kitchen table math, the sequel: Rubric Rant

## Saturday, November 21, 2009

### Rubric Rant

My son brought home his first quarter report card yesterday. It contains 61 rubric grades covering two different scales, 1-5 and 5-10. The numbers are virtually meaningless. Much of his homework and all of his tests never come home. They are put in his portfolio to be presented to us in our December school meeting. This is the one he is supposed to lead and explain how he will try to be a better student. My head is going to explode.

The 1 - 5 rubrics are for academics (as opposed to effort) and are non-linear. A '3' is like a 'B', but some teachers really don't like to give out 4's or 5's. Some teachers seem to use a sort of differentiated grading technique where they hope that a low grade will get kids to work harder. Even my son commented on it. "The grades always start out low in the first quarter."

I would like to ask teachers to show me where each number came from. For example, in social studies, he gets a rubric grade for "Analysis and Connections". I want to see the homework and tests and how the teacher figures out this score. I can't imagine that any teacher likes rubric grading. There are a lot of numbers, but less information. I want to see the raw data (homework and tests) and see how those grades translate into the numbers on the report card. When we ask our son about what the numbers mean, he has no clue. At best, we can track whether the numbers go up or down, but that won't give us any indication as to why that is happening.

Do they really think this is a good feedback loop? We don't know what's going on in class, the homework and tests don't come home, and the quarterly grades have a heavy dose of subjectivity. Even if we did see a number that looked particularly bad, why on earth would they wait until the end of the quarter to let us know?

farmwifetwo said...

You're lucky you see the work at the meeting. We're in Gr 5 and 3 and there's nothing coming home... And the little bit of scribble that does I glance at, realize it's worthless and toss it in the boiler. Tests?? What tests?? When?? What subject?? NADA.

Then your kid tells you he got a 3 on a project that should have been a 2 at best but the VP tells you it wasn't just the material but the presentation - he can hold a conversation with a brick wall and get it to talk back - and any other materials...

IMO those report cards are useless. I go by what both of them show me they can do at home. Report cards get filed away in the binder.

Supposedly they are going to get rid of the report cards.... I will believe it when I see it.

Independent George said...

Do they really think this is a good feedback loop? We don't know what's going on in class, the homework and tests don't come home, and the quarterly grades have a heavy dose of subjectivity.

I think you just answered your own question.

SteveH said...

I guess I keep trying to see if I'm missing something. It's a form of insanity.

SteveH said...

But I still have the question about what is going on in their heads.

This comment has been removed by the author.

farmwifetwo, I don't think you can expect report cards to disappear. I googled for more information, and it appears the movement is not to abolish report cards, but to clarify/eliminate some of the eduspeak jargon. See here

We use a computerized report card (it is online) but not a computerized data bank of comments. We have to write up a comment bank specific to each grade level; this is done in grade teams, and our principal is very fussy about how they are worded. Since grades are on a rubric basis (1-4) the comments must match up with the level indicated by the grade (A is a 4, B is a 3, there is no zero or F). This is done with the use of modifiers, adverbs generally like "consistently" (A), "rarely" (D) or phrases that indicate how independently the student can produce the results: independently is an A, "with intermittent teacher support" a B, "with frequent teacher support" is C, with "intensive teacher support" is D. If the report says "Student rarely, with intensive teacher support, identifies the main idea of an expository paragraph" it is saying, in plain English, "Kid can't tell you the main idea, period." But we are not allowed to say what the kid can't do. We can't use the verb "can" either, as in "can multiply decimals to hundredths" or "can write an expository paragraph on a topic of his own choosing." We are required to state what the student DOES, not what he CAN DO. I'm not sure this is all that big a distinction, but the office goes crazy over it.

Even the end comments section, where you can write some individual observations about the student, are to be in a semi-canned format (grade teams write these as well). They must describe the student's strengths, weaknesses and next steps in non-academic areas, interpersonal skills, work habits and so on. They all sound rather canned to me. You end up with "Student demonstrates responsibility in attendance and punctuality. He interacts in a positive manner with classmates...." You can't make statements like "Kid cannot get along with anyone," instead you have to phrase it as a needs statement: "Student needs to develop positive interpersonal skills and self-regulation for anger management." Read: Nobody can stand him and he is fighting and punching out other kids all the time.

The best way to find out how the kid is doing is with a conference or a phone call. In person, we are not constrained by some of these tortuous linguistic parameters.

farmwifetwo said...

"farmwifetwo, I don't think you can expect report cards to disappear. I googled for more information, and it appears the movement is not to abolish report cards, but to clarify/eliminate some of the eduspeak jargon. See here"

Checks hand... yep.. ring b/c of engineering degree still on it...

DUH!!!!!

I think I managed to read the article and understood what it meant.

And Teachers wonder why we parents don't appreciated being treated like "white trash" when we are better educated than most of you.

Niels Henrik Abel said...

...We are required to state what the student DOES, not what he CAN DO. I'm not sure this is all that big a distinction, but the office goes crazy over it.

That whole grading process you describe is nuts. I'm glad it hasn't filtered up to the post-secondary level - yet.

NeilsHenrikAbel,it's even nuttier than it sounds. It is the same basic procedure in secondary schools (9-12): they are supposed to do rubric grading, in "levels" (not numbers or letter grades), and *not* derive the final grade from an average of assignments and tests. The direction as to what the final grade should be is in very woolly language -- something like "the level that represents the student's most frequent and recent level of performance." Say what? So if he did nearly nothing all term, then he hands in some outstanding piece of work, he is supposed to get a 4 because it is the "most recent" level? We are also told we can't average grades and use zeroes for work not done. Kids are always supposed to be able to make up work, right up to report card day -- but in practice this means secondary teachers would have to write dozens of exams for individual students (because the original one has already been handed back). Secondary teachers are much more likely than elementary ones to simply tell the administration to stuff it, or to passively resist. I know there are plenty of secondary teachers still averaging numerical grades and deriving their final grades that way.

But if SteveH is looking for an explanation of how the teachers derive his son's grade, he may get a multiplicity of answers, because it is so amorphous nobody really knows how it is supposed to work -- other than that dictum re "most frequent and recent level of performance."

Anonymous said...

Wait til you get to high school, Steve.

I thought we were done with rubrics, but not so. For the first essay of the year, he came home with a huge one. He was so overwhelmed and ready to shut down, largely because a number of the boxes were so subjective. And there are many boxes with many directives. He doesn't know what they mean. Plus, being a math kid who likes precision really doesn't help much, either. So, the afterschooling continues.

Even if the teacher had sent out a couple of early stage, simple rubrics, like a rubric for the thesis statement and outline, or a rubric for the first draft and things to check. But, no, in the name of "transparency" (that's the word a few of them used) they want to give them all the info right at the beginning.

Of course, no one has actually taught them what a thesis statement is, so a number in the class are in shock.

When I went to conference, she had a rubric just for him. he was all over the map with his checks. Of course his class participation was rock bottom because he isn't raising his hand every class and he seems tired. Class participation isn't just extra credit, it's a major part of the grade. I'm guessing there's a rubric somewhere for that, but I haven't seen it. I should ask.

I should start afterschooling high school "class participation."

Boy,I feel sorry for the quiet, shy, introspective kids.

SusanS

rocky said...

Maybe you can be very humble and meet with the teacher to say that you want to take a more active and supporting role with your child's homework (use all the buzzwords you can, but don't LOOK like you are using buzzwords. I don't know, fly casually). You can say that you understand how important the portfolios are as a permanent record, but perhaps you can have photocopies of your child's work to help you see what he is lacking.

You can then give the teacher a big stack of manilla envelopes, maybe two for every month, with dates on them. You might get more sympathy if those envelopes had little stickers of turkeys, Santas, MLK, Washington and Lincoln, Easter bunnies, etc.

Above all, never imply you have a right to see what your kid is doing, but only that you want to be more helpful as a parent.

LynnG said...

Our teachers can't give out 4s in the first term, because then they won't be able to "show" improvement during the year. I've gone round and round on that one. Shouldn't the school increase their expectations during the year? Why can't they grade the child in the first term based on their expectations for that term?

Plus, no teacher has been able to show/tell me what their expectations are. That would be helpful.

ChemProf said...

I have worse news for you -- this nonsense is invading colleges. We are going through accreditation at my college, and as part of it have to introduce "assessment." In theory, the idea is that we figure out what we are doing well and what she should do better as instructors, so who could argue with that? But quickly the idea becomes we have to have rubrics for everything, particularly how our courses fit into our programs. Part of their theory is that we must have "measureable criteria" for our goals, and that these criteria and goals must go into the syllabus so students can see them immediately. The theory is that students will do better if they know their goals ahead of time -- that's SusanS's "transparency" -- but the criteria wind up written in god-awful educationese, and are either ignored or freak students out. All I can figure is these ideas came from ed school types who never taught a content-heavy course.

The worst part is, this is being driven by the accreditation agencies, so there is no opting out. The faculty in the sciences are beside themselves.

pre-teacher said...

Why don't the teachers either give more work that isn't need for the portfolio or have the parent sign off and return it to school espicially for test?

Anonymous said...

The teacher's probably didn't invent this madness, but they have to implement it.

I'd like everyone to take a few moments to feel sorry for the poor teachers who *must* give out something like 61×2×25 = 3,030 individual grades per quarter/semester.

Of *course* many/most of these will be close to arbitrary.

"Why did Johnny get a 3 instead of a 4 for rubric 17a?" a responsible parent may ask. And the teacher can't have a good answer because at five minutes per student per grade, we get 15,250 minutes (or 254 hours ... or, at 40 hours/week over *SIX* weeks full-time) just considering grades. So the teacher cuts it down to less than one minute per grade, and the actual quality/value of each grade reflects this.

It can't be done in any meaningful sense, and what can't be done, won't be done.

So ... lets feel bad for the parents and the students. But this isn't good or effective for the teachers, either :-(

-Mark Roulo

kcab said...

Gosh, um, I feel lucky. At conferences for my middle schooler this week I was handed, for each subject, a sheet containing a summary of all her grades for each item for the first quarter. Each homework assignment, quiz, test, in-class project...with type of item, description, percent completed, and grade - yep, including F's. (Those were for homework ...) Actually, it was very illuminating and helpful for me and for her, she hadn't realized how much homework she was missing or how it affected her final grade. (Which, to defend her a little, were all but one A or A-.) I thought it was very organized at the time, after reading this I appreciate the system even more.

SteveH said...

"Wait til you get to high school, Steve."

I hope I'm not surprised, because this is from their handbook:

"The grading system in the high school is numerical. Grade ranges are as follows:

90 – 100 A
80 – 89 B
70 – 79 C
60 – 69 D
Below 60 F"

They say nothing about rubrics. It proceeds to say exactly how weighted GPAs are calculated. My son will still have to deal with variances in teachers, but that is to be expected. I also expect to continue to see silly assignments, but the grades better not be silly.

I think one of the ways this works is that our state mandates that each high school student creates a 4-year portfolio of key pieces of their work and then works on and presents a senior project. Since this is a low-end state cut-off requirement, it does not put much pressure on the better students. The fuzzy educationalists get something they want, but those interested in GPA are not affected. (I am told.)

This brings up another point. I hope I can ignore everything in K-8 because grades don't seem to matter much until high school. Outside of high school class placement, does anyone have any reason to worry about how grades will be used? Does anyone have any examples of how K-8 grades come back to haunt their kids in high school? Do K-8 grades or information ever get included in what high schools send to colleges? In fact, what specific records follow kids from K-8 schools to high schools?

Second, for those high schools that use fuzzy rubrics, how are GPAs calculated? I can grumble about grading in K-8, but I will not tolerate any fuzzy business about grading in high school. I am very much a supportive and constructive parent in my son's K-8 school, but if the high school starts screwing around with grading, I will be completely different. Can anyone comment about culture changes that they've see going from K-8 to high school? By the way, our high school uses the I-Parent system, but I'm told that some teachers don't keep it up-to-date.

I need to build up my connections with other high school parents now that my son is in 8th grade. I think that life will be much easier if I'm proactive rather than reactive.

Oh, and another thought. College letters of recommendation. Do they change the dynamic of the student-teacher-parent triangle? Do they force parents to keep a low profile? I suppose that since grades matter so much, parents have to be very diplomatic about their complaints.

SteveH said...

"I should start afterschooling high school 'class participation.'"

Great idea, Susan, seriously. Sad, too.

Anonymous said...

I will say that I'm not seeing the class participation rubric stuff in anything other than honors English. None of his teachers in stats, geometry, or chemistry give a crap about how many times he raises his hand.

If they do, it's more of an extra credit thing, which is where it belongs. Otherwise, I'd like to call it your "personality" grade because that's what it is in the end. It's very subjective because what is enough and what is correct when participating in class or group discussions?

My son thought he was contributing. His teacher seems to take it personally that he isn't jumping in enough, but he's a 15 yr. old boy who is embarrassed to say anything that might be perceived as stupid. He's never been a big talker and that is now hurting his grade as much as essays, reading comprehension and writing skills, the things I stupidly thought were important in English.

Maybe they can put in the rubric for the proper personality, too, so I can work with him at home on that.

My best advice to him is to "over write" and "over talk." That's all I can do from my end because I don't really know specifically what he is doing that's so wrong.

SusanS

Anonymous said...

I've often wondered why the concept of mastery has gone away.Fifty years ago, my city had standards riddled with the word 'master'. Now you won't find it in standards, curricular materials, conversation, or anywhere else in our schools. It's as if the word and the concept has been purged by some Orwellian ministry of language.

It seems so simple to me. Set an objective. Declare how you will measure progress against it. Report the results. Have a system in place to react meaningfully to what you find. Where's the mystery?

My suspicion is that mastery as a concept is in serious conflict with our PC culture and seeming obsession with only doing things that make everybody feel good. We can't have scores in T-Ball and we must have contests where every participant gets a trophy. In this climate, mastery is impossible because it implies some form of objective measurement and objective measures imply winners and losers. Winners, good! Losers, bad!

Grades have become mostly meaningless. They're often used to send messages of encouragement instead of measures of progress. In K-8 it takes kids about a year to recognize that their grades, good or bad, have absolutely no bearing on anything. Instead of providing meaningful feedback that demonstrably impacts where,how, and what they get 'next' they become notices of impending doom to be dispensed in a parent-teacher-student cluster.

If I'm a reasonably astute kid with the normal amount of energy and desire to push the envelope I can figure this out in a heartbeat. Do nothing all year, advance with all my friends with all the same privileges and time in school, and in return I just have to suffer through 30 minutes of yelling in a stupid meeting once every quarter. Cool!

Of course grades have a second order effect on their lives but this is one step too far for most kids, who are simply living in the now, to feel and react to. You'd be hard pressed to create a more perfect system to deliver a huge dispersion of skills to middle school.

Fuzzy grades and fuzzy curricula go hand in hand with feeling good. Teachers get to avoid declaring winners and losers, a very uncomfortable prospect. Kids get to muddle through and still feel good about their 'success'. School districts get to disconnect performance from results (our performance sucks but our results are great), a very comfortable outcome. And parents? Well the ones that care get the wool pulled over their eyes and the ones that don't get to post really cool report cards on the fridge. No matter your inclination, you get to feel good, eh?

farmwifetwo said...

How can 49% of parents thinking education is "good" in their Province a passing grade??

http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=2014098

There's more boys than girls in Univ... geez, that was obvious 20yrs ago when I went to Univ. So, b/c of this Toronto wants to put in a K to 3 school for boys only b/c it'll help them learn better. WT???????? Maybe they should be taught in the first place, not pushed through. I have a nephew that finally failed in Gr 9... not b/c of his crappy grades but b/c he was told had he shown up... he would have been passed. What did that teach him... show up.. get a diploma. No homework required. So... he is... simply showing up.

http://www.macleans.ca/homepage/magazine/article.jsp?content=20070226_102271_102271 An interesting article on bubble wrapped kids

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/ottawa/story/2008/02/01/safe-schools.html The bully that got removed from my son's school for 2yrs has returned - was in a behavioural class - b/c there's isn't that sort of class after Gr 6. Safe Schools... isn't worth the paper it's written on.

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/toronto/story/2009/08/26/ont-students.html And this is the 2008/2009 school years EQAO scores for the Province... I don't think I'd brag about them either. AND if anyone tells you the special ed kids pull down the marks... they don't... b/c they don't write it. My eldest did with a scribe and extra time and in our opinion did well... actually right in the middle of his school average. My youngest will not be writing it.

Something is seriously wrong with the curriculum. But the teachers refuse to rebel against it and prove it's wrong and go against one of the most powerful unions in the Province... their's.

Beth said...

To Paul B. -- I live in a nominally high-performing district (love that term!) I took my daughter out of the public schools after she became severely anxious and depressed in 5th grade.

Believe me, I wish the problem with our schools was that the kids feel good all the time. Then I could just send my kids to school for happy daycare, and teach them at home.

I think our district schools are further along in the cycle than yours. They heard all the complaints about kids just feeling good, so they instituted a huge homework load, lots of competition and pressure, and punitive grading and classroom practices.

But they neglected to do the hard work of examining the curriculum, asking whether the homework is necessary and useful (the answer is "no" 95% of the time), and making provisions for different types of kids (you really don't want to be a creative, independent-minded kid in this system.)

The result for us is schools that have the worst of all possible worlds. We've got the anxiety and depression resulting from homework overload and the constant threat of punishment for inadequate performance, plus fuzzy curriculum and an appalling lack of actual content taught at school.

So please, don't tell the schools that the problem is kids feeling good. They just might take you up on it and "solve" the problem by making the kids feel bad.

I've been afterschooling my older dd with Singapore Math, and guess what? She feels good! She enjoys the feeling of mastery that she attains by learning challenging new material.

That's what I'd like to see -- a school where students feel good because they are learning so much.

Anonymous said...

Hi Beth:

You're correct and I was, perhaps speaking too generically. There's really a continuum for kids.

If there's no other pressure or positive influence, like a parent with parenting skills that values education, then kids are taking their cues from their schools. Early on, these kids will learn that hard work is for chumps. Not all of them will be this way, of course, but lots will. During this phase of childhood bliss they're feeling pretty good.

This can go on for years until one day they look around and realize they haven't learned anything and even the simplest assignments are a horror. The good feelings evaporate (usually in middle school).

A case in point... I have a girl this year (for the second time) who has a legitimate learning disability. She is at a third grade skill level in math (in seventh grade). This year she 'woke up' to smell the roses. Now she pesters me everyday to get her out of her class "of retards".

Her classmates are not retards (I detest the word but I'm trying to tell it like it is) but they are in fact exactly like she was before she 'woke up'. She's miserable and her classmates are still feeling good. What she's calling "retarded" is just her observation that these kids are total time wasters and disrupters, especially to her as she is now ready to work, probably for the first time in her 7+ years of school.

I see kids like this all the time. They are so far behind they become candidates for ed plans because they look so hopelessly lost. I'm not convinced they have a disability. Actually, I think this is an overused classification that is filled with kids who have given up long ago. The disability is in their work ethic, not their brains.

Your experience with your daughter makes my point. She is feeling good because she has accomplished something and the program she's in makes that plain. In my district kids feel good whenever they're not getting yelled at and they can ensure their bliss be bringing home a meaningless grade.

I've never had a child who wasn't thrilled to accomplish something. Even the lowest, worst behaving kids will smile when they 'get it'. The problem is that with meaningless measurement systems it is very difficult to discern the correct content to deliver for smiles and with meaningless measurements there is no infrastructure in place to deliver customized content. I suppose this is on the theory that if you don't measure it, then it surely isn't happening. :^{

re homework:

I'm not big on 'automatic' homework. Homework should be an exercise in spaced repetition (practice) on things kids know. It's not supposed to be a learning experience. Too many kids bring home work they can't do and it just becomes torture. My feeling is if they can't do it they shouldn't bring it home and if they do bring it home anyway then they should write good questions about what is blocking them, in lieu of doing the work.

I never give it out to a class that I feel hasn't reached a point where the majority will be able to do it. I also don't grade it, preferring to give credit for work attempted (did you practice). Grading homework, to my mind, negates the purpose, which is to practice. Can you imagine grading kids shooting hoops in the backyard?

Sara R said...

I'm not convinced they have a disability. Actually, I think this is an overused classification that is filled with kids who have given up long ago. The disability is in their work ethic, not their brains.

Yes! The definition of learning disability as "two years behind" is so frustrating to me. I mean, just don't teach the kids, and then they all would be "learning disabled."

My 6th grade daughter has struggled to learn to read and spell and has shown signs of dyslexia. Because I have worked with her intensely at home, she has not fallen two years behind, and thus doesn't qualify for the school's learning disability label. And yet she wouldn't thrive with vanilla regular education; it's too much, too fast for her. She needs more repetition to get the concepts, and more guidance and support when writing. So I have to continue with the intensive at-home support (customized spelling program) so she can continue to progress.

In a way I feel that we are being punished for our success. Of course the long term result should be worth it. But schools shouldn't depend on mothers performing heroic efforts in order to have kids reach their fullest potential. Kids who lack such parents should have the opportunity to succeed as well.

Anonymous said...

For the first time in six years I'm being subtly pressured to relax my grades. Of course there is no policy about what a grade means and nobody would ever come out and tell me to directly do it. The way it plays out though, makes it clear what the agenda is.

It all comes from the best of intentions. I can even see where the administration is coming from. They see a lot of failing grades and desperately want a silver bullet to raise them. The problem is that state testing and district standard tests back up my assessment. The kids really are failing.

It occurs to me when I reflect on this that as you get farther and farther from the actual kids you have no other recourse than to seek global 'magic' for the aggregated data one sees. It would be so nice to find out what Mr B is doing wrong. Then all the grades would go up and we could go back to the popcorn.

The problem is that every kid is different and the only ones that really know all about the differences are the teachers, parents, and kids. Every child needs something slightly different if you really want to maximize learning.

This is what is so distressingly wrong in our current system. It is all about aggregation, centralization, zero tolerance rules, and fads. The 800 pound gorilla in the room is that you can't teach to the median and get anything but mediocre results.

Anybody who's ever been in a classroom knows this.

My administration wants individualized instruction but has no clue how to provide the infrastructure to make it possible. They fill my room with a nine year dispersion in skills that it took them six years to create and want it fixed in one. The best, scratch that, the only way to do this is to jigger the grades.

SteveH said...

"seek global 'magic' for the aggregated data one sees"

Exactly. This is why I don't like educational statistics. It reminds me of writing computer programs.

Once you get the program done and run it, things go wrong. If it's a large program, you never know if the problems are caused by one or many errors, or how they interact. Back when I taught computer science, my students loved to apply guess and check for debugging. This was back when Turbo Pascal was big. You could edit-compile-run so fast that it encouraged students to not think and just try things to see if the errors went away. I told them that they had to review each line of code and understand why a change would fix a problem. That requires more effort.

Perhaps we could call it the 'Ask Mr. B' approach. Look at the details, not the statistics. Try to solve small problems one by one. Fixing one problem might not solve everything, but it might define a solid fix for 20% of the students. Do this enough times and you have a correct system, or you have a solid understanding for designing a new one.

If you don't know exactly why something works, then you could just be creating other errors. This is a classic problem in guess and check debugging; you fix an error in one place, but the fix creates an error in another place.

Anonymous said...

Steve, the magic word is "FERPA."

It's a federal law that says that the school needs to show you all of your son's "educational records" if they plan to keep getting funding.

SteveH said...

"...the school needs to show you all of your son's "educational records" if they plan to keep getting funding."

The problem is that I can ask to go in any time and look at the portfolios. It becomes a practical matter. I can't take the time to coordinate weekly trips to the school to see 5 different teachers to look for what's new in his portfolios. Too many times I've been told that all I have to do is go in and ask. Simple things like a syllabus or what they are doing in class should be online. I have to go in and ask. They seem to do this on purpose.

lgm said...

Class participation is huge here... 1/3 of the quarterly grade to be exact. 90% of teachers will not tell the stdent how they determine it. The 10% that have a system record a 0, 5, or 10 pts toward the day. Its a 0 for disruptive and no homework. It's a 5 for either no homework, no contribution to discussion or boardwork, or disruptive. It's a 10 for homework completed, contribution to class and good behavior. The average of the daily grades is the participation grade.It has to be within +/-10 of the final grade. This grade is actively used for political purposes in my observation.

cbstudent said...

I am a teacher. Please remember that teachers are told how and when to grade their students when it comes to communicating with parents. We can only do so much. I personally think that the grades in percentages are outdated though. We are looking at new ways to communicate a child's progress. I disagree with giving a child a lower grade because there is still time left in the year. If they get it, they should get the grade. The teacher needs to push the child to a new level of challenge.

SteveH said...

"Please remember that teachers are told how and when to grade their students when it comes to communicating with parents."

So that makes it OK? In our schools, the teachers have a lot of say in the use and implementation of rubrics. Besides, I don't really care whose fault it is. You want me to takes sides and I won't do it.

"We are looking at new ways to communicate a child's progress."

Who are "We" if "teachers are told how and when to grade their students"?

"I personally think that the grades in percentages are outdated though."

Defining merit functions is outdated? Math is outdated?

What, specifically is wrong with percentage grades? What do you do instead, make everything subjective to the whim of the teacher? Even rubrics require teachers to quantify progress. It's just that homework and tests get translated through fuzzy filters from the raw percent correct scores to the 61 vague and nonlinear rubric numbers. Homework and tests get hidden away in portfolios and parents have no way to understand where the rubric numbers come from. That's not communication.

If you want to communicate a child's progress, start with a detailed syllabus of the subject, including all texts, workbooks, and grading information. Next, grade the homework and tests in a timely fashion and send them home. Be prepared to explain where all of the grades and comments come from. It would even be helpful to include a grade distribution for each assignment so that parents aren't left wondering whether the child did poorly or if the teacher is a hard grader. When quarterly grades come out, explain how each number was calculated from the homework and tests. If there are subjective categories for things like class participation, then explain how that is determined and turned into a number.

Numbers are not the enemy of "authentic". They force you to carefully define what you think is important and help you be consistent and fair. If you can't quantify it, you don't know what you are doing.

farmwifetwo said...

If teachers trully cared... they'd go against the system and lobby for change... they don't want to.. here they are the 2nd most powerful Union in the Province and well protected... 3% raise, each of 4yrs in the middle of a recession... 240hrs of prep time for K to 8... they aren't rocking that boat.

I got a report card home that shows my kid has been dumped with the EA. Class participation - N. I emailed the teacher and printed it for the school to send back with the "parent comments". 3yrs of it being on the IEP... 1 term it's not there b/c it is "assumed" (big mistake) that a teacher would check previous skills learned and how it was done... It'll be returned term 2.

Anonymous said...

What lgm said is what I'm dealing with at the present time in high school. Class participation is a huge part of my son's classes. Shy, awkward kids in honors English are in big trouble no matter how well they read or write.

And like others have said, we can't figure out what exactly he's supposed to say. One kid spoke less than mine (according to my son) and got an A. My son received a D. He has no idea why. I can only push him to go up and ask, but he already feels like a complete idiot.

I don't mind percentage grades, but I am far more trusting of content grades rather than the more subjective grades. Yet, they are equal in weight. They can be used to punish or knock a kid down a peg quite easily. If you don't have a people pleaser for a kid, it's very tough to do well with some teachers.

And many of the grades will have around 6 total, so a miss of one or two dramatically drops the grade for the day.

SusanS

Katharine Beals said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katharine Beals said...

It's alarming to contemplate the implications of subject grading combined with agendas like that of the University of Minnesota ed school. Will top grades be reserved for students who either show the correct cultural mindsets or who come from the cultures that the education establishment has privileged?

SteveH said...

Subjective class participation grading is also a control thing. It's a way to make life easier in the classroom.

Our middle school is starting to do the National Junior Honor Society and it's clear that the academic part is not the dominant factor. There is a mandatory volunteering requirement and you have to model leadership and perfect behavior. Even if you have top grades, the teachers can reject you.

Katharine Beals said...

"subject grading"--Agh!--meant to say "subjective grading", as in:

It's alarming to contemplate the implications of subjective grading combined with agendas like that of the University of Minnesota ed school.

I don't really care whose fault it is. You want me to take sides, and I won't do it.

You don’t have to take sides, but you do have to know where the power lies if you want any pressure to lead to effective change. You wouldn’t, for example, go to the CEO of your district with a complaint about the seating plan in your child’s classroom. In most districts, that is something within the classroom teacher’s discretion (not, apparently, in NYC, where desks must be in groups and not rows). Other issues, like type and content of homework (but not, in all cases, the amount) are teacher issues as well.

Grading and evaluation and reporting policies are generally made at a higher level, and teachers are given some training in whatever is required (rubrics, curriculum-based assessment, holistic scoring, whatever). As always, districts vary greatly in how prescriptive they are. If teachers have much leeway at the local school level in your district, then that is where to seek answers and press for change. It isn’t the case in my area, though, so parents unhappy with the evaluation process (which is subjective despite efforts to make it less so) have to organize and go to school board meetings, submit petitions and make presentations, and so on.

Sometimes parents have some effect. They have better results than teachers who try to press for change have achieved (I know from long experience that however many committees you sit on, groups you join, meetings you attend or proposals you make, teacher ideas are politely disregarded . We are merely employees, after all, and the system is not accountable to us). Parents, however, when they organize, can sometimes effect real change; a major problem is that parents, like teachers, don’t speak with one voice about what changes they want, and they differ from each other on how things should be improved. This leaves the bureaucracy free to carry on with its own agenda, with a mere nod to “parent input” or “public opinion.”

As for percentiles (versus rubrics) I think they foster an illusion of scientific or precise measurement. A grade of 84 in eighth grade math at my school is simply not comparable to a grade of 84 in a higher-performing school across town. If the kid got “84%” I always ask, 84% of WHAT? Teachers receive no training in instructional design or test construction; the way they compose tests and exams is hit or miss at best, and the results may or may not be at all representative of the student’s learning in the subject or course. Why is Question 2 worth 20 points and 3 is worth 15? There are no real scientific bases to most of this, even when people work very hard and do their best to fairly assess student knowledge.

It’s a complex matter. Anyone seeking real change has to address both the district level and the school level, because both are inextricably combined where grades are concerned.

Allison said...

--It's alarming to contemplate the implications of subjective grading combined with agendas like that of the University of Minnesota ed school. Will top grades be reserved for students who either show the correct cultural mindsets or who come from the cultures that the educatio

Why do you use the word "will" when you should use the word "do" ?

Yes, top grades in colleges in most humanities subjects ARE reserved for those who speak the party line.

And no, it's not limited to humanitites. Postdocs in climate science fields are reserved for those who speak the same party line.

It's already happening. It's already well known by the students at colleges. They saw it happening in their science and social studies classes in high school, too. Just ask them.

The question is what to do about it. The easiest solution is to stop sending young adults to college.

No, I'm not kidding.

farmwifetwo said...

"It's already happening. It's already well known by the students at colleges. They saw it happening in their science and social studies classes in high school, too. Just ask them."

Public school social studies and science classes. My kid comes home telling me how the world is coming to an end and I have to explain to him that's politics not reality...

So much for teaching people how to think... special interest groups/politicians (sp??) love the fact most people believe whatever they read online and no longer think for themselves.

Katharine Beals said...

"Why do you use the word "will" when you should use the word "do" ?"

Allison, I'm talking about grades in k12 schools, where I don't know the facts well enough to say "do".

Do you?

Anonymous said...

I think we're in a perfect storm. We finally have enough ignorant people to vote for the stupidity that pours forth from our political 'leadership' to a degree where these lawyers can't be stopped from promulgating policy that sustains the educational system in ways that allow it to produce even more ignorance.

Is that a stupid run on sentence?

SteveH said...

"You don’t have to take sides, but you do have to know where the power lies if you want any pressure to lead to effective change."

I already know, thank you. It's with the administration. If teachers have any say in the issue, then they are part of the problem. If they don't have any say, then they will be of no help. However, I have made my case with the administration, and they continue to do what they do. No surprise there.

"A grade of 84 in eighth grade math at my school is simply not comparable to a grade of 84 in a higher-performing school across town."

The same is true for rubrics or any grading system. That is a separate issue.

"Teachers receive no training in instructional design or test construction; the way they compose tests and exams is hit or miss at best, and the results may or may not be at all representative of the student’s learning in the subject or course."

And yet they presume to explain why rubrics are better than percentage grades. Actually, I've had some teachers tell me that there is not much difference between rubrics or any other grading system. The argument seems to be that it's all subjective, so it doesn't matter. It's quite incredible. There is a huge difference between rubrics and percentage grades.

"It’s a complex matter."

It's not complex since there is no process for change. That's why I called it a rant. At best, I can hope to change a few minds. Performance evaluation is not complex.

Allison said...

--Allison, I'm talking about grades in k12 schools, where I don't know the facts well enough to say "do". Do you?

I'd say, yes. It's just synthesis of what I saw in incoming freshmen even ten years ago.

Go watch the film Indoctrinate U. Go read what FIRE says about nearly every college in the country.

This garbage couldn't just start in college if the kids weren't getting this everywhere else. They wouldn't accept it or put up with it.

I know that every K-8 science textbook I've seen in fifteen years is filled with false statements about recycling, saving the environment, the destruction of the rainforests, and global warming. Almost NO science on those subjects is true in those books.

A poll commissioned by the enviro-group Habitat Heroes, conducted by Opinion Research found:
One out of three children aged 6 to 11 fears that Ma Earth won't exist when they grow up, while more than half—56 percent—worry that the planet will be a blasted heath (or at least a very unpleasant place to live), according to a new survey...•50 percent say that hurricanes and tornadoes are the natural disasters that scare them the most.•28 percent say that they fear animals, such as polar bears and penguins, will become extinct and disappear from the planet more than any other environmental concern.

Why in the world would children believe these ludicrous ideas? Who has been terrifying them?

Ask a dozen 19-20 year olds who they thought would win the election before Obama won. Everyone I polled told me "the US is too racist to elect Obama". Why in the world would they think that? Where would they get that idea from?

The answer is school.

SteveH said...

"I know that every K-8 science textbook I've seen in fifteen years is filled with false statements about recycling, saving the environment, the destruction of the rainforests, and global warming."

You would think that schools would jump on the chance to relate real world climate issues with the study of global climate models. They could study the differences between the models and what assumptions they make. Students can study how the models work mathematically and how they tweak the models to get them to match a limited amount of historical data. A number of years back I studied the state of these models and realized that the public debate is a million miles away from the dirty details.

farmwifetwo said...

Remember when you use to debate a topic. You could pick one, and prove or disprove it. As long as you had a resonable argument, proof to back it up, and a well written document... it was allowed.

The goal was to do research and think a topic through.

Granted you had to give correct answers as well... but there was always a "think for yourself" section to the curriculum/testing.

Now, if you don't write the "party line", it's wrong. Not just in school but in University... isn't Univ suppose to be for arguing and learning???

I like to think the Dh and I have opinions but also have the ability to see things from all sides and listen to them. But most people are very linear in thought and belief.... I find that frightening actually.

Katharine Beals said...

"This garbage couldn't just start in college if the kids weren't getting this everywhere else. They wouldn't accept it or put up with it."

Allison, not to downplay your concerns about misinformation and propaganda, but, remember, my question was about GRADES and CULTURAL issues!

To bring the discussion back to these issues, here are some specific examples of things I'm wondering about:

-Is a third grader who, for an assignment to write "personal reflections" about racism, writes about reverse discrimination, or writes about how he/she thinks there's not much racism in present- day America, likely to get a lower grade than a classmate who repeats the education establishment's party line?

-Do children who appear to their teachers to be of Northern European descent and/or of middle/upper class backgrounds tend to get lower grades on their fuzzy rubric-based assignments than those classmates whom the education establishment has declared that white Americans are still prejudiced against?

At our school, time-consuming projects come back with all kinds of subjective grades on "creativity" and such, sometimes without even a rubric to ostensibly justify them (and not a single comment or mark; just a mediocre grade). I can't imagine that the kids at our school who are raised by financially-stressed single parents get nearly the amount of assistance from parents that their classmates get.

And my guess is that the subjective grading plus the cultural ideology of the educators at our school warps the grading curve in favor of these disadvantaged children. (Not that the alternative, rewarding kids for having parents who have the time and resources to do their work for them, is any better--but that's a separate concern).

In any case, I'd like to get a handle on the bigger racial/cultural/grading picture.

Allison said...

--my question was about GRADES and CULTURAL issues!

I don't have a smoking gun for you, but I think it's unnecessary. The evidence is already there.

Grades only matter if you want to get into college. They serve no other purpose.

The colleges all have affirmative action. If you are from a "privileged" minority group, too bad. If you are from a group whose victim status is celebrated, then good. The University of California system has done away with SATs so that they no longer have an achievement gap on them. The personal statement is ALWAYS about the class/race/gender obstacles you have overcome. You haven't overcome any? Then you have to fictionalize an event that demonstrates a time when you saw how other people have obstacles showed you how privileged you are. The UC system also now accepts the top n% (last I looked, 8) at EACH high school regardless of objective success, so if you are in the top 8% from a school in the bottom 10%, you received a spot that could have gone to someone only in the top 30% in the top 10%.

The differentiated instruction assignments that I referred to demonstrate how teachers are now taught to give different children the same high grades for different levels of achievement. Your starting point is that you don't know long division? That's okay, you can get an A for your contribution. You knew everything, but didn't draw a nice floorplan with furniture? You can get a C. These systems are *designed* to push up those who fall into the approved victim classes at the expense of the rest.

In humanities classes, no student would write about reverse discrimation. Ask them. That heresy would be punished. You don't get to college by stating such heresies. Like I said before, there's a reason all of the college students can spout this claptrap, and it didnt' come from learning it in college; it came before.

Katharine Beals said...

"Grades only matter if you want to get into college. They serve no other purpose."

Allison, grades also matter for getting into selective-admit public middle schools and high schools, and/or for transferring into a decent private school. The other options, in our city (and many others!), are horrible (barring home school).

Grades also affect motivation and self-esteem.

In other words, grades matter!

THAT'S why I'm so interested in data about k-12, and in particular, K-6 grade distortions.

I agree with you that there is great *potential* for such distortion in the assignments you allude to; I think it's extremely important to gather data, or at least anecdotes, about such distortions actually occurring, especially in k-6. We need to get those stories out there, where everyone can see them; many parents would be alarmed, and perhaps moved to action--because, whatever else they believe about public education, parents do care about their children's grades.

In other words, smoking guns are very necessary!

farmwifetwo said...

"We need to get those stories out there, where everyone can see them; many parents would be alarmed, and perhaps moved to action--because, whatever else they believe about public education, parents do care about their children's grades."

Unless those parents already homeschool, most don't care whether or not their child has actually learned anything at school. All they care is that the Teacher hasn't called them and what's on the report card. They don't school at home and double check. Oh, a lot of them know the system is poor... but truth is, as long as that report card says little Johnny's doing just fine... that's all they care about.

Parent education level.. doesn't seem to matter. Ironically, it's amazing how many parents with post-secondary degrees, that we know personally/professionally, have children - boys mostly - that haven't passed highschool.

Redkudu said...

>>Unless those parents already homeschool, most don't care whether or not their child has actually learned anything at school. All they care is that the Teacher hasn't called them and what's on the report card.<<

This has not been my experience with parents. Parents I have contact with do indeed care whether their students are learning something at school - they are just usually poorly informed about that should be, and when and how their children should be learning it. Another example of parents (who don't have the benefit of a forum like KTM) being dependent upon the school to tell them whether all's well or not.

>>Oh, a lot of them know the system is poor... but truth is, as long as that report card says little Johnny's doing just fine... that's all they care about.<<

This may be true - but only insomuch as parents believe the report cards to honestly reflect learning and achievement which, as this conversation and Paul's latest post illustrates, is not always the case.

I've always found parents to be very interested in a breakdown of what their child's scores and grades mean - when it is offered to them. It's sometimes eye opening, and leads to questions which they often didn't even know needed to be asked. That's where I think MANY parents are at a great disadvantage where schools are concerned - you can't ask questions if you don't even know there are questions to be asked. It becomes doubly difficult when parents finally do begin asking questions and get the brush off, as has been the experience of many folks here.

Miz Pauley said...

I am starting to see more rubrics used in our middle school to "create more 'evenly' grading". The thought is that if all teachers use the same rubric on an assignment (for example, writing, reading, math, one for each subject/type of assignment) that grades will be more uniform. Really? As a math teacher, I started out giving completion points for homework, but was approached by my principal who asked if that showed learning. Well, I suppose not really, but they were doing it. Now it's a total point system. And I'm making them re-do assignments if they fail. I recently started my master's program in special education, and also teach sixth grade math. The required reading included an article on not allowing students to fail. What do you think?

SteveH said...

"The required reading included an article on not allowing students to fail. What do you think?"

That's great! Oh, you mean that they do it by lowering standards?

For the last two years I've taught my son math at home. He always gets A's. That's because I don't allow him to get anything else. We don't move on until he understands the material.

On the other hand, what's so great about a bunch of kids with 'D' grades? What's so magical about the fail cutoff point? Is it simply to make the school feel good about itself? Why not not make sure that every student gets at least a 'B'?

SteveH said...

"I've always found parents to be very interested in a breakdown of what their child's scores and grades mean - when it is offered to them."

This is almost impossible with rubrics and when homework and tests are hidden away in portfolios. With rubrics, you don't look at test problems and see the raw percent correct numbers. Each problem is separated into fuzzier categories like numeracy and problem solving. Instead of looking at the actual test and seeing that little Johnnie has a problem with percents, the information is transmogrified into categories that are supposed to be more illuminating, but actually have the opposite effect. More is less.

Our school does this with the state tests in math. They sit around looking at a lower score for categories like "problem solving" and try to figure out how to fix it. They decided to spend more time on that skill. Brilliant! It would have been better to look at the actual tests. Rubrics, by definition, mean that you are one more subjective layer away from the raw data.

farmwifetwo said...

"They sit around looking at a lower score for categories like "problem solving" and try to figure out how to fix it. They decided to spend more time on that skill. Brilliant! It would have been better to look at the actual tests. Rubrics, by definition, mean that you are one more subjective layer away from the raw data."

Ontario reviews curriculum for grades 1 - 8.

To be in place by 2011.

Quote from article:

"Education Minister Kathleen Wynne said teachers have been complaining about the curriculum for some time, saying it's "overcrowded" and kids aren't given the time needed for practical learning.

"One of my concerns is that there's a lot of content that teachers have to cover when they're teaching in elementary school, and so what I want to make sure of is that there's the right content and that kids have enough time to practise the fundamental skills so that they're ready when they leave elementary school," Wynne said.

The government has set up a special advisory group to conduct the review and expects to receive its recommendations — based on input from teachers and school boards — in February."

___________

Not one iota of input from parents... b/c of course we know NADA about what our kids are learning or aren't. I suspect the curriculum won't be any better. We'll be in Gr 5 and 7 by then and I suspect it won't change drastically or they'd have to start with the incomming children...

And they wonder why I "after-school".