Total Pageviews

Friday, March 14, 2008

Steep Grade: Use Caution

As I have written before I am already concerned that "high standards" will initiate an avalanche of homework to coming pouring down on my son. Since he frequently trips over imaginary objects on the sidewalk, performs dance routines that make Elaine Benes look like Josephine Baker, and thinks that his zombie-robot impression is the funniest thing in the world, the chances of him avoiding a snowball let alone an avalanche seems highly unlikely. Besides, the teacher or principal that shouted "high standards" and caused the cavalcade of monotony should be to blame.

Now it seems that there is an even larger disaster perched on the 4th grade horizon. I just attended an informational meeting for my sons first year of kindergarten. Luckily, there does not seem to be a grading scale for students in grades K-3, but in the fourth grade it lunges at the children with the ferocity of a rabid tiger with a borderline personality that woke up on the wrong side of the bed and didn't eat a well balanced breakfast. The scale is rife with lunacy, but suffice it to say that a 69% is an F. If the weatherman told you that there was a 69% chance for rain, would you take an umbrella? Though you would question his adamant refusal to round numbers, you would most definitely take the umbrella. If you had a 69% chance of winning at a casino, wouldn't you empty the bank account and wager it all on red 29. (This may not be the best comparison. I have to admit, I don't know craps.) If the doctor told you that there was a 69% chance of you dying from complications during surgery, wouldn't you call your lawyer to make sure that the will you made during the unfortunate "drinking period" didn't bequeath your life savings to a cat that died fifteen years ago? Perhaps, but only if nobody more significant had surfaced in intervening time.

So I guess what I am saying is that a 69% should be passing. Anything over 60% should be passing. Arbitrarily raising the grading scale will have absolutely no effect on student performance. It is like a high jumper flopping a foot over the bar and expecting to get credit for it. Changing the metric after the event alters the reality. Proponents will say that a scoring guide given before the event will encourage the students to work harder. That is like saying that our high jumper will only put forth the minimum amount of effort to clear the bar, and hence the higher bar will create a higher jump. This type of reasoning seems to denigrate our students.

Teacher: You are obviously lazy and have no internal sense of motivation therefore I will create a ridiculous standard to measure your grade and provide the motivation you so desperately need.

Student: Gee you're right I feel like working now. Your oppressive demeanor and lack of respect for me seems to have done the trick.

We as parents and educators should have high standards for our children, but those standards should be exemplified by the rigor of the assignments not the lunacy of the grading scale. Expect students to know more and they will. So, set the bar for the high jumper, chant his name as he is about to attempt the jump, cheer him as he clears the hurdle, or slow clap as he stands to do it again, but don't move the bar up and down while he is in the middle of an Olympic competition.

I would like to add that since most teachers are compassionate people and 4th-graders are cuter than puppies wearing tutus, students' grades will be adjusted to fit the scale. In effect this actually lowers the standards. Either teachers will create assignments that the students will be successful on, or the grades will be adjusted through extra credit and magic.

The district that I work in just adjusted the grading scale. A 64% was the cut-off for a D. We lowered it to the traditional 60%. As far as I know there has not been a drastic reduction in standards as many had predicted. Everything is as it should be.

And finally, because you can never have too many analogies I would like to point out that claiming students at a certain school are better than others because of the grading scale is like saying the employees at Wal-Mart are better than those at Target because of the pay scale.

No comments: