My last post mentioned the fact that Pittsburgh has altered the grading system so that no student may receive a grade below 50% on any assignment. If you read the last post you can tell from my tone that I don't particularly like this idea. Before I explain why, I thought I'd post the official rationale for the decision. Here's a memo that was sent out to all teachers today:
To: All K-12 PPS Teachers and District Administrators
From: Dr. Jerri Lynn Lippert, Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development, and Mary Van Horn, Vice President Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers
Re: Percentage for Failing Grade “E”
The following is the district requirements for issuing class grades for assignments, report card grades, and semester final grades for all K-12 students based on the below grading scale:
B 89%- 80%
D 69% - 60%
The “E” is to be recorded no lower than a 50% regardless of the actual percent earned. For example, if the student earns a 20% on a class assignment, the grade is recorded as a 50%. No percentages below 50% should be recorded regardless of actual percent earned below 50%.
Rationale for Grading Scale:
· Equity Across Schools: The Failing Percentage (59%-50%) creates equity across all schools. Many teachers were already using the 50% as the lowest recorded “E”.
· Increased Student Engagement: Students with failing percentages below 50% often feel helpless and disenfranchised as a result of not being able to recover from low percentages in subsequent nine weeks. Students in this situation may develop or may have increased behavioral and/or attendance issues leading to retention and/or dropping out.
· Unequal Weight: The 59 percentage point band from 0%-59% creates a skewing situation with failing grades carrying more weight than passing grades.
· Not Grade Inflation: Recording 50% as the lowest “E” even if actual percentage earned is less is not grade inflation. The 50% is still failing. In addition, a high school student would have to earn 100% on the semester final in order to pass the semester if s/he had a recorded 50% for both the 1st and 2nd nine weeks.
· Promise Ready: Academically struggling students (who are at greatest risk of retention and/or dropping out) need to feel a sense of grade recovery so that they are motivated to begin to engage in courses and have potential academic success when efforts are applied.
The effect is basically the same as the 0-4 GPA system. The average of 50 and 100 is 75, which is a C. The average of 0 and 4 is 2, which is a C.
I don't entirely understand the rationale behind the new system. The district states that this will help avoid discouraging students who would not be able to pass a class once they got received a ZERO on an assignment.
Looking at the numbers, this is incorrect. Assuming assignments are weighted equally, one ZERO plus two 100% equals 66.7% = D. One ZERO plus three 100% equals 75%= C. One ZERO plus four 100% equals 80% = B.
Basically, if a student fails to turn in an assignment and receives a 0%, in a typical quarter of say 20 assignments, the student can easily pass the class by turning in subsequent assignments.
A method used by some teachers of mine in the past was to allow one or two "passes" per semester. For instance, if you didn't complete a HW assignment, or bombed one quiz, you could drop that from your grade. This might be a more effective method than pretending all ZERO's = 50%.
What's missing from all these mathematical discussions is the key question: what's our real purpose in using grades?
Are we measuring learning? Are we rewarding effort? (And those are two different things, of course.) Are we thinking that grades function as motivation for students? Or are we using grades as a competitive sorting/selecting mechanism?
Sorry to get all pedagogical here, but choosing the right scale is moot until we decide what grades are supposed to do or tell us.
Suppose we assert that the highest purposes of grades--measuring student achievement, giving that feedback to students and parents--are our goals. We teach a two-week unit, with a mid-point test and a final test. Billy tries hard (and turns in all assignments) but gets a 0% on his first test. Something clicks in Week Two, and he gets 100% on the final. So--is his grade 50%-- a failing grade? If we re-weight the grades, making the first test worth, say, 40 points and the final worth 100, he squeezes in with a just-barely C. But he's mastered the material. He now knows it cold. What are we measuring?
There are teachers who prefer to give recorded grades only at a summative point in the learning cycle--a place where we truly can measure the effectiveness of the lessons. But--there are school districts which now require a minimum number of posted grades per week (and on-line open gradebooks making helicopter parents antsy).
A poster in your previous blog wrote about grades as a competition and comparison model--and for many observers, the sole purpose of grading is figuring out who "should" be rewarded. For many students, after the first round of being told their work is substandard, grades have virtually no motivational effect. That doesn't mean we shouldn't rigorously critique student work--we should, and frequently. What we need to re-think is grading.
I saw a presentation once where, using the same 4 pieces of graded work, the final grade could be calculated as an A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C- or D+, (somewhere between 90/100 and 69/100 points) depending on the scale and rational weighting formulas. Let's face it--grading is a crapshoot.
We teach a two-week unit, with a mid-point test and a final test.
Billy tries hard (and turns in all assignments) but gets a 0% on his first test. Something clicks in Week Two, and he gets 100% on the final. So--is his grade 50%-- a failing grade? If we re-weight the grades, making the first test worth, say, 40 points and the final worth 100, he squeezes in with a just-barely C. But he's mastered the material. He now knows it cold.
I very, very much doubt it. He has memorized enough to get 100 on the particular final assessment but how much has he really learned? Give him a similar test in a month and I would bet a substantial amount of money that he would get a significantly lower grade.
This gives a significantly different meaning to "student achievement."
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