01 August 2010

Grading Roundup: Summer 2010

Summer is typically a quiet time in terms of news items about grading. I expect things will ramp up in another month or two. But to tide you over, here are a few tidbits.

From the NJ Daily Record, we have a story about how the Mount Olive Township school board has eliminated D-grades (text below from EdWeek article behind paywall):
Students in one New Jersey school district will have to work harder to pass.

The Mount Olive school board voted Monday to eliminate the "D'' grade for middle and high school students.

Superintendent Larrie Reynolds proposed the policy, saying he was tired of kids getting credit for not learning.

The new policy, which is expected to take effect in September, would raise the failure score to anything under a 70 instead of 65.

Reynolds says 384 high school students received a "D'' as a final grade at the end of this school year.

Board member Sheryl Colligan cast the only dissenting vote. She said she's not confident the support system is in place to implement the policy this September.

While I applaud the superintendent for recognizing that in many cases credit did not represent learning, he really hasn't done anything to change this disconnect. I don't care where you set the cutoff, you have to change what is represented by the number.

Speaking of misunderstandings where numbers are concerned, you may have heard about how Texas's "Truth in Grading" Law was recently taken to court. The law required that students be assigned the grades they earned, and banned minimum grade policies.
Some districts have long had policies that established minimum grades of 50, 60, or even 70, so even if a student earned a zero, his or her grade would be automatically brought up to the minimum score.
This issue is a lot more complex than reports of the case include. In my mind, this is neither about "inflated grades," nor is it about percentages. It is about grading scales and what represents "passing." Even schools where a minimum grade is a 50 (not 50%...just 50) does not mean that the score is inflated or that a 60 is passing. It just means 50 is the lowest score. People new to thinking about grading scales seem to have difficulty internalizing a couple of things. (a) 0 - 100 is only one possible scale out of an infinite number of possibilities. and (b) percent and scale are separate concepts. Rather sad in Texas that there is a judge who can't understand these things and students will suffer for that.

About a year and a half ago, I blogged about a Brave New World: a district in Colorado that was doing away with grade levels and assigning kids based on performance and readiness. Now, it looks like districts in Alaska, Maine, and Missouri are also ready to move this direction. From Teacher Magazine:
Here's how the reform works:

Students — often of varying ages — work at their own pace, meeting with teachers to decide what part of the curriculum to tackle. Teachers still instruct students as a group if it's needed, but often students are working individually or in small groups on projects that are tailored to their skill level.

For instance, in a classroom learning about currency, one group could draw pictures of pennies and nickels. A student who has mastered that skill might use pretend money to practice making change.

Students who progress quickly can finish high school material early and move forward with college coursework. Alternatively, in some districts, high-schoolers who need extra time can stick around for another year.

Advocates say the approach cuts down on discipline problems because advanced students aren't bored and struggling students aren't frustrated.

But backers acknowledge implementation is tricky, and the change is so drastic it can take time to explain to parents, teachers and students. If the community isn't sold on the effort, it will bomb, said Richard DeLorenzo, co-founder of the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition, which coaches schools on implementing the reform.

In some ways, this makes a lot of sense...and in others, I have some reservations. Student learning is more complicated than just the material itself. I worry about social development. This is not a reason to hold students back from content---I'm just wondering how we balance all of the needs.

My last item to share comes from an estatesltd eBay auction (ending Saturday).

I love looking at old report cards---seeing all the different things students were evaluated on. But this is the first time I have seen anything like this where the grades appear to be reported as a distribution. And it isn't a distribution of scores---it's a distribution of the class. The column after (grading) Period is "Class Enr.," which I am assuming means class enrollment. Could it be that the numbers in the following column represent the total number of students who earned an A - F for the class, with the individual student performance circled? If so, what an unusual and intriguing way to present data to parents: no scores, just a communication to parents about how your student's performance ranks in the class.


Anonymous said...

Actually, I think that progress based on ability would actually improve socialization. There is a lot of research out there, especially dealing with gifted kids, about how socialization improves when kids are put with their intellectual peers rather than age mates.

The Science Goddess said...

I agree that there are some good reasons to consider that---just doesn't appear that these sorts of things are being factored into the mix at the moment.