Category Archives: Failures

Sports or Books?

In this era of cost-saving measures, what should we cut or reduce? Some say high school sports should be cut while others say college campus staff members should be given the axe. There are a range of ideas, but what is the right area to cut back?

Stream of consciousness alert!

I tend to advocate for program cuts first. What are the “nice to haves” versus the “must haves”? And there are no easy answers.

If a program requires extra people primarily for bureaucratic reasons, I say cut it. We have programs like the Medicaid Match program where teachers record how much class time and duty time is devoted to helping students with health or counseling issues, and then these recording sheets are given to a clerk who specifically has to document, verify, and refer the records to another level of scrutiny. Relatively little money is generated per school for this program, maybe $1.25 per student (which my school uses to run detention halls, which are not very effective but is a whole other post).

We also have programs which duplicate the services of other programs. The same pool of students is double or triple served. This type of cost can be eliminated quickly or altered to help more students. Since most students cannot be in more than one program at a time, we have numerous programs with multiple open slots and no one to fill them.

We might converse about the feasibility of a student-driven schedule. Should we allow students to choose their classes, or should we ask for preferences and fill the classes we decide to offer using the preference lists as a guide only? Do we keep programs that serve a sliver of the population while other programs are overcrowded? Do we offer sparsely filled classes just to say we have a wide variety of offerings?

My school also has clubs with paid advisors who only have 4-5 club members, yet these clubs have the same stipend as clubs with up to 50 members. Is this a good use of student body funds? Should popularity play any role in the cost or allotment of an activity?

Should students who fail a core course automatically be enrolled in a cheaper online version rather than be in a regular classroom setting? Would it be cheaper only in the short-term? Should summer school be mandatory? I know my district pays relatively little to summer school instructors even though the workload is similar to that of the normal school year.

I’m just rambling some ideas off the top of my head, but I’m wondering what will drive the decision-making processes used to determine what stay and what goes. It could be scary.

Make a Deal?

I make deals with kids at the ends of semesters. Some of my colleagues don’t agree with my philosophy, but I think it makes perfect sense.

We have very precise course outlines for each of the classes we teach, so what students must learn to pass each course is spelled out (which is wonderful for new teachers learning to instruct the courses). This allows me to look very carefully at the students’ accomplishments and reasons for why they don’t pass a class.

When a student earns over 50% in the class, needs only a very few learnings (or redos), and agrees to a 2-3 week work window, I will pass a student if the essential learnings are met and the student redoes a couple assignments of my choice meeting an agreed upon minimum standard. I think that a student should be allowed a 2-3 week opportnity to pass a class rather than have the student lose an elective and spend 18 weeks repeating an entire course (especially when the student may need very little to pass).

Not only is this compassionate, but also it makes economic sense. If 10 teachers in a department can make 3 deals each (out of 125-150 kids each), that is one section of a course we don’t have to create and staff. Plus, we may be able to keep a student from losing hope. An ‘F’ grade can be very damaging to a student’s feelings of self-worth, in particular a student so close to passing.

I’m encouraging others to take on the small amount of extra work each semester to help these kids out. Maybe I am a bleeding heart. 🙂

Shouldn’t Be In That Position

As I watched the highlights of the Sunday NFL games, one coach was asked about his team’s one-point loss. He replied, “We shouldn’t have been in that position” and said that the final drive of the game for the opponent did not decide the game. He noted that the team bungled numerous opportunities throughout the game and that no game should come down to the final play.

This is exactly how I feel about the end of each semester; one assignment (i.e. the final) should not determine a student’s success or failure.

I know, however, I will have 5-6 students whose passage in a course will be decided by the final. Of course, the odds would seem to indicate that at least one student won’t make it as well. The parents will beg for extra credit or something else, but I always hold firm; no extra assignments and no retakes on the final. After 18 weeks, a student is ready or is not. If a student can’t pass the final, I don’t want to hear anything.

This would seem to go against my allowing students to retake tests belief, but it really does not. Other tests are the first summative assessment after numerous practices. The final is all review material, so the students will see no surprises. All of the material has been seen before. Plus, my finals are always objective. No excuses, especially when (in reality) the final did not determine the student’s success.

Anyone else feel this way?

Standards-Based Grading Presentation on Monday

I have to present on Monday to my department the information I learned from a workshop on standards-based grading two months ago, and the presenter used the following works to base his presentation, of which I have read only three:

  • A Repair Kit for Grading by Ken O’Connor,
  • Mindset by Carol Dweck,
  • Transforming Classroom Grading by Robert Marzano,
  • Classroom Assessment & Grading that Work by Robert Marzano, and
  • Classroom Assessment For Student Learning by Richard Stiggins, et al.

Based on his research the presenter provided a number of points about how standards-based grading works, and these are the primary points I noted on my tablet as we discussed this new type of grading.

1. Student behaviors (effort, attendance, etc.) should not be a part of a student’s grades.

2. Late work does not result in a lower grade.

3. Extra credit should not be part of a student’s grade.

4. Academic dishonesty should not result in a lower grade.

5. Attendance should not be a part of a student’s grade.

6. Group scores should not be factored into individual grades.

7. Performance standards must be clear.

8. Grades should not be based on the mean.

9. Zeroes should not be factored into grades.

10. Homework should not be part of a student’s grade.

11. Grades should be based on more recent evidence.

How do you feel about these eleven points?


Previously I have blogged about my feelings on grading, and I’m still slowly molding my grading system, but it’s definitely moving towards standards-based grading. Here are some posts of mine on this topic and grading papers:

1. Standards-Based Grading

2. Standards-Based Grading (cont.) (featuring Jim Van Pelt, an excellent blogger)

3. Excused vs. Unexcused

4. Changing Grading May Change Failure Rates

5. The Rule of 24 and Anchor Papers