21 November 2009

Grading Roundup: November 2009

Shall we see what the interwebs dragged in this month in terms of stories about grading practices in schools?

My personal favorite is a story about a Teacher Who Broke the Law by Posting Top Test Scores (via Teacher Magazine). I have seen any number of teachers post grades (with or without student names). I remember finding out grades on exams in college by looking at bulletin boards and finding my ID number. I had a teacher tell me in the past year about his great idea to put every student's name on a card and then order the cards on the wall showing the rank from top to bottom in terms of grades. He thought it was "motivational." In part, he was right---but it all depends on what you want to motivate students to do: value grades or value learning. There's nothing wrong with individuals knowing their own scores and considering what it says about personal performance. Once you make a public classroom notice, you've changed goals and outcomes for kids---not to mention violating their privacy and opening yourself up for a lawsuit. Find other ways to communicate with students that doesn't involve public posting of everyone's scores.

Meanwhile, Education Week is reporting on a lawsuit filed by five Texas school districts concerning the state education commissioner's interpretation of grading scales. The law requires that the scale for A - F have equal intervals, i.e. if a score of 90 - 100 represents an A...then 50 - 60 must represent an F.

Five Houston-area school districts filed a lawsuit against the state education commissioner over his interpretation of a new law prohibiting minimum grading policies, a lawyer said Thursday.
Commissioner Robert Scott told districts last month that the law applied to grades on assignments as well as six-week or nine-week grading periods.
The schools — Fort Bend, Aldine, Klein, Alief, Anahuac and Clear Creek — assert in the lawsuit filed Wednesday that the law only specifically applies to assignments and should not be applied to grading periods or semesters. The lawsuit, filed in Travis County, seeks to have the minimum-grade ban only apply to single assignments.
"Even though the language of the bill does not address in any way minimum grading policies for report cards or grading periods, that is the way the commissioner is interpreting it," said attorney David Feldman, who is representing the school districts.
"Well over half of the school districts in the state have minimum failing grade policies," Feldman said Thursday.
A spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency did not immediately return a call to The Associated Press seeking comment.
"It is a sad state of affairs when school districts are willing to go to court for the right to force their teachers to assign fraudulent grades," said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who sponsored the new law earlier this year. Administrators "are willing to waste precious education resources on a misguided lawsuit to continue these policies, which undermine the authority of our teachers and reward minimum effort from students."
Fraudulent grades? I think not. I will be watching this one to see how it plays out. I am all for the use of professional judgment when assigning transcript grades, but I think there are going to be some major issues with parents if one grading scale (50 - 100) is applied to individual assignments and a different scale is used for end of term.

There are a couple of interesting posts from the edusphere worth a click. Jim---blogging over at 5/17---shared an idea about having students track their own progress using GoogleDocs. OKP wonders if she is becoming Softer or Smooshed? as her perspective and policies on late work evolve with her career.

That's all the news fit to print for grading this month. If you've seen an article or post to share, please do so in the comments.


Hugh O'Donnell said...

My comment was:

If you are looking at 50% minimums in grading as "something for nothing," you're missing the entire point. The controversy is not about giving away grades, but rather providing a numerical "floor" in a percentage-based grading system.

Visit the average classroom and you will find that really low grades at report card time are usually the result of punitive grading...often with arbitrary zeros averaged into the assessment mix because a student missed or was late with an assignment.

Any kind of report card grade should reflect what a student actually knows, understands, or can do, not be some cobbled-together number that requires the individual teacher's classroom grading guidelines to interpret (think Rosetta Stone).

Zeros are statistical outliers in a percentage system, which means they distort the measure of central tendency that the report card grade is supposed to indicate, and that's why the Texas school districts are suing...because they are battling the "horrible numerical illiteracy" (a quote from Ken O'Connor) of adults inside and outside of the classroom. Failure to recognize the need for statistical integrity of grading is rampant. That's the numerical illiteracy Mr. O'Connor refers to.

Here's an abbreviated version of a discussion I had not too long ago with a colleague...I call it

The Math of Zero in a Percentage Scale

I was talking to a colleague recently about how although there is no one “right” way to grade, there certainly are justifiable and unjustifiable grades.

Then I said, innocently as I could manage,”…and giving kids zeros as a penalty for late work or for work not turned in is a perfect example of unjustifiable grading.”

He immediately went on the attack.

“I’ve heard that the school board is about to require us to not give zeros! That’s outrageous! No work, no grade! We have to teach kids to be responsible!”

I didn’t know which of those four positions he had taken to reply to first, so I chose the easiest.

“Nope,” I said, “the school board is not yet about to require the high school to quit giving zeros. We’re in a conversational mode, and I hope people are willing to think about standards-based grading and talk it over.”

“However,” I followed up with, “have you given any thought to the math of zero?”

“What do you mean, the math? Zero is zero. Nothing is nothing. No work, zip. End of story.”

Realizing that I had no graceful exit strategy from this conversation if my colleague proved resistant to my charm and logic, I set up a problem for him to analyze.

“Think about this,” I suggested. “Everyone is familiar with a 4.0 GPA scale, right? What if the F (a zero, right?), in a 4.0 scale had the same weight as a zero in a scale of 0-100, the percent scale we use almost universally for grading?”

“What are you getting at?” he asked.

“Just this,” I said. “In a 4.0 scale, A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1, and F=0. The difference between a D and an F is just one point. On the percentage scale, the difference between a D and a zero is 60 points. Does that seem proportionate to you?”

“No,” he said, as the math began to register. “On a 4.0 scale, if it were equivalent to a percentage scale, the F would be, what, negative 6?!”

“That’s in the ball park,” I said. “Isn’t it amazing that we teachers don’t ask these kinds of questions more often when we talk about grading?”

“Yeah,” he said thoughtfully.

“Look,” I said, “here’s a two-page article from the Phi Beta Kappan on the destructive effect of zeros (google "Doug Reeves" + zero, scan my blog post, and scroll to page 21 of the pdf on the Reeves site). It’s written by Doug Reeves, an international education consultant based in Colorado. He explains it far more eloquently than I can. Check it out.”

The following week, I asked him if he liked the article. “Man,” he said, “I am DONE with zeros!”

“Pass it on,” I said, “because there’s more…”

The Science Goddess said...

I also mention to teachers that the scale is not about percentages. It's the percentage part where people starting getting their knickers in a twist: "The lowest grade is a 50%!" No, it isn't. You have a 50-point scale, with 10 points (not percentages) devoted to each letter range. A "50%" is now about 75 points (or if you're using a 0 - 50 scale, 25 points). This seems to help a lot of people.

Personally, I find it simpler to let go of the whole percentage thing altogether. Plus, with a range of 10 points per letter grade, you still have too many nuances to distinguish.

But it's a start.

Clix said...

SG, I think you are 110% right. If equal intervals are going to fly, I think we've got to do away with percentages. It's confuzitating.

Also, this week's EduCarnival is chock-full of bloggy goodness. Pop on by :D