Bill Ferriter stole my thunder here with his wonderful post, Are Grade Utterly Useless, but as I mentioned in the first post of this series, it’s time to think a bit about grades. I hope you take some time to read Bill’s post and perhaps between his and mine we combine to make some sense… or more likely, I am able to add a tiny bit to what Bill had to offer, because he was spot on with his post.
What is so magical about 45 days?
Why, at the end of 45 days do we label a kid an A, B, C, D or F?
Why do we tell kids on day 46, “okay, start over”?
In addition to Bill’s three points, 1. Learning stops 2. Self assessment is forgotten and 3. Grades mask understanding (or lack thereof) I would like to add one more demon of quarterly grades: they count.
I am not naive enough to think that our system can be changed to the point where we can eliminate grades all together (can we?) but what bothers me most about quarter grades is that there are serious ramifications if students don’t progress at the rate we set by arbitrarily picking the end of the quarter. Earlier this year, I wrote about the fact that the school my kids attend changed the date of the end of the quarter due to some snow days, but each year, we decide that every forty five days (or sixty if you are trimester) we are going to create a permanent record of student learning. We choose the dates when kids are supposed to be learned.
What if it takes me 46 days to understand the quadratic formula? What if I’m suffering from a illness for the first 60 days of school, or fall victim to unfortunate home circumstances during the 3rd quarter? What if things go well for three quarters, but during the last 30 days of school the work becomes much more challenging? What if I need 200 days to understand Physics?
My issue isn’t grades per se*, my issue is the arbitrary nature of picking dates and making impactful judgments on those dates. We continue to fall into the trappings of time. By issuing grades on specific days, we are really just saying that this the grade that was earned on this date, not that the student wasn’t capable of earning a different grade if given the opportunity to change the date, and that grade we issue on the date we chose, counts forever on our students’ record, even if it may not accurately reflect their true abilities.
*When we give assignments in the last week of the quarter to help raise grades, we are cheapening our product. I once worked with a teacher who assigned a crossworld puzzle on the final days of the quarter awarded 100 points for its completion to give students the opportunity to “raise their grade”. For those who did, their grades rose slightly, but the one student who did not, lost an entire letter grade. He didn’t suddenly go from a very good student to not. He simply forgot to do his homework. His quarter grade in no way reflected his abilities.
Later I will repost my post from SmartBlogs which will be post #3 in this series, but after that I will tackle the Carnegie Unit.