38: New grading system

I just read about a new way to grade students, an article given to us by my school Director. This is a logical extension of the present standards-based grading system, in that students are scored based on how well they meet essential standards, and how they are able to perform using what they have learned in class. This makes sense. I have had students pass class because they complete their homework and are trying, not because they really grasped the essential curriculum concepts that I was actually teaching. Now, effort should count for something, since employers are looking for effort, among other things, and we need to encourage students who work hard, not just those who work smart. But, increasingly, we need the students to work smart.

This new system proposes that teachers identify the essential things that students would know and be able to do at the end of the class we are teaching, and then that we assess them according to whether they have achieved, or not achieved, or perhaps even surpassed these performance and knowledge goals. This makes for fewer tests, and makes homework an optional practice for the students who know they still need to “get it.” I no longer have to actually grade every piece of paper I give students to do – I just have to put the feedback on it. Then, students know how close they are to achieving the benchmark, or standard.

This is quite similar to giving students a rubric to self-assess their own work. An objective is on the rubric, and various levels of performance are awarded a certain number of points. Low points mean an unsuccessful effort, medium points is an acceptable response, but not an outstanding one, and high points equals an outstanding product, or academic excellence. That means a C is truly “average” work, instead of the more common A- meaning an average effort, and an A+ being outstanding.

The new standards-based grading system means that students will demonstrate mastery of the content of the class, not mastery of doing homework, or some other item that is not curriculum-driven. Students choose whether to complete homework, because they know the practice is tied to their mastery of, and personal achievement on, the standard. This makes sense, except that it is different from THE WAY THINGS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN DONE. Therein lies the rub.

How is a parent going to react when they see a child’s report card which lists below proficient, proficient, or outstanding on a number of curriculum objectives, rather than an A, a B, or a C? And what about the thorny problem of behavior? Punctuality, behavior issues, participation, teamwork, organization, those things that help make most students successful? Do we make objectives for those, too and report them in the same way?

All these things are interesting, and such a new system will have to be carefully thought out. What if a student can demonstrate mastery of the objectives of a class before they take it? Does that mean they should receive credit for the class? I think they should. Does that mean we should administer a pre-test to our students the first day of class, to see who needs to be promoted to the next class, and who actually needs to take this class? I think we should. Does that mean we will have ages mixed up in various classes – probably. Should that matter – probably not. The new system is based on demonstration of mastery, and those students who can demonstrate mastery should be able to proceed through classes and through school at their own pace. Does this mean lots of changes to a traditional school? Yes. Will these be good changes? Well – they will encourage students to achieve in order to finish sooner than regularly scheduled, and encourage those quick students to move on, leaving teachers to help the slower ones achieve mastery at THEIR own pace. That sounds good to me! It sure will make school different, but I thought that was what everybody was screaming for – a change in schools to make them better at producing better student graduates. Will it work? The research says it will work – we’ll see!

What do YOU think about all of this?

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