Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Report card time. One of the least favorite times of the year for many teachers, many students, and many parents. The time when students find out if they are "good enough." Did they make the grade? I have been thinking about grades a lot this past year.
My district has a traditional grading system with A-D and F. Although, in practice, Ds and Fs are rarely seen. A gentlemanly C with modifications and accommodations is more the norm. I guess the party line is something like, "Students don't fail. We fail them as teachers."
On one hand, I feel that the grades for some students are a distraction. All many seem to care about is "What did I get?" Many parents want their child to get As regardless of learning and effort, or lack thereof, as is sometimes the case. And for the students who are struggling, getting Ds or Cs can't be beneficial. The grades seem to represent some artificial quotient of knowledge that bears no relevance to students' learning.
On the other hand, I know that grades are motivating to some students. Some of my students want desperately to get As and will push themselves to achieve that goal. They will work hard and go the extra mile. Their As are an accurate reflection of their effort and work.
I have mulled around alternatives (not that I am in any position to change anything at this point.) Pass/Fail seems to encourage a regression to a mean. After all, if a Pass is for 51 % and for 100%, many students will quickly realize that there is no need to work hard. Although I agree that there will always be those who are intrinsically motivated to do their best. A narrative record of a student's achievement would be beneficial, but I know most teachers would balk at the time it would take, and many parents want to know how their child is doing in relation to others.
I have come up with the idea of a continuum of knowledge and skills, Teachers could report where on the continuum a child is. The districts could set general grade level expectations for the continuums. Then it could become more like developmental milestones. A child may reach it early, as expected, or later. No real big deal. Also, there would always be something more to strive for.
What do you think?