Grades Are For Eggs

from tkraska’s flickr

Last night my husband and I attended back to school night at the high school. Apparently we are parents of a high school student. I totally get how we got here, but I’m having trouble accepting that we’re here.

Anyway, back to school night…It’s quite a different event at high school. After two decades of doing this at elementary I’m still adjusting to life beyond that. We spent ten minutes in each of her seven classes (world history/geography, biology, geometry, English, PE/health, American Sign Language, and choir) along with ten minutes travel time between each. Plus her school is currently being renovated so there’s a lot going on and a whole village of trailers. A village we visited twice. In the rain. Feel my pain. I probably wasn’t at my best or most generous as I listened to the teachers’ spiels.

So, I’ll say she seems to have lovely teachers. They seem to know their stuff. They seem to like their students. They seem to enjoy working there. You know, based on the ten minutes I had to build that impression. Our daughter seems to like them too, which helps my feelings. I think we’re lucky that she’s had such positive experiences with teachers for so many years.

Still, I’m going to complain. Maybe it’s a difference between elementary school and high school…Maybe it’s a difference between the Title I schools in which I’ve always taught and her more affluent school (basically my school’s free/reduced meal and non-free/reduced meal percentages are the exact opposite of her school). I don’t know for sure. But when these teachers shared their policies about grading it seemed to me they were feeling progressive. And I’m not buying it.

Many of these teachers shared that if students don’t do well on tests, they can retake. If they retake they can get up to 80%. Because they want to be fair.

Wait. What?

Is grading about being fair? Or is grading about reflecting and communicating the learning a student has done or is doing?

It seems to me that if we’re concerned about grading being fair that is because we see grades as a competition. If there’s no competition, then it doesn’t matter how many students score at the top or when they manage to get to that point.

What if our grading policies reflected our beliefs about learning? Would your policies change? Would you students earn different grades? Would their thinking about grades and learning shift?

I should no longer be surprised when I choose an image from flickr and it was taken by a friend. Thank you, Dean Shareski!

I firmly believe that grades, like much of education, are done the way they are done because it’s what’s always been done. Changing things in education is tough but grading may be the toughest. Parents feel strongly about grading. Colleges look for grades and class rank. We give out awards for good grades. So much is built in to the system. But that doesn’t mean we’re doing it right.

If I had it my way, grades would be gone. We’d give feedback, but not label with a grade. We’d show students their strengths and help them with the things that still need work. We would work with students so that they get good at assessing themselves, their learning, and their progress.

Given how unlikely it is that we’ll get to my utopia anytime soon, at the very least we would use grades as a way to communicate rather than a way to compete. We would definitely stop making school a competition.

4 replies on “Grades Are For Eggs”

  1. Jim says:

    Agree completely. (Good) rubrics are better. I went to a college with no grades and it was great to not have to worry about a GPA and trust me, it was still a challenge.

    • jenorr says:

      I love that you qualified rubrics. I’ve seen some awful rubrics and it makes it harder for me to accept them without convincing. But there are some really good ones out there too.

  2. timstahmer says:

    It will be very interesting to read more of your impressions as your daughter makes her way through high school. Having spent a large chunk of my career teaching in and working with that level, it is a very different world from elementary.

    For back to school night, we were always told to emphasize our grading policies and other class rules, as opposed to talking about what students would be learning. Ann got to do that in her music classes, but not in math.

    • jenorr says:

      Tim, that pains me. It reassures me that maybe teachers, who I think are more often focused on what really matters, aren’t making this decision. But it hurts to be reminded that the structure of the system is so focused away from learning.

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