So, I've tried to stay away from toxic subjects, but grading is one that is a hotly contested topic currently in my district. So...here it goes.
A few weeks ago, our district sent around a flyer about a grading study group that they were putting together to investigate new ways to grade. One of these new ways involves a no zero policy allowing for the lowest grade assignable to be a 50. In the words of Hamlet, "Angels and ministers of grace defend us!"
I get perhaps shielding maybe some students occasionally from getting a zero, but to never assign them? I am supposed to give a student who turned in nothing for the quarter a 50? Something seems wrong here.
Now, I am aware of all the blah-blah arguments about grades, but here is a brief list of reasons why this policy is a bad idea:
1. Grades are a measure of student progress. A student who does not understand 50 percent of the material should not be misled into believing that he or she does.
2. NOT because it will inflate grades. There is a great article which I cannot find at the moment (of course) called "The Drama without a Villain." The whole article is dedicated to the myth of grade inflation. It begins with the Committee of Ten, those guys who created Carnegie Units, complaining about, you got it, too many "A"s being awarded. Not going to go deeply into it here, maybe in another post in February, but according to this fine article (which I swear I will find and then post the bibliographic information for at a later date) grade inflation is about as real as Nessie and the Creature from the Blue Lagoon.
3. I've seen too many students in AP English courses who can't write. I am not being over-the-top here. Let me give you an example: "incase" as a word throughout an entire essay. Once would have been a typo; twice, tragic. No less than twelve times did this student, who is actually on of the best I have, write this as one word.
4. I don't spend my precious time tackling mound after mound of papers so that I can give a student who completely ignored the assignment a 50. If I ask for a paper on Jude the Obscure and I get an essay on the merits of certain waterfowl, I should be able to give that student an appropriate grade.
5. Where is the justice in assigning a plagiarized paper a 50?
These reasons and many more have me stewing about this attempt to rewrite policy.
An aside on the policy piece. In Virginia, the COMMONWEALTH where I teach (all caps on purpose), there are only local Boards of Supervisors who control the purse strings. School boards are dependent upon these local boards for their budgets, etc. School boards are not allowed to generate a private revenue stream. Thus, much like the federal government, our Boards of Supervisors have a little bit of control over what is done in the schools. Just thought I would mention that for those from most of the other states who have independent school boards.
So, this attempt to rewrite policy is being driven by assistant superintendents of curriculum, etc. who wish to get a gold star on their resumes, School Board members who have children in the system, and Board of Supervisors members who have school children in the system. There is a trifecta if I ever saw one.
So, I began thinking about what the implication would be for students in the English classroom. Potentially, students could pass English classes while avoiding an entire section of the course. Don't like the essay writing? Skip it and do everything else. Don't like to read? Skip it and write the essays. With the lowest grade being a 50 and the highest F being a 59, there are only 10 percentage points that need to be attained before students get a passing 60.
What do you think?
Can this grading system be used for anything other than turning out a bunch of students who can't read, write, or think?
Has this system been implemented in your district? If so, how is it working out?
Is it a good idea to destroy our own competitiveness as the forces of globalization once again demand that we compete for ideas, resources, and power?
Is it destructive to students to lie to them about where they really fall?