23 September 2009

September Roundup

Seems like it's been awhile since I rounded up some grading articles for this space. It may only be September, but the topic has already been grabbing a few headlines (and comments).

Up first, a brief article from Teacher Magazine about grade changes:
A new survey finds one in five Chicago public high school teachers say they have changed student grades in the past school year.
The survey of teachers was conducted in June and July by the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Sun-Times. The results were released Sunday in the newspaper.
Thirty-one percent of high school teachers also say in the survey they felt pressured to alter grades. Teachers say the pressure comes from principals, parents and school employees.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman says prevention will come from new annual grade audits. Huberman told the newspaper he takes the survey "very seriously" and changing grades is unacceptable.
Survey questions were distributed to 7,938 teachers with an 18 percent response.
Not a large response rate, but I think the timing probably had a lot to do with that. In any case, the results are still interesting. As for me, I don't know that I ever felt pressure while in the classroom---but I do remember other teachers either being squeezed (especially at graduation time) or worse, returning in the fall to discover that a counselor had changed a student's grade over the summer. Yes, I've had pleading calls from parents and emails from students. If that counts as pressure, so be it. Looking back, there have been times when I should have been more considerate and entertained a change...but that certainly doesn't mean that hounding teachers or bullying them into changing grades is okay. I hope readers will jump in with their own experiences. What does pressure look like to you?

Over at the WaPo, there's some discussion about the rampant subjectivity of grading. Um...duh. (and perhaps one of the reasons for the pressure noted above) Oddly enough, the "fixes" they report as being suggested by Douglas Reeves are standards-based grading practices. As much as a proponent as I am of standards-based grading practices, I will be the first to say that they do not eliminate subjectivity. I actually think that they increase subjectivity because a teacher is concentrating on evaluating every student fairly...not equally. What these practices will do (as outlined in the article), is exorcise the mishmash of learning and non-academic behaviors.

John Spencer has noted that the standards-based grading at his school sucks. The full post is below:
Our school is shifting from traditional grades to standards-based grading. With this comes a major paradigm shift. We no longer assess a student's work ethic (it's impossible to lose points by not turning work in) but only pure academic achievement.

At first glance, the standards-based grading represents a new philosophy of grading. Shouldn't we assess whether students master a standard? Should we check for growth? How could we possibly be against this process? When I first heard about this, I envisioned student-created reflective portfolios combining their qualitative and quantitative feedback. I imagined projects connected to strands and performance objectives. To me, it seemed like a step in the right direction. All too often students work for the sake of extrinsic motivation. Finally, we were stepping away from arbitrary grades and packets with check marks.

Instead, we use only multiple choice exams. One exam accounts for sixty percent of the final grade. I find this odd, because on our lesson plan format they want to see: connects to prior knowledge, differentiated instruction, metacognition, cooperative learning, higher-order thinking and a host of other "best practices."

While I agree with the list of best practices, it seems strange that ultimately we assess students with none of the best practices: one modality, individually, non-differentiated (entirely standardized), isolated, based upon rote memorization.
I think it's important here to note that assessment and evaluation (grading) are not the same thing. I find this to be a common misconception among teachers when I'm out and about giving presentations. Multiple-choice assessments are not inherently evil and can give excellent information for teachers to evaluate in a standards-based grading system. Grading isn't about the tool, it's about what you do with it. However, I can understand why he is unhappy with the tools. Perhaps he can use his new grading scale to develop more meaningful scores for students.

Finally, Lana stopped by nearly a month ago and left a comment for me on an old post. I've decided to put it here as opposed to post it where she left it. "I can't stand standards based grading. I spend over 30 hours a week trying to complete my gradebook. Trying to figure out how each assigments [sic] fits each standard is impossible. I'm quitting teaching because of this system after 19 years." I'm not completely sure what to do with this...and Lana never returned here, so I think she was looking for place to vent as opposed to get help. It's difficult to say whether this is happening in a district where some sort of change was mandated and no professional development or support was provided...or perhaps Lana has no understanding of how to meaningfully connect standards with her lessons. I find the "30 hour" remark on the hyperbolic side. The teachers I've talked to who have implemented this system spend 1/3 - 1/2 the time grading that they used to with no changes to the amount of time inputting information into a gradebook. I'm going to guess there's some really bad implementation going on here and hope Lana gets some help for whatever is really holding her back.
Be careful out there.


Jason Buell said...

John's problem seems to be unrelated to standards-based grading. His school just sucks. If they used traditional grades they could still force multiple choice everything.

Lana seems to have missed the point although I sympathize. she's trying to "figure out how each assignments fits each standard" when instead she should be working in reverse and starting with the standard and creating a assignment for that.

I will say though that the front loading of work when you switch is god awful. Essentially you're throwing everything away and starting over. It's like being a first year teacher again except your worksheets from the book don't fit either.

Once you get it all running though I found I'm definitely spending less time on paperwork.

hschinske said...

There's a big fight going on in Seattle about starting to let kids graduate with under a 2.0 (with a D average!!!!eleventy!!). All kinds of talk about standards slipping, what kind of message does this send, etc. -- when to me it's really just notation and not that big a deal.You really have no idea what goes into those grades *anyway*.

Roger Sweeny said...

dschinske is right. It's only notation. Pass everyone. That's what my middle school does.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Hey SG, we've been nodding our collective heads in Hillsboro lately about an aspect of grading that's gaining a lot of traction...equity.

We have equity issues everywhere, right? Why not in grading? Is it fair for two students to take the same class in the same district from two different teachers, and be subjected to two different grading philosophies, i.e., zeroes for missing work from one teacher, incompletes from the other.

Think about it. Equity in grading.

The Science Goddess said...

Hugh---I agree that the parameters of a course can definitely be an issue, but I don't know that I would place it under "equity." It's probably just a matter of semantics, but to me, equity has to do with opportunity to learn. Even if the rules of the game are the same from class to class, it doesn't mean that the instruction will be such that every kid gets a fair shake.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

My example was too simplistic.

Here's the rest of it...if teachers (eventually) use your SBG spreadsheet or some form of grade book that breaks out individual student strengths and deficiencies, they will have data that actually supports instruction.

To tolerate a system that allows some teachers to heap gradebook data together in an incomprehensible lump, while other teachers use the data for the benefit of the student, just might be inequitable in an instructional sense.

What do you think?

The Science Goddess said...

Where I'm caught up with the term is wondering if it then becomes broadened out to other classroom aspects. For example, if one teacher moves faster through the material than another one---is that an equity issue? One chooses a supplemental material that involves the internet and one does not---equity? One only returns student work once a week...another twice---will this engender an equity issue? I'm uncomfortable with the implication (not yours...just the broader look) that two teachers who approach instruction differently = equity issue.

I'm totally behind you in concept of what you're trying to accomplish with getting fair grading practices implemented---and I think we're in line with what we're each trying to say. I'm just not sure that I would use the term "equity"---I tend to think of it simply as "best practice." We do these things because they are the best thing to do for kids. But, however you need to label it for communication with your stakeholders is really okay. The semantics are not as important as everyone understanding what the term represents within that context.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

I see your point.

I'm talking about leveling the field procedurally...not equity as applied to the art of teaching, which is an infinitely varied aspect of the profession.

The grading function can be influenced from without. The art of teaching comes from within.

That didn't come from Confucius, but I think it makes sense. :)