Friday, August 12, 2011

Summer School - Day Thirty - Report Cards

Last day of summer school. Students pick up report cards.

I am thinking about the inadequacy of our reporting system. Specifically 3 things are bothering me:

1. Percentage Grades
Most of my students have a high C+ or low B. What does that mean? No really! Do they understand 74% of the material? What material? What do they know and what do they still have trouble with? How is 74% different from 72%? One is a B and the other is not... why? Is the 74% student who coasted and did little studying really a better student than the 72% who worked really hard?

2. Demonstration of Learning (Growth)
My students have essentially one or two chances to demonstrate learning of any given topic. That's it. Even if they learn it later and demonstrate their new understanding on a final exam, that old failed quiz still haunts them. How much better if they demonstrate mastery in the future, this new data replaces the old? After all, their new knowledge has replaced their misunderstanding. Why can't new grades replace old ones?

3. Specificity of Learning
What do they not understand? What specific topics gave them trouble? Was it conceptual or procedural? If they didn't get the Pythagoras question, was it because they don't understand the theorem? Or because they have poor algebra skills? Or because they mixed up the legs and hypotenuse? I want to know! And really, the student needs to know in order to improve.

Enter standards-based grading. The more I read, the more I like. The B.C. curriculum is organized with specific learning outcomes and achievement indicators. It is a fairly simple task to map these indicators to standards and start tracking student progress in a more specific manner.

The great thing about it is not how it tracks growth or how it gives more specific information. Although that is great. The great thing is how this system helps students learn. It gives specific feedback, time for remediation, and opportunities to demonstrate growth.

The irony of this is how students react. They are addicted to grades. Even as I type this there is a student in my class complaining of how she failed French because she got an 82%.  She will need to go through grade withdrawal. I explained the new system and its benefits and she is terrified. But I know the new system will help her learn.

1 comment:

  1. Craig, I sometimes enjoyed reading your blog posts this summer. Er, I mean I sometimes read your blog and, when I did, I always enjoyed it. On the topic of grades, I could relate to your earlier post re: 'A' students. I was recently asked "What's an 'A' mean in your class?". Half-cheekily (should be a word, I think), I said "86 percent!". But really, it means that a student consistently met expectations - it doesn't mean that a student exceeded expectations. I often think that these students are often "good at school" versus excellent mathematical thinkers. Like you, I often see these kids struggle when the problems are slightly different than the ones covered in class. To be fair to these 'A' students, have I given them opportunities to exceed expectations? Does my assessment provide students the chance to demonstrate the depth of their mathematical thinking? Hope you keep blogging in the school year. Chris