28 March 2010

March 2010 Grading Roundup

This has been a busy month for me in terms of grading practices---three presentations for very different groups and lots of email inquiries for resources. I think my favourite message was "I'm now going to start a grading revolution in my school and eventually district!" You go, girl!

In other news...

Education Week is reporting that DC's "Money for Grades" program needs more money. I'd love to go into detail, but the info comes from an Associated Press story, and you know how possessive they are about their content ("This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.") Let me just pull these bits from the piece: Last year, the district paid out nearly $2M...and they are on track to need 20% more in funds for this year. What the article fails to mention is whether or not anything is happening in terms of student learning. Quite the pricey experiment DC schools and Harvard are running.

Speaking of Harvard, an academic there has looked into the "fairness" of grade weighting for honors and AP courses. Many schools---like the one I used to teach at---assigned extra grade points for AP coursework. We only used it to determine class ranking because there were years where the valedictorian was a kid who'd taken 3 periods of PE and being a TA for a teacher and ended up with a 4.0...while a kid busting their hump with a full load of challenging coursework didn't end up on top. However, some schools do figure extra points into the overall GPA. This has an impact on how colleges look at transcripts.

To encourage high school students to tackle tougher academic classes, many schools assign bonus points to grades in Advanced Placement or honors courses. But schools’ policies on whether students should receive a grade-point boost and by how much are all over the map.

My local public school district, for instance, used to add an extra third of a grade-point to students’ AP course grades while the private high school on the other side of town would bump up students’ grades by a full letter grade.

Since students from both schools would be applying to many of the same colleges, and essentially competing with one another, it didn’t seem fair to me that the private school kids should get such a generous grade boost.

That’s why I was heartened to come across a new study by a Harvard University researcher that takes a more systematic look at the practice of high school grade-weighting.

For his study, Philip Sadler asked college students in 113 introductory-level physics, biology, and chemistry classes across the country about the level of science classes they took in high school and the grades they received in them. He then compared those numbers with the grades those students were getting in their college science classes in the same subject.

He found that for every increasing level of rigor in high school science, students’ college course grades rose by an average of 2.4 points on a 100- point scale, where an A is 95 points and a B is worth 85 points and so on. In other words, the college grade for the former AP chemistry student would be expected to be 2.4 points higher than that of the typical student who took honors chemistry in high school. And the honors students’ college grade, in turn, would be 2.4 points higher than that of the student who took regular chemistry.

Translating those numbers, and some other calculations, to a typical high school 1-to-4-point grade scale, Sadler estimates that students taking an honors science class in high school ought to get an extra half a point for their trouble, and that a B in an AP science course ought to be counted as an A for the purpose of high school grade-point averages.

There is more to discover with the whole article, including the issue of accessibility to AP. A student who goes to a small school will not have access to the same amount of AP classes, so the transcript will not be as flush. However, I would hope that admissions officers would recognize this and adjust accordingly. Isn't this why a college application consists of more than a transcript?

That's all the grading news that fit to blog about this month. I have one presentation scheduled in April and a quiet calendar after that. I am working on various pieces of paperwork to be able to begin earning something from these presentations and other opportunities. Not sure that it will amount to much---but with pay cuts, furloughs, freezes, and other bad budget news looming, I need to try to make the most of what I have (part of which is in my head and slide deck).


Hugh O'Donnell said...

"However, I would hope that admissions officers would recognize this and adjust accordingly. Isn't this why a college application consists of more than a transcript?"

I haven't done a study, but I did talk to an admissions officer at one of our state universities. All they look at is graduation requirements and overall g.p.a. With many thousands of apps, there's no other way for them.

I spoke to the C&I head in Beaverton about weighting (they did a three binder study in 2006), and he told me that it's a moving target. Some more selective schools look at the whole picture, others don't, and there's no uniformity anywhere.

I'm thinking that weighting AP and IB grades does no real harm, enables more accurate class standing measures, and makes parents happy.

Of course, I'm not gonna be happy until every kid is a valedictorian! :)

Either that, or we get rid of the whole class standing idea. That would be an uphill battle!

hschinske said...

I think grade weighting is a lazy practice. Let the admissions officers read the dang transcripts -- it's what they're paid for.

Seems to me what the weighting is supposed to be *for* is helping out students with GPAs around 3.4 or so, but with lots of tough classes. Instead, it just means that all the 4.0 people say oh noes, I have to have a 4.5, and the pressure cooker just gets worse. Ironically, some of the people who've had slightly lower grades all along may be better able to handle the stress of getting B's or C's in college.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

"7:11 PM
Blogger hschinske said...

I think grade weighting is a lazy practice. Let the admissions officers read the dang transcripts -- it's what they're paid for."

You are, of course, speaking from experience...?

The Science Goddess said...

Play nice. :)

My hunch is that how much time and effort admissions officers put into examining applications varies based on several factors. One would hope that they either make an effort to spend time with them...or, if they can't, that there is some consistent "shorthand" way to deal with the selection process. Maybe there's no uniformity among colleges...but at least within each school there is a method to the madness.

I do wonder about hschinke's comment about weighted grades helping lower GPAs more. There may be something there as the "outlier" scores would provide a larger overall gain to those in the B/C range.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

It just occurred to me that I don't care much about GPAs, weighted, unweighted, or in zero gravity. :)

My crusade is aimed at getting teachers to assess student work well, according to standards, and report that assessment in an unadulterated fashion. What happens to the individual student's report card grade after it leaves the classroom leaves me yawning. ;)

Let's face it...GPAs are bragging rights. Rather than tinker with them, how about we abolish them?