Grading in schools.....and ours
I write this after a conversation with my staff at the school last Friday. We discussed grading and the complications that come with it...............
I truly believe that grades should "reflect a student's knowledge and mastery of content". This is easier said than done. Unfortunately, since the inception of "grading", we have moved galaxies away from what grading was initially meant to do. Grading was, and should be, a way of knowing if a student truly understands and has mastered the content they are being graded on. Currently, however, grades can contain a reflection on whether the student is polite in class, is a procrastinator, is diligent about retaking the same test over and over, is good at extra credit work..... the list goes on and on.
I know all about this from a personal perspective. In high school, I was able to get acceptable "A's" and "B's" out of my Language Arts classes by way of doing extra credit, redoing assignments (which is not a bad thing) and jumping through the "worksheet" hoop. Yet....when I arrived at college and was given the writing entrance exam, I was placed in a remedial writing class because I could not write a lick. Admittedly, I was all over the place, the most unorganized writer; nothing made sense. It was like vomit on a page. (Good thing I wasn't writing surgical procedure textbooks.)
The funny thing is that my college obviously didn't trust my high school's grading system, hence the writing entrance exam. It was a good thing.......... my grades in no way reflected my actual ability to write a simple paper. Now, thanks to my actual mastery of the subject, I have a degree in English and have been an English teacher for most of my career. Nevertheless, I did end up having to "actually" master the skill of writing. At some point the skill HAS to be mastered, no matter what grade you are given. (The same thing happened to me with math but a much worse situation, taking more than a year to remediate my skills.)
We do our children no favors when we give them an "A" for the simple act of jumping through hoops without truly looking at mastery of knowledge and skills. I am definitely not the only person with this opinion either. Colleges are complaining that we are just moving students forward to the next grade without the foundations of the previous skills being solidified. "...according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, just “We are telling students they’ve learned something that they really haven’t learned. We wish them well and nudge them ahead to the next, more difficult unit, for which they have not been properly prepared. We are setting them up to fail.” I could insert quotes all day. Inevitably, someone, somewhere has to make a change. The saddest part is for students who are in the upper grades. Some of our math students are legitimately in an 11th grade math class and cannot do the work because they are missing major chunks of content/skills from the 4th grade.
When you talk to teachers, they are overwhelmed themselves because they can't cover the required content let alone go back and make sure every student has mastered it; customization for every single student is a near impossible feat. Therefore we have come full circle back to our conundrum. Bottom line is that we are doing a disservice to our students by moving them along when they haven't mastered the skills needed. Is it any wonder that we have parents thinking that their student may have a learning disability when they are still struggling with math by the time they hit 9th grade? This is system failure, not a disability. So....where do we go from here?
In that I am only one tiny person/cog in an overwhelmingly massive machine where cogs fall out continually, our school will be moving ever more toward mastery of skills/standards/content. Without doing so, we are spinning our wheels on the vicious treadmill called education.
In an effort to move this way, we need to look at the bigger picture........and simpler is always better.
1. Determine what our students need to learn and why. (This is an article in and of itself. As we gain more knowledge the breadth of the standards required gets more vast. Who said we need to know everything there is to know in the world? Why are we trying to teach our students EVERYTHING? We are arrogant to even assume what will be the most important thing for their survival in 10-20 years, as fast as technology is moving. I for one say, problem solving will be the key to their survival; problem solving and resourcing.)
2. Teach in a clear way with clear expectations. Sometimes the failure is in that the student is not clear on what they are expected to learn. It is the burden of the teacher to inform the student clearly on what the expectation is.
3. Verify that students have actually learned the skill/content. If not, reteach and give additional support. (Maybe a test is not the way? Maybe we need to have them show us instead. And by the way......the definition of learning is attaching something new to existing knowledge. So if we don't make efforts to make these skills and content real for the students, they will never retain the information; it will be forgotten as soon as the grade is entered into the gradebook.)
4. Revisit concepts frequently to help students retain the skill/content learned. (Once again, easier said than done. The amount we are expected to cover does not easily allow time for remediation or extension.).
5. It boils down to real life experiences for students........... learning that means something and becomes part of their tapestry of learning for future endeavors.
This may sound like unicorns and rainbows....... but our school will make every effort to make changes where we can.......slowly fixing the problems we find with grading vs. mastery, in an effort to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem (obviously within the confines of rules, regulations and laws). Keep in mind.... this is a new way of thinking, a paradigm shift and will be hard for some to understand; it may be seem confusing since it is not what we are used to. Therefore, let us keep lines of communication open so there are no misunderstandings, work together for our students and keep at the forefront of our minds........."what is best for the student". :)
-Cassie Hays, Terra Academy Director