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Tag: grades (Page 1 of 2)

Pandemic Grades

Education reporting in The Washington Post is very often tone deaf (see also almost everything from Jay Mathews). It has been especially so during the pandemic.

A recent case in point is an article based on statistics from the overly-large school district with the blaring headline “Failing grades spike in Virginia’s largest school system as online learning gap emerges nationwide”. A similar story a week later declares “Failing grades double and triple — some rising sixfold — amid pandemic learning1, followed today by yet another article about failing grades in another Northern Virginia district.

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The Shelf Life of Learning

This past summer, our IT department sent a notice to schools that they would be archiving the electronic grade books for the previous school year in order to prepare the system for the fall opening.

But they also said that by law, grade books could only be retained by the district for five years after students graduate and that files for the “for school year 2007 — 2008 and prior years will be destroyed” at the same time.

In other words, records representing twelve years worth of a student’s work, about half of the time they’ve been alive, only has a shelf life of five years.

I wonder, what is the shelf life of the learning reflected in those files?

It should be far longer than five years but I’m betting much of it was forgotten not long after the grades were posted.

Time for Spring Cleaning

The opinion section of yesterday’s Post featured their annual spring cleaning column*, a selection of ten essays on things each writer believes we’d be better off without.

Interesting that two are education related, although one of those pieces largely hits the mark, while the other misses completely.

In the first category is Let’s get rid of grades, written by a college professor. Her reasoning includes the misguided student motivation that comes from most grading systems, as well as the fact that “grades are not very good predictors of accomplishment, curiosity, happiness or success”.

All good points, but this is probably the best reason for dumping grades:

Without grades, we would be forced to offer detailed, critical assessments of our students’ strengths and weaknesses, both to them and to future schools and employers. We would need to pay closer attention to their process and their progress rather than just their final products.

The other essay about school, Get rid of the 3 p.m. school day, is by a vice president at CitiBank and former director of the Office of Management and Budget. In other words, an education “expert”.

His logic follows the usual political reform line that more time spent in school, without changing any other aspect of the experience (except maybe adding some “intensive” tutoring), will automatically lead to improved student achievement. As measured by those international standardized tests, of course.

How does he know this will work? Because “a longer day is a key aspect of high-performing charter schools”. We all know that charter schools are universally successful, and whatever they do should be applied everywhere.

I completely agree that we need to make some major changes to the way we use time in school – starting with dropping the reliance on a 1930’s agrarian calendar.

But, as with many other instructional factors, the same schedule may not be appropriate for every student in every school and we have to stop pretending that it will.


*Warning: the Post puts each essay on a different page and may require you to register with them to read them. I think registration is still free but, since I actually pay to have them deliver the analog version (aka a subscriber), I can’t be sure.

An Educational Futures Market

The New York Times reports on the trend of some school systems to post student grades online for parents to view.

I have no problem with this. Pretty much anything that can get parents more involved with their children’s education, not to mention talking to them about it, is a good thing.

But this may be taking the concept too far.

With some programs, not only is a student’s grade recalculated with every quiz, but parents can monitor the daily fluctuations of their child’s class ranking. The availability of so much up-to-the-minute information about a naturally evasive teenager can be intoxicating: one Kansas parent compared watching PowerSchool to tracking the stock market.

Following the education of a teenager is like tracking the stock market?

Most economists (at least those not being paid by a talking head channel) will tell you that the day-to-day moves of the market mean very little. You’ve got to invest for the long term.

The same should be true of children and their education.

Grading Trivia

The grading system used in our overly-large school district is unfair.

At least it is according to the more than 2800 parents and students who signed an online petition asking our school board to adopt a more “traditional” scale.

Right now, an A around here is given for a score of 94 or higher. In most systems it starts at 90, which for our kids is a B+. The rest of the grade chart is similarly shifted.

The complaint, of course, is that our students are at some kind of disadvantage compared to those in other districts when applying for college.

However, I’m not sure they have a case.

Our grading system has been in place for more than 20 years, colleges know about it, and teachers have long since inflated their scoring to compensate for the “non-standard” scale.

On top of that we give students who take an AP class a bonus, which means that dozens of graduates in every high school have inflated GPAs above 4.0 on a chart where the “normal” top is 4.

But, more importantly, this campaign is pretty much about trivia. At least compared to all the other problems with our schools.

Instead of demanding that the shutters be painted a different color, shouldn’t we be having a serious discussion of how to fix the cracks in the foundation?

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