kitchen table math, the sequel: Grade Reversal?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Grade Reversal?

I'm collecting anecdotes!

Specifically about cases in which smart students are getting lower grades than their classmates. 

Perhaps they aren't explaining their answers to math problems.

Perhaps they don't do well with the arts & crafts/"creativity" components of English and social studies assignments.

Perhaps they don't cooperate well in group assignments.

Perhaps they participate insufficiently in class discussions.

Perhaps their classrooms are too cluttered and chaotic for them to concentrate.

Perhaps they are overwhelmed by big, interdisciplinary projects and multi-step directions.

Perhaps they are too uninspired to "go that extra mile" that top grades require.

And perhaps the actual academic requirements in math, science, writing, etc., are so low that they have no way to exhibit their strengths.

Whatever your child's/students story is, please share it here.

(Cross-posted at Out In Left Field)


Anonymous said...

They may not include all their work, skip steps, have weak or no explanations on math, if they do the homework at all, because they are bored. Homework may be weighed far too heavily; in honors algebra 2, one kid got B+ in spite of all high As on tests/quizzes because he hadn't done all the homework while a classmate got A in spite of almost all Ds and Fs (few Cs)on tests/quizzes because her homework was perfect. (unlikely that she did it)

All 4 HATED all artsy-crafty projects; would have preferred a written report.

Didn't always participate in class discussions because they were: reading under the desk, sleeping or totally uninterested in the touchy-feely books they were made to read in ES-MS. Far too much emphasis on emotions and too little on knowledge.

They were sometimes very uninspired; see artsy-crafty and touchy-feely above. Picture the level of enthusiasm of middle-school boys for a 3-D art project (NO writing allowed)for womens' history month (women chosen by teacher). My child suggested the woman who created COBOL; was given a politician. Much better in high school. Middle school progressively more mushy with each kid.

Lack of challenge often existed. As the saying goes: it's hard to soar like an eagle when you're surrounded by turkeys. Any attempts at soaring may be discouraged; see goup work.

All this is what has the reputation of one of the best systems in the country; affluent, educated, suburban

And yet, they all had at between 30-40 college credits from AP tests; started as full sophomores.

Anonymous said...

My son is in 4th grade and is highly gifted academically--he's a brilliant artist, but slops his way through "crafty" projects just to get done. Assigned projects just don't interest him.

On the other hand, his teacher grades him exceptionally hard. I know, 'cause I teach the same grade. :) My son usually gets B's in writing, despite the fact that he writes almost as well as I did in HS.

Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting challenge. I teach seventh grade math and have a few students who are really talented at computation, well above grade level. It hurts them. This is what happens...

In a transition to algebra I work really hard at having kids (usually for their first time) express their mathematical thinking as a series of equations that progress to a solution. At this stage of their game the equations are pretty simple but nevertheless this is a huge transition for kids who have never been asked for a formal representation of a solution.

My best 'computers' hate this formality because they can do the problems in their head (usually). They don't obtain any value from this (too) hard work. All I have to do though is tweak the problem a bit and it's beyond them because they don't have the 'book keeping' to pull it off.

My middle range kids see this as helpful and don't fight it half as much. The high fliers make goofy mistakes from rushing and sloppiness. Lots of times there's not enough work shown to even give partial credit from this group.

SteveH said...

I expect my son to do the work whether he thinks it's stupid or not. That's a good skill in itself. If there are real problems in this area, I will talk to the school, but my son still has to do the work.

He knows I hate silly art work. He had to do another stupid diorama in social studies this past weekend and it took him hours. We made him do it well even though it was a waste of time.

If I could, I would march into the school and declare that my son's learning modality is not via art, so he must be given some other type of assignment. It's interesting how kids are all supposed to have different learning styles, but everyone has to do art.

"Perhaps they aren't explaining their answers to math problems."

This could be something stupid like "Explain why 5 + 5 = 10, or it could be what Paul talked about; doing the calculation in their head and not showing the work. I've drilled this into my son's head just like it was drilled into my head when I was young. You have to show each tiny step of the mathematical or algebraic process. Besides, I tell him that if he makes a silly mistake and he did it in his head, he will get a zero. Otherwise, he might get some partial credit.

The school requires all sorts of silly art projects that are a waste of time. They are supposed to grade on effort and not quality. Right. That never happens.

"On the other hand, his teacher grades him exceptionally hard. I know, 'cause I teach the same grade."

Our school has two rubric levels; The academic one goes from 1 to 5, and the effort one (used for the honor roll) goes from 5 - 10. Since the honor roll is based on the 5-10 scale, teachers tend to be generous. Half the kids get on one of the three honor rolls that get published in the paper. However, my belief (not proven) is that teachers apply different expectations for different students on the academic (1-5) rubric. Smarter kids could get a worse grade because the teacher expects more from them. Not only do they have differentiated instruction, they probably have differentiated grading. I wish I could prove it.

One of the problems with the question on this thread is that we don't know what grades the other kids get. Also, tests and homework often stay at school and get put into portfolios. When the quarterly rubric grades come out, I have no good way to correlate that to my son's work. In some ways, I want my son to snoop and find out what grades other kids get.

lgm said...

Our poor grading experience was with 6th gr. Kid was assigned to the LD team, which turned out to be heavy on projects. He was unable to maintain the 95 needed for the honors cut the following year in some classes b/c of penmanship and inability to color well -- OT said his skills were developmentally appropriate, kid doing his best, but still -15% each and every time. Had he been on another team, he'd have been assessed with essays, quizzes and tests and his grades would have been more in-line with his knowledge.

Math - fraction operations and transition to algebra - followed same method as my 6th gr. teacher: handed back homework for completion, explained reason. Didn't take long as boys took me seriously. Teacher could care less ..once the material is presented, the job is over. Homework is never checked. There is no middle school prep for the explain your work problems on the state test - that's up to the parent. Thank you to my Gr. 6 math teacher for teaching, rather than taking the easy way out and presenting.

Chaotic classrooms have been a problem - it's the kids, not the teachers. Many of them have zero respect and do not beleive they must follow adult instructions. Some mainstreamed children really shouldn't be of mine had a co-taught class where a student was physically removed every day..what a mess. My kids usually bring a book and one of mine even brought ear protection one year while the classroom teachers re-train the chaos kids and do the removal procedures. It doesn't impact grades as they just bring the work home to do in peace (or in my older son's case, to type b/c he doesn't want to be penalized for penmanship). The teachers have also wised up and printed's very hard to hear in a fully included elementary classroom as the teacher can never get through multistep instructions w/o interruption.

"going the extra mile for top grades"..we bag that goal at bed time. Not worth it. Honors here is just more grade level essays, projects, and enrichment, not's good for the kids that have to work at it as they learn, but for everyone else it's drudgework. they can keep it. Extracurriculars, college coursework, SAT and Regents scores will show the truth on who's who academically, not inflated grades that reflect attendance and parents' influence instead of academics.

concernedCTparent said...

In fourth grade, my daughter had to fill out her own report card indicating what grades she believed she deserved and submit this to the teacher before grading time. By this point my daughter had begun to hate the writing assignments and her confidence was pretty shot in this area, so it was no surprise that she was particularly harsh on herself in the self-grading process. Her struggles with perfectionism didn't make this self-grading assignment any more productive either-- she is her own worst critic.

The bigger disparity is that by various objective measures, my daughter is verbally gifted and was already reading at a college-level by fourth grade. There is no logical explanation why she wouldn't be able to score "Secure" on grade-appropriate assessments in language arts unless the problem was being exacerbated (or even created) by the assignments themselves.

Of course, she ended up rating herself D for "Developing" instead of an S for secure. Strangely enough, when we received the final report card, the teacher had changed the higher grade of "S" to the lower grade of "D". You could clearly decipher the S underneath the D that had been superimposed over it. Had my daughter's own overly critical assessment had anything to do with the teacher's change of heart? We'll never know.

Another reason we now homeschool.

Tex said...

Don’t get me started with this. Oh, wait, you just did.

I have many stories about my teen, who will likely be a National Merit Scholar Semi-Finalist but may not advance to Finalist due solely to his relatively low GPA. He consistently scores in the 99+ percentile on standardized tests, but only maintains a B+ grade average.

Gets correct answers in AP Chemistry but doesn’t include enough explanation to get full credit. And, sometimes forgets units.

Starting in middle school, he’s gotten graded down because his notes are often messy or missing. In middle school social studies class, he used to ace the tests and he was the school Geography Bee champ, but his teacher insisted that he needed neat notes to use for studying.

His has always had the sorriest looking poster/picture/diorama project in the class. The running joke is that any animal he’s ever tried to draw looks like road kill.

In the elementary grades (heterogeneous classes, of course) he started to keep his mouth shut in group discussions because other kids thought he was showing off. In high school, he might keep quiet because sometimes he may have nothing to share and there are enough girls to do most of the talking anyway. At least, that’s what he tells me.

At this point, he’s wise enough to know that success is not always measured by school grades but not wise enough to know that sometimes you do what is asked because that’s part of developing successful interpersonal relationships. He is who he is, but I don’t think his public school experiences have helped.

Unlike SteveH, I have not consistently pushed my kids to do stupid schoolwork. I just couldn’t do it, especially when my smart son would argue so eloquently against it. So, I can partly blame myself for my son’s somewhat cynical attitude towards academic achievement.

SteveH said...

I forgot about the self-grading issues. My wife and I always tell our son to give himself top grades. He just has to be able to list the reasons.

lefty said...

Thanks for all your responses and stories. Tex's account hits all the points I'm concerned about; ConcernedCtParent's self-grading story is one I'd never heard the like of before!

Paul B, I should have been clearer on the "explain your answer" hypothetical; I specifically mean cases like SteveH's first sort: 5 + 5 = 10. But your point about the second sort, showing a series of equations, being harder for those who earlier could do everything in their heads is interesting. It reminds me of people I know for whom high school was so easy that they never developed the study habits they later needed in college, and who therefore started out with much lower college grades than classmates for whom high school wasn't so easy. Another reason to challenge all kids at their particular levels all the time.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'll get my friend P. to tell me what happened with her son, who was cut from Honors one year, and will be going to a good engineering school in the fall.

I think he was cut from an Honors science class.

Both his parents are math/science types and he is, too. As indicated by the fact that a) he wants to major in engineering and b) he was accepted by an engineering school.

I'll check with her & get the story.

I do recall that the high school refused to tell the family why their son was dropped from Honors.

same old, same old

Catherine Johnson said...

He consistently scores in the 99+ percentile on standardized tests, but only maintains a B+ grade average.I'm having a John Taylor Gatto moment.

Cranberry said...

Do you have a smart child who works well with others? Then your child will be assigned to work with the most disruptive children, who are the furthest below grade level. Group project grades are given to the group, of course.

If it were a few projects, here and there, I wouldn't be concerned. It was many projects, in almost all subjects. In hindsight, I should have made a stink about it in 4th/5th grade, or moved our family to a more rational school system. I just couldn't conceive of the extent to which our system would push progressive philosophy.

Our child has had some good teachers, and in those classes, I notice that the groups were structured differently. Also, individual grades were given, even when groups were assigned.

Differentiation is not possible when assigning group work in heterogeneous classrooms. Our child could have learned so much more in those years, and will not continue in the public system next year.

SteveH said...

"Then your child will be assigned to work with the most disruptive children, who are the furthest below grade level."

This happened to my son. but not all of the time. He came home one time and said that one girl on his team (art in social studies) kept tearing up paper and throwing them at him. The teacher seemed to think this was good for my son - a real-life social lesson.

"I just couldn't conceive of the extent to which our system would push progressive philosophy."

This has always been a problem for me. My son would tell me about what goes on in the school and I don't allow myself to believe him 100%. Now that he is older, I can believe him more, but based on the things he says, I can't believe it. In any case, I don't have enough facts to go to the school and present any sort of case. There is always going to be spin and plausible deniability.

Speaking of 21st century technology, they really should install real-time internet cameras in every room.