Wednesday, July 13, 2016

What Does A Grade Really Mean?

Well, it's the middle of July so I think it is probably time to start thinking about school starting. Registration packets were mailed out this week and will start to filter in these next couple of weeks! Although many won't admit it, I think the students are starting to get anxious for the start of the school year. As we prepare for the start of the school year, I would like to revisit the concept of grading.You may recall my August 12, 2015 article when I posed the question, What Should a Grade Measure? 

In that post, I argued a grade that measures anything other than actual student learning dilutes the purpose of what that grade is actually supposed to tell us as educators and parents. Furthermore, including variables that have little correlation to learning do a poor job of measuring student progress or academic achievement. Yet in education many continue to include variables in grading mechanisms that have little to do with whether or not the student has actually learned anything in their respective classes. 

Consider the value of participation points, student behavior, meeting deadlines, etc. Certainly these are important characteristics that should be measured! If for no other reason, they speak to employability, citizenship, and a whole host of attributes that are necessary for our young people to be successful in life. However, embedding them within the context of curricular content might not be the best option.

Again, I must re-emphasize: meeting deadlines is critically important and unruly students are the bane of any orderly classroom! But do either of these things have anything to do with whether or not a student grasps a particular concept? No, they really don't. Instead, they tend to inflate grades and give an unrealistic picture of what a student knows and is able to do. Sometimes parents will wonder why scores on a standardize test are 'so low', because their child is getting all 'A's in class. Or how about the student who consistently isn't turning in homework, yet aces every test that is given? 

Consider the fictional student, Jim in the example below. What conclusions can you draw about him? 
Well, he is failing this class for starters. But take a deeper look. His scores suggest to me that he knows the content for chapter one. On both the quiz and test he scored 100%. However, his homework leaves a lot to be desired. On the three assignments he had, he only scored 50%. I wonder what the reason that is? Certainly it could be a lot of things, but from the scores present here it doesn't seem to suggest a skill deficit.

How about the other students in this class? Do you think these grades reflect what they actually have learned, or do they instead reflect something else?

In Hudson we are rather fortunate to have our Homework Policy, which in many ways mitigates the variances that can occur when youngsters don't turn in homework. To remind everyone, homework isn't optional at Hudson. If a student doesn't complete their work, they stay after school and finish it. Nevertheless, this policy isn't a silver bullet!

As we prepare to begin a new school year in a few weeks, I encourage you to have a discussion with your child's teachers regarding their grading practices. Ask them how the homework policy applies in their room. Remember, the homework policy doesn't become effective until students reach the fifth grade.

Until then, enjoy the rest of your summer!

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