20 August 2009

Does This Look Normal to You?

I had a variety of run-ins with grading issues this week. I couldn't help bumping up against them as I worked with a couple of different groups of teachers on their preparations for the upcoming year. (And booked a gig for working with 60(!) more of them in October.) You might not know it, but I get a consistent trickle of comments on posts here or e-mails that pose various questions from educators and parents about grading. All are good and worthwhile comments. I admit that some make me cringe a bit on the inside when I think about the possible impact on kids, but the reactions are honest and the discussions engaging.

In general, the tone of most of the grading issues put in front of me runs akin to asking a doctor "Does this look normal to you?" Teachers want to know what I think about their grading scale...their plans for reporting grades to parents...the letter they will send home to parents...the policy that will be handed to students. Is it okay to use a zero if there is only a 4-point scale? Will it be all right if I convert "incompletes" in my gradebook to F's two weeks after the semester ends? Is there any reason not to average the last two or three grades earned on any target? Should this be oozing? (Okay, I don't get asked that one.)

Changing long-held practices (classroom or other) is difficult. We all need some encouragement along the way that the angst-ridden steps we take really are the path we should be on. More than that, we need assurance that we really are doing something different...and that different will be the new normal. I had a teacher ask this week why we would bother saying we are moving to standards-based grading when the old grading scale remains in place. I couldn't disagree with him, as reporting practices also need an overhaul, but in the meantime, we came to an agreement that a first step is changing what the grading symbols represent. That is, an "A" represents progress toward learning targets (not learning + extra credit for bringing in Kleenex for the classroom - points off for late work...).

So keep your questions and comments coming. There will be no Kum-ba-yah, but I will hold your hand from time to time, if you like. And not to worry. It's all perfectly normal.

1 comment:

Travis A. Wittwer said...

You have so summed up my struggle with schools and districts for years. Especially the last bit that goes, " That is, an "A" represents progress toward learning targets (not learning + extra credit for bringing in Kleenex for the classroom - points off for late work...)."

I am a teacher. I teach skills. Putting a name in the correct corner is not one of those skills. Sure it could be nice for some, but if the name is not in the upper right corner, should a student loose points? No. Even under the guise that "we will be teaching him dedication"? No.

The grade should reflect the actual skills acquired. Now, the trouble is is that we teach more than one skill, but have to report an overall class grade.

However, we can make steps toward a better assessment, reporting, system.