In a recent New York Times article, “No More A’s for Good Behavior” by Peg Tyre, the following paragraph jumped out at me:
As test scores fast become the single and most powerful measurement by which educational outcomes are being judged, more schools might find themselves engaged in what has become a pivotal debate: Should students be rewarded for being friendly, prepared, compliant, a good school citizen, well-organized and hard-working? Or should good grades represent exclusively a student’s mastery of the material?
Why wouldn’t grades be based on subject mastery? What the heck is going on in our schools?
“Over time, we began to realize that many teachers had been grading kids for compliance — not for mastering the course material,” Ms. Berglund said. “A portion of our A and B students were not the ones who were gaining the most knowledge but the ones who had learned to do school the best.”
Let that last thought roll around your head for a minute – “had learned to do school the best.”
How could anyone be against grading kids for their mastery of the subject? The article provides the following example:
After a high-performing public school district in Potsdam, N.Y., began changing its grading formula, 175 parents and community members — many of them professors from local universities — signed a petition in protest. Carolyn Stone, an adjunct professor of literacy at SUNY Potsdam and a mother of a Potsdam high school freshman, was one of the protesters. She says the new policy, which makes daily homework, even when it is handed in late, account for only 10 percent of the grade, encourages laziness. “Does the old system reward compliance? Yes,” she said. “Do those who fit in the box of school do better? Yes. But to revamp the policy in a way that could be of detriment to the kids who do well is not the answer.” In the real world, she points out, attitude counts.
In the real-world, attitude counts. In the recent documentary film “Waiting for Superman” the film makers point out that while US students rank 25th in math & 21st in science, they ranked number one in self-confidence (about 45 seconds into the video).
The Superintendent in Potsdam, NY defends the new grading system (again, from the New York Times article):
The superintendent in Potsdam, Patrick Brady, who has been rolling out a revamped grading system this fall in his 1,450-student district, said it would allow teachers to recognize academic strengths where they often are not discovered — among minority students, or students from poorer families, or boys — subgroups whose members may be unable or unwilling to fit in easily to the culture of school.
“We are getting rid of grade fog,” Mr. Brady said. “We need to stop overlooking kids who can do the work and falsely inflate grades of kids who can’t but who look good. We think this will be good for everyone.”
There’s a saying that ignorance is bliss, but when that ignorance falsely inflates a student’s grades, giving them a skewed sense of their performance in school, who really benefits the most – the teacher with a classroom full of compliant students or the student with a “totally awesome” self-confidence level?