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SBG Warm Up: Draft 1

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 7 months ago

After reading the souce material on the the SBG Warm Up Discussion page, ask as many questions as you want to, and/or make comments about the way Kanawha Country Schools handled the grading controversy. Consider the student, the teacher, the parents, the building and district administration, and the court.


(You do not need to provide an answer to anyone else's questions unless you wish to.)


We'll use these questions and comments to kick off a discussion...


What was the teacher's goal in giving the student a failing grade (zero or 50%) on the project? Did the teacher attain that goal? - RM, 21:41, 07AUG07


Clearly, the teacher's goal was to punish the student and/or teach her a lesson about the importance of meeting deadlines.  As teachers we often tell ourselves that we are not doing students any favors by allowing them to turn work in late.  After all, in the "real  world" they won't be able to keep their jobs if they fail to meet deadlines.  But is that true?  Teachers turn things in late all  the time.  (Trust me, I know.)  Ask any teacher how many times he/she was late turning in a survey or a form, or even a progress or grade report.  Ask adults in the corporate world if they ever have to adjust deadlines for a variety of reasons.  It seems that schools are the only place where human error isn't tolerated.  While overnight turnaround for short assignments may be a reasonable expectation (even that is debatable), long-term projects warrant more  flexible timelines.


Another possible goal the teacher had was maintaining fairness for all students.  If different students are allowed to turn in their work under different timeframes, how can that be fair?  We need to remember that equal is not necessarily fair.  Students have different learning and work styles.  Allowing student choice in projects (which is highly advisable) inevitably results in different time commitments as well.  The teacher in this case expected that the student contact her and discuss the need for an extension if needed.  This is a reasonable expectation that better meets the goal of teaching responsible adult behavior.  However, we don't have information on the teacher's relationship to students and past practice in this regard.  Has the teacher ever given an extension?  Is she approachable?  Did the student have any reason to believe that she would get an extension if she asked?  Was there an extenuating circumstance that prevented the student from making  that contact with the teacher?


The problem of turning work in late is behavioral, not academic.  But giving an academic consequence for a behavioral issue, the teacher a) distorts the power of the grade to do what it is intended to do:  communicate student achievement,  b) decreases student motivation, and c) fails to address the behavioral issue, causing the student to miss out on a learning opportunity.


I would suggest a response that would support, rather than punish the student.  If chronic lateness is a problem, parent contact is essential.  If punishment is required, detention or another form of behavioral consequence would be more appropriate.   The most natural consequence is for the student to complete the work (if it is not yet completed).  Any free time or unstructured class or study time should be devoted to completion of the project.  But the teacher must also try to figure out why the student isn't turning in work, and address the root of the problem.  If the student has organizational problems, perhaps the teacher could work with the parent to help the student set up a system.  I can't emphasize enough the importance of parent involvement and awareness of the problem.  When possible, a separate behavioral grade should be included to communicate the student's deficiencies in that area.  If a behavior grade isn't an option (as often is the case at the secondary level), comments are a useful tool in this regard. 


I will close with a concrete example that hits close to home for me.  As I look at my list of students list who signed up for French II, I see students and their grades for French I.  Mabel has a D in French I.  I know Mabel -- I see her in the hallway all the time, and strike up casual conversations with her in  French.  She had an exchange student last year, and she picked up quite a bit. I'm sure she's ready to move on to French II, but our department policy requires a C in the previous year to allow her to move on.  This kid would be way ahead of most of my French II students in terms of ability.   But Mabel is a bit of an organizational disaster.  According to her French I teacher, she hardly ever turns in assignments.  Should I allow her into my French II class?  Heck, yes!  But I'll be certain to make early contact with her counselor and parents to provide her with support to improve her behaviors that support learning.


My two cents.  -EI, 10:43, 18AUG07



I agree that the teacher had in mind some sort of consequence/punishment for the student, but I am not certain that she equated a grade with punishment. In my experience, most teachers don't consciously view their gradebook in that way---just behavioural interventions, such as detentions or referrals qualify as "punishment" in their minds. Most of what I'm seeing in the research literature is stating that very few teacher prep programs offer any support in best practices for assessment and grading. Furthermore, "hodgepodge grading" (mixing academic and behavioural factors) is viewed by the majority of teachers as being the best way to do things. Most of us have just gone on some sort of autopilot, grading in a way that we did know and not questioning its validity. I wish I could say that this particular case (Sissonville Leaf Project) is an extreme example. It did receive a great deal of media attention, but I think we are safe in knowing that this kind of grading goes on in the majority of classrooms. I don't think that any legal case is going to bring about changes in this regard. If we are truly going to have a revolution in thought about grading practices (especially at the secondary level), there's going to have to be the kind of collaborative culture that encourages dialogue. We can't change what people do without revision to their philosophies and beliefs. My fear, at the moment, is that for those schools which are undergoing changes to grading policy, it is more of a top-down approach. Not giving zeros is being mandated, rather than bringing people to the discussion, talking about their concerns, and providing appropriate support.


-SG, 20 Aug 2007














After reading the souce material on the the SBG Warm Up Discussion page, ask as many questions as you want to, and/or make comments about Mr. Lampros's situation and his principal's decision in the "credit" controversy describe in the NY Times article.


(You do not need to provide an answer to anyone else's questions unless you wish to.)


We'll use these questions and comments to kick off a discussion...


What measures of student learning were evidenced in the article? What measures were not? - RM, 21:46, 07AUG07




Time to stir the pot... 


Here's the longer version of a letter I sent to the editor of one of the West Virgina papers that covered the Kanawha County grading debacle:


June 2, 2007


To the Editor:


I’m appalled at people publicly taking pot shots at a young Sissonville High School woman who will not accept a junk grade from a teacher who just doesn’t “get it.”


The heart of the matter is this: West Virginia has education standards mandated by state law -- things students are supposed to know and be able to do in various core subjects. For grades to mean anything at all, they need to reflect, for the benefit of all "stakeholders" (parents, counselors, college admissions officers, and employers), what the child knows and can do relevant to these standards.


When a teacher assigns a number or a letter “grade” as a punishment instead of an evaluation of standards, the teacher has distorted the achievement picture. The teacher has not taught "responsibility," but has, in fact, modeled the opposite: irresponsibility. The teacher has failed in his or her duty to educate the child by not giving honest feedback on the project or assignment, and representing that same honest evaluation in the child's grade.


Miss Hay wasn't asking for a grade change, because the assigned “grade” wasn't a grade at all. Did it reflect the teacher's evaluation of the project? No, it did not. Assessment of projects is a vital part of the learning process. Did the teacher assess the project? No, she refused to accept it. A serious education professional has to ask at this point, “What learning took place?” What Miss Hay likely learned had nothing to do with good instruction or state education standards.


I'm a retired teacher and current board of education member. When Ms. Schultz claims a victory for all teachers, she is not speaking for me. Ms. Schultz, the principal, the superintendent, the board, the school/union lawyer, and the judge (who apparently in telling everyone what the business of schooling is has supplanted the state legislature) need to give some attention to current literature in the field of classroom assessment and grading (most currently, Ken O’Connor, 2007; Rick Stiggins, 2006; Robert Marzano, 2006; Douglas Reeves, 2004), and get out of the huge time lag in which they find themselves. The conversation on classroom assessment and grading has been going on for well over a decade. When will Kanawha County Schools catch on?


Lowering grades to punish students creates a poisonous effect that benefits neither the student nor the teacher.  Teachers who will not accept late work, or who reduce grades substantially, or give zeros for assignments, are deluded if they think that this tactic produces higher achievement in the short or long run because there is no research that shows upward achievement trends associated with punitive grading.


I challenge Ms. Schultz, her union, and the Kanawha County Schools, to find studies that show the positive effect of punitive grading. The overwhelming research consensus is that punitive grading produces negative effects, not positive effects, including demotivation, disgust with authority figures, and disillusionment with the value of learning. Punitive grading also increases, in many cases, the likelihood of dropping out of school altogether.


There is nothing in the literature of classroom assessment that supports Ms. Schultz’s decision to penalize Miss Hay, so there is no excuse for this teacher’s failure to honestly assess Miss Hay’s project and grade it according to the goals of the project and West Virginia education standards for biology. 





The NY situation was the other side of this bad penny. 



-- RM, 23:03, 17AUG07


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