Jim Van Pelt, an excellent blogger, has contributed quite a bit to the conversation surrounding standards-based grading, and he reposted part of my post detailing what I was told standards-based grading should be. I decided to post JVP’s comment from my previous post.
The ideas of refiguring zeros so they are proportionately fair, and taking late work with minimal or no penalty came up last year in one or our last faculty meetings. Would you say these ideas are progressive? If so, our principal, who is a hard as nails administrator, is also a progressive.
The hurdle on grading, I think, is a firmly established mind set that an “A” grade is not just a measure or a student’s understanding, but also a labeling of the student’s work ethic. “He was an ‘A’ student in school” doesn’t just mean to most folks that he has a full grasp of the course’s subject matter; it means that he’s hard working, a rule follower, and an example of the way we hope other students would behave.
The other arguments deal with the school as being a place where students learn to be responsible, and that the school prepares students for the “real world.” In these arguments, the point seems to be that if students are allowed do-overs, or can turn in late work without consequence, that they will be ill prepared for the work world that charges them for paying bills late, fires them for not being the best they can be the first time, and generally makes their life miserable for failing to follow standards to the letter.
The best argument I have for these folks is that the grade should only be a reflection of the student’s academic achievement. Giving a student an “F” for a class because he hasn’t learned the material is very different from giving a student an “F” for not turning work in, even if his final summative assessment indicated he understood an “A” amount of the material. Also, we can hardly claim to be teaching responsibility if our only teaching tool is the draconian “no credit” or “so little credit it’s not worth doing.” We teach responsibility by making them do it. I have a lot more power on my side to get a student to do work if I will give them the full credit for doing it. The “penalty” for late work in my class is that it’s very hard to get away with it. I conference with students, sometimes daily, e-mail and phone parents, and, if I have to, contact the FLEX team for help with other interventions. Teaching this way is fully embracing one of our mantras of the last few years: “Time is the variable.”
The problem becomes, then, is that we have no way currently of showing how a student is performing in the non-academic areas, which I think any employer or admissions officer would like to know. I would like to know if a student has a “C” because he only has grasped a “C” amount of the material, but he made every deadline and turned everything in, or if the student has a “C” because he can’t make deadlines. And in the same sense, I think there is a difference between a student who makes an “A” and makes all the deadlines, and one who gets an “A” by turning in good quality work late.
I think the objections to a pure academic grade have some validity if there is no way to show how a student is performing in timeliness and responsibility. What we need is a “citizenship” grade along with the academic one. A kid with a 4.0 GPA but with a 2.0 in citizenship has a problem that is evident and can be worked on.
But I think if we did a citizenship grade, that it should be a rolling one that only reflects the student’s last semester or year. We’re trying to teach citizenship, not just measure it. So, a kid who has a 1.0 in citizenship his freshman year, but by the time he’s a senior is a 4.0 citizen, his total grade should not be an average of the freshman 1.0, the sophomore 2.0, and the junior 3.0 combined with his senior year 4.0, when he finally matured enough to recognize he needed to be responsible. If his last semester is 4.0, I’d give it to him. He’s demonstrated a mastery of citizenship. One way to look at it is that his first three years were formative, while his senior year was summative.
Oh, here’s an issue you haven’t brought up, extra credit. Many teachers offer extra credit for non-academic activities. We have teachers who will raise a student’s academic grade for bringing in food for the Christmas food drive, or for helping to assemble a homecoming float. I offer extra credit if a student will go to a play and write a critical analysis. Although my extra credit may foster improved understanding, I don’t have a way to measure it with a summative tool. I just give them extra points.
How we assign extra credit needs to be looked at also.
Has your school had this conversation as well? What do you think?