure out how much you should be spending. I mean, you've had how many years to figure out how to spend money?

Your first bulletted comment was incredibly silly.

Use numbers when they are good and useful numbers. Don't use useless numbers. If you think class rank is a useless number, make that argument. If you think class rank is less useful than other things, make that argument.

The Science Goddess said...

Ah---but that's the thing. It's just a number and not a measurement. I can measure my budget in dollars and cents (or other units). I know what the numbers represent and there are standard units. That's what makes them useful. By themselves, the numbers in a class rank are meaningless. For admissions to use a number is incredibly silly, indeed.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Right! ;)

Roger Sweeny said...

Why are class rank numbers meaningless? Because they have no units?

Is it meaningless to say that Barack Obama ranked number one in votes and John McCain ranked number two?

Is it meaningless to say "these are the eight solar planets, ranked by how far they are from the sun: Mercury,1; Venus,2: Earth,3; Mars,4: Jupiter,5; Saturn,6; Uranus,7; Neptune,8"?

Is it meaningless to say, "A small order of McDonald's french fries has fewer calories than the medium size, which has fewer calories than the large size"?

If you think that class rank numbers don't tell you much about what is important, make that case. Don't just call them names: "meaninless, meaningless, na-na na-na naah-na!"

Clix said...

McDonald's french fries are standard across the country. Children are not, communities are not, and as a result, schools are not. Thus, saying that Billy has a higher class rank than Suzy is not particularly helpful when Billy went to school in Wisconsin and Suzy is from New Mexico.

Roger Sweeny said...


I completely agree. Numbers need context.

I think it would almost certainly be helpful to know that Billy ranked 20 in a class of 250 and Suzy ranked 230 at the same school.

It would probably also be helpful to know that Billy ranked 20 in a class of 250 at ordinary suburban high school and Suzy ranked 20 out of 250 at just-taken-over-by-the-state-for-years-of-educational-failure high school.