kitchen table math, the sequel: Errors on Report Card?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Errors on Report Card?

We just got my son's report card and there are numbers on it that don't match up. Our high school uses i-Parent so that parents can get immediate feedback. I like it. We can see and validate all of the homework and test scores. I see no errors in those numbers, and grades are calculated to many decimal digits. However, there seems to be some sort of problem translating those numbers into whatever computer system our high school uses for reporting grades. Interestingly, his final course grades look correct, but some are mathematically incompatible with the quarter grades on his report card, and they don't match i-Parent. Of course, the final grades are rounded off so there is a limit to what correct means. I-Parent just records the grades for each quarter. It does not include the midterm and final tests or try to calculate a semester or yearly final grade. However, the formula for semester grades is simple; 40% for each quarter and 20% for the midterm or final. Semester 1 and 2 grades are averaged to get the final grade for the course.

Have others run into grading calculation or reporting issues? I'm paranoid now because I see numbers that don't match or add up. Final grades are rounded so I can't check to see if they agree with my calculations, and the class rank is based on a weighting scheme that might use rounded grades rather than the the real numbers. They did not include a weighted rank number on the report card, so I couldn't check that. I sent off an email to the guidance department, but I don't know if anyone is there during the summer.


Anonymous said...

We've had some mysterious grading issues with our version of your iParent. Since most grades don't come home, I can't really cross check to make sure they're right. Sometimes the papers/tests/quizzes aren't even shown to the kids. This is across the board class-wise.

One example was when my son came home saying that he felt good about how he had done on a physics test. He was sure he made an A. For days the grade never showed up, but when it did, it was an F. He was shocked, but since he's always shocked about low grades, I didn't think too much about it. He just got another lecture about not studying enough.

Well, he actually was annoyed enough to approach the teacher about it. The teacher realized that he had plugged in all the grades wrong, yet no one complained. If my son had made a B, he might have just let it go.

Other times when the teacher has admitted to making a mistake, promising to correct it, we've found it never gets corrected. This has happened a few times, and I can't get my son to go back up and ask what the problem is. Since he had to fight to get the teacher to admit to the problem in the first place, he is really reluctant to go back. And he shouldn't have to.

I don't know what the answer is. I really don't, but this kind of stuff makes some kids just shut down and forget about it all. Why bother when you can't win.

I'd be interested in hearing others on this.


debbie Stier said...

I have spent hours and hours dealing with this issue. I don't want to go into it publicly, but I have seen MAJOR issues on many different levels and it is a full time job trying to stay on top of it and sort it out.

My son has been very effected emotionally as a result and I fear that it could have long lasting consequences for him on many different levels. He's not a big "fighter" on his own behalf (though he has tried with my encouragement), and it also doesn't feel so good for a teenage boy to have his mom in there making his case for him all of the time.

I don't know what the answer is. I've spent countless hours trying to sort this out and have made some progress, though not sorted it out completely yet and I am dreading having to pick up the phone and finish dealing with the issue. It was also a recurring issue last year for my son.

I see a smaller degree of it at my daughter's school too, though she seems more inclined to take care of business herself. Nonetheless, she is not as on top of what is showing up in the system and make sure it matches what she knows. In fact, she didn't get a position that she had applied for (and she was devastated) and I tried to get her to go find out why, but she was too embarrassed to ask -- so I finally called (without her knowledge) and discovered that part of the issue was with what was in the system -- and it turned out that the system was wrong!

It's exhausting.

Catherine Johnson said...

I spoke to a math teacher who told me that his son's math teacher was routinely miscalculating grades, and no one had noticed (including me, btw).

As I recall, when he met with her to discuss, he discovered that she didn't actually know how to do weighted grading. (I've forgotten the details of our conversation now; he definitely told me the math teacher actually did not know how to do the math involved in calculating grades.)

We once had a grade dispute that was never resolved. The school simply refused to address it.

Catherine Johnson said...

I have to assume that some of the union's antipathy towards teacher grading systems stems from inside knowledge of how flawed and unreliable grades on students often are.

SteveH said...

"... union's antipathy towards teacher grading systems ..."

There is the question of mistakes and there is the question of whether the tests reflect "authentic" learning. In our case, the problem is whether the grades are recorded and calculated accurately. Schools cannot pull out the argument that "Well, it's not all very accurate anyway." Errors might average out over the long run, and good students will still look like good students at the end of high school, but is this really true on an individual basis? As Debbie mentioned, individual kids can miss out on opportunities because cutoffs are based on numbers. My son missed out on two awards in middle school, but who can tell because they had very fuzzy and undefined (authentic?) rules for selection. (The math teacher didn't like my son.)

I like to have our son be in charge of asking teachers about questions on individual tests and homework. Fortunately, he is willing to do this. If he wasn't, I don't know what I would do. However, I will be in charge of validating the numbers on his report card. I don't care what they think.

lgm said...

Yes. You have to understand that grades are political and will be manipulated to ensure that honors seats and awards go to the 'right' students. In my district it is done by giving extra credit to students who ask privately, and by manipulating the 1/3 of the grade that is effort. There will always be students with high PSATs and SATs that are not on the honors/accel track because of their lack of political connections. They can take their AP courses from the talent search providers at their own expense if there are no seats open at school to talk their way in to. The worst I've seen are teachers who just wing it...had several in middle school who couldn't evenjustify the grade they gave. The principal corrected that the next year after it was brought to his attention however it kept our kid out of an honors class (he got in the following year when he had a nonpolitician teacher and enough didn't make the grade to keep their honors seat).

We have seen similar with band awards. A student could qualify for a regional event based on their solofest rating but the school won't send him, claiming there is no money this particular year; this will be followed by the school band award for that grade going to someone who did not excel technically or go above and beyond in the class.

As always, schools are very poltiical.

Catherine Johnson said...

You have to understand that grades are political and will be manipulated to ensure that honors seats and awards go to the 'right' students. In my district it is done by giving extra credit to students who ask privately, and by manipulating the 1/3 of the grade that is effort.


There is very little of that here in Irvington schools -- although there is a widespread perception that in the lower grades 'important' parents are given the best teachers for their kids. I don't think that was true when C. was in K-5, but it could be true now.

What you hear about the high school is that kids whose parents are politically connected get into Honors courses if they're 'in the bubble,' and I don't know whether that's true. But you hear **nothing** like what lgm just described.

Regardless of whether favoritism here doesn't happen, of course, the impression of impropriety is extremely bad, too. Schools should do everything in their power to build -- and deserve -- trust.

The practices at lgm's school are completely unacceptable.

lgm said...

Sure they are. But remember, this is a winner-takes-all district. Jay Matthew's book Class Struggle gave me really good insight on how it works.

Catherine Johnson said...

I have to dig out that book & finally read it.

SteveH said...

I really liked the change from the fuzzy rubric grading in K-8 to the i-Parent explicit grading in high school. In effect, you see the grade book of the teacher online, and sometimes I see the grades before my son sees them. The grades rarely get more than two weeks behind.

The downside is that he doesn't always see the homework or tests to check the grades, or he gets a quick peek and then has to turn them back in. Also, my son's grades are great in the classes (like math and science) where there is less judgment involved. In English and History (especially with essays), it's different. If the teacher thinks you work hard and fit some kind of expectation, your grade evolves over the year. This was a common rubric technique in middle school - low grades as motivation. In both English and History, my son's grades rose quite a bit from early in the year to late in the year. His English teacher gave out many zeroes on an early quiz where the questions were very unreasonable. (Next to his zero on i-Parent, the teacher wrote - "Needs to try harder". That really pissed me off, but saying something might have affected his future grades.) He doesn't like English and History because it's (the teachers) too judgmental.

"..honors seats and awards go to the 'right' students.."

I don't see anything blatant here, but the excess room for judgment always favors somebody. It might be the extrovert, the (noticeably) hard worker, the person coming from a difficult background, or it may be a squeaky wheel or connections effect.

Anonymous said...

It's certainly possible that there's just an error in the computer software that does the calculations. Gradebook math seems to be much harder to program than you would expect. I know that both Blackboard and WebCT, for example, have had occasional bugs dealing with weighted grades. I'm sure every other vendor has also had difficulty.

SteveH said...

I'm still waiting to hear back from them, but my guess is that there is some issue between i-Parent and what ever internal gradebook system they use. It could be that teachers have to enter numbers into two different systems, although that would be hard to believe. I don't know what else it could be since the actual grades don't match, let along the weighted grades.