Post Numero Dos

April 20, 2009

Dean Shareski wrote this great letter to his students in his blog Ideas and Thoughts which I humbly suggest you read if you, like me, spend a considerable amount of time “adjusting” grades to better reflect what I as the teacher know over that of which my grading program says the students know. Is there a better way to tell our students’ parents and the students themselves (not to mention all the other people who put weight on report cards) how much our students know. Is it even necessary if our goal is to foster learners more than earners?

I was on a committee at a school, a few years back, that went around to other schools to look specifically at how others were doing grades and assessments. This assignment took me to this one PreK-12 school in the Hamptons. The school was gorgeous, top of the line. Hardwood floors, skylights, walls of glass, artwork, student projects everywhere. The students took off their shoes and wore slippers when in the building. It was surreal. Everyone had a laptop. We went to a music class that was composing a piece with students in Japan and the Netherlands and a conductor from Australia. After school the teacher meeting was a video conference with Howard Gardner, who we were told was a regular collaborator with them. You get the picture they were web 2.0 when we just called it computers in the classroom. Well, they prided themselves in the fact that they had done away with letter grades. They said they had true assessment, which they did. If you asked a student to show you work, they would pull it up on their computer and boom (we’ll miss you John Madden) it was there. I had sophomores pull up papers and projects that they had done in fourth grade with teacher and parent comments attached. It was amazingly incredible.

The problem came when we went to talk to the dean and college counselor. First up she began to tell us that it is true that they don’t have letter grades but they had to go to a number system (1 – 5) because their parents wanted to have something that they themselves understood and that showed how their child was faring academically. Secondly they were having trouble getting good schools take a look at their kids. The school was only 8 years old at the time and they were having their first senior class. She told us they were having trouble because universities like grades and numbers because it makes it easier to rank their applicants (the exact thing we were trying to get away from -right), and their students tanked on the SAT’s and ACT’s because they didn’t know how to take those types of tests. She said it was great in theory to have this body of work that the students could present. The trouble was that no college wanted to take the time to look at something that they themselves would have to figure out how to asses and give a ranking number. As an aside I should say that they did have a couple of students (if I remember correctly) that got accepted to a couple of nice art schools, portfolios are great for the arts.

So where is all this going? I ask is there a better way that will make all of us happy or am I going to have to keep adjusting grades and telling my kids and parents as Dean says “if you look at that number and it doesn’t make sense to you, I apologize. I try like crazy to make it meaningful…”


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