Saturday, January 9, 2010

When Is An 80 an 80?

Aaron Eyler writes a blog on technology in education entitled Synthesizing Education, and posted an interesting blog entitled When Is An “80″ Not An “80″?: Grades in Schools. At the end, Eyler states

I understand that the primary focus on grading is parental, community, and higher-education pressure, but we need to make movement in finding more effective ways to analyze students internally and externally. In other words, an “80″ in my district as a final grade should be the same as an “80″ in yours. This is a daunting (maybe impossible) task, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore it.

It's a laudable goal, but frankly, he's living on a completely different planet than where I teach. Back when I taught at Bethel, I taught seventh graders and was incredibly tough on them when it came to grading reading and writing. Parents complained at first, but by the end of the year the students adapted and their grades improved despite me sticking to my assessing guns. Fast forward to this school year: same grade, same subject, but radically different students. I gave my first graded assignment of the year and graded the same way I normally do. Their grades? 80% failure rate.

I initially wanted to be obstinate and make my students rise to meet the standard, but frankly it's an impossible task. The students I teach come from a completely different educational background and as a result, the metric I used to assess these students was worthless; there was no way my principal or my program manager would accept a failure rate that high. I ended up changing my assessment methods to meet their needs as well a provide a hurdle high enough that the students would have to improve to truly succeed. Is it working? Well, I do have a perfect bell curve for my grades so I think it's safe to assume my grading method works with these students just fine.

In the end, there is only one way to ensure that an 80% is an 80% across the board, and that is to use standardized assessments, which is what we do with our yearly standardized testing. In other words, the only way we could work to achieve Eyler's goal would be to make every single assessment we give to our students in every single school a standardized assessment. Of course, this is completely impossible, so I'm not sweating it too much.

1 comment:

Mikki Black said...

This is a very interesting post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for sharing the link on SCL.