11 January 2009

Grade Grief

For the last few presentations I've done, I haven't spent a lot of time on the nuts and bolts sort of stuff with grading practices. In other words, I'm not talking about why using zeros, averages, and so forth isn't part of what should happen with what grades represent. I am fairly up front about things and state that one of my assumptions about attendees is that they are already familiar with those things. Even if they aren't, they are okay with me skipping this part.

There are a lot of questions, however, about dealing with various stakeholders. How do you deal with parents---especially of the helicopter variety who often value grades as opposes to what they represent? What about colleges who are dealing with transcripts? What do you do when the Athletic Director needs to check eligibility and you don't have enough information about the students?

Parents are more of a complex issue. As for colleges? Hey, by now, they know that grades are different from teacher to teacher...and school to school. They have a portfolio of information with which to look at prospective students. I'm not going to fret about the one or two letters represented on a transcript for a kid and that what they mean is going to cause the abandonment of hope. Heck, if this study noted in Education Week is any good, then academic performance in 8th grade is a better predictor for college/work readiness than a high school transcript. Eligibility? Just go with a Pass/Fail approach---that's all that's needed. Don't sweat the details.

I was pondering some of these things (again) after being at the conference this week, and also because of some of the grading-related posts and articles that turned up in my feed.
  • John Spencer wonders What If Grades Don't Matter? and instead we focused on providing meaningful feedback. I don't know that we will ever escape giving grades---and perhaps we shouldn't. But we can work on reshaping what they mean and what we use them for.
  • Pittsburgh administrators are caught up in the crossfire now that a 50 is the lowest score a student can receive. This type of thing could be handled better, to be sure. The "50" is not a percent, as is being assumed/reported---it's a score being used to make the overall A-F scale more equitable. They will have some PR cleanup for awhile.
  • Fairfax schools also continue to have woes due to their percentage/letter grade scale of choice. I've been watching this one brew for months. Oh, how I wish the parents of this district would bust chops based on what constitutes good practice instead of pimping for a couple of percentage points.
  • And, in lighter news, Ryan over at I Thought a Think directed readers to a 1990 article on The Dead Grandmother/Exam syndrome. Go read...and laugh 'til it hurts.


hschinske said...

I can't believe people think one score of 94% is necessarily equivalent to any other score of 94%. Granted, all other things being equal, an overall average of 94% in one county is *likely* to be more difficult to get than an overall average of 90% in another county, but the amount of variance in how easy it is to get a 94% on two different assessments EVEN FROM THE SAME TEACHER IN THE SAME CLASS is likely to be very high.

I think it would be better for Fairfax County to switch to 90+ for an A and all that, for the sake of continuity (just as I am happy that few schools now use 3-point grading scales instead of 4), but the whole business is thoroughly artificial.

Jenny said...

As a teacher in Fairfax (elementary though) I find the whole grade hullabaloo really frustrating. I, too, would like to see parents caring more about what their students are actually learning, but that seems to be of little value in this discussion.

Mr. McGuire said...

The district I am in does not give letter grades until fifth grade. The majority of parents have no idea how their child is really doing until that first A - F grade card. Then many blame the fifth grade teacher because in their mind, their child has always done well.

Jenny said...

@Mr. McGuire,
There ought to be a lot more communication about a child's progress than simply grades. In fact, I think grades actually communicate very little about how well a child is performing in school. Giving a letter grade for an entire quarter of the school year in math, for example, tells very little about how well a child understands number sense or computation. There have got to be better ways for us to communicate with parents about students' learning.

hschinske said...

But "not giving letter grades" should not translate to "not telling parents how their child is doing." After all, "Johnny has not fully mastered second-grade standards in math and needs to review," or "Johnny seems quite capable but does not turn in more than half his homework," or "Johnny would be doing much better if he attended school more regularly" are all far *more* informative than "D."