Thursday, October 4, 2012

Crazy grades and failing parents

Friends and readers shared a couple of thought-provoking pieces with me this week,  so I thought I'd pass them along.

In response to Monday's post about "no zero" grading policies,  former colleague Ken Soo steered me to a Chronicle of Higher education piece laying out the case for revamping the traditional 100-point scale.  Douglas Reeves,  a Colorado education consultant and author,  argues that the way most professors  (and teachers)  award grades defies logic and mathematics:

"If the grade of A represents a score of 90-100, B is 80-89, C is 70-79, and D is 60-69, then the interval between each letter grade, A to B to C to D, is 10 points," he writes. "But if a student fails to submit an assignment and receives a zero, then the interval from D to zero is 60 points, a sixfold penalty compared with the other grading intervals."

"Let us stipulate that work receiving a D is wretched, and that the failure of a student to submit work at all is abysmal. The use of the zero, however, requires us to defend the proposition that abysmal is six times as bad as wretched."

Reeves takes a complicated path that veers through acquiescence and achievement, race and gender roles, video games and sports.  But his conclusion is a simple one:  Educators should act now to create grading systems that are  "accurate,  fair and effective."

Meanwhile,  CMS parent Amy Wlodyka sent a link to this column by John Kuhn,  a Texas superintendent,  on  "The Exhaustion of the American Teacher."  The central tenet,  that parents are escaping blame for student failure while teachers take a beating,  is hardly original.  But the writing is so vigorous I couldn't stop reading.

"Like many educators, I’ve smelled on my students the secondhand drugs that fill too many of their homes with bitterness and want,"  Kuhn writes.  "There is sometimes a literal pungency to low academic performance that remedial classes won’t scrub from our kids."

Or consider this:  "We were all told that a mind is a terrible thing to waste, and we all became adamant about education; but no one told us not to waste kids’ hearts or weaken their spines or soften their guts, and we long ago abandoned our traditional cultural expectations for children’s formation. I’m not calling for picket fences and Leave it to Beaver; I’m calling for childhoods that aren’t dripping with pain and disenchantment and a huge chasm where there should have been character-building experiences from the age of zero to five. That aren’t marked by an empty space where there should have been a disciplinarian. And a gap where there should have been a rocking chair and a soft lap waiting when the child was hurting."

I'm not taking sides on the ideas in these two opinion pieces.  But I do admire the authors' way with words,   and suspect theses essays will stir up some lively responses.


Wiley Coyote said...

Wretched? Abysmal? I call it unacceptable.

A number of times over the years, our son would come home with his progress reports and there would be a zero for assignments not completed or turned in. When trying to get to the reasons why I was looking at a zero, more times than not, we discovered he did the work and just never turned it in.

Getting a zero is bad enough, but to get one when you did the work and were too lazy or pre-occupied to turn it in? That is unacceptable.

The real crazy part was all he had to do was put his name on a piece of paper and turn it in for a 50.

His punishment was severe. Even so, we could not walk him class to class and ensure his work was turned in. He had to learn responsibility and over time the zeros became much fewer and far between, but we never cut him any slack on his responsibility as a student and what was required of him by his teachers.

Anonymous said...

Strangely I agree with you Wiley. I too have my own children who sometimes do work and fail to turn it in. I am in total agreement with the zero policy, not so much for school reasons but for work reasons. I have this ongoing fantasy that all these kids living with me will one day gain employment and move somewhere else. To have employment they have to work. My experience has been that bosses fire people who don't turn in their work on time. It is simply unacceptable and as such should be heavily penalized.

Anonymous said...

Yes WC that was a frequent frustration of ours as well. Finally after our son had to pay for summer school out of his own money and suffered the humiliation (his words) of going to summer school when everyone else was at the beach etc. did he start to turn things in.

Now, on to the grading thing.

This is why a rubric is important. And the grading should be a scale of 0-4. 4=exemplary, 3 mastered, 2 not yet, 1 didn't try and yes 0 (zero) nothing.

Christine Mast said...

How many of us that are "older" now, grew up with the A,B,C,D,F (or zero) scale of grading, and the world still hasn't ended? How many of us that grew up with that scale are now more successful in life, knowing that complete apathy and indifference will not pay the bills?

IMHO, this discussion is ridiculous. Homework not turned in = ZERO.

If you don't like the zero, put in the time and do the work. At least TRY.

There are so many more topics hat need to be discussed and fixed. This should not be one of them.

CMS Parent said...

Our CMS Elementary School has a grading scale of
A 100-93
B 92-85
C 84-77
D 76-70
F Below 70, Failing

And I believe that is the standard scale of Middle and High Schools, too.

I agree that an assignment turned in should be a "0," however if may go deeper that just a "0." I'm the first to preach personal responsibility, but if a student has a 0 grade in homework, perhaps he or she will be of the attitude, "why even bother, nothing is going to get me out of this whole. I'm not going to try at. all." Maybe start off with a couple 0's and then meet with the student and try to ascertain the reasons. I realize many of our teachers are overburdened, but I suspect those teaching in arenas where not doing your homework is a chronic problem have class sizes that are less than the county average (ie not the suburbs, where class sizes can reach 40 students per classroom.)

Teaching isn't a "once size fits all" and if we are giving money to schools deemed "at risk," those schools should have ample staff to address these problems.

Anonymous said...

Ms Helms what happens if you dont turn in an assigned column for the paper? I suspect that your salary would go to zero very quickly.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher I can honestly state that a zero is a great motivator for most kids. My students can look at their grades anytime online and seeing a zero staring at them is great motivation for most students.

That being said, only in rare cases where I receive complete apathy from both the student AND the parents do I leave a zero when calculating grades for a report card.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing mathematically wrong with marking anything below a 60 with a failure.

It is simply a cutoff point for acceptable learning.

A lot of teachers will grade on a curve, though, to make sure the test is fair. Or at least check their results against a curve to see if they are out of line.

And, yes, if you turn in NOTHING, you SHOULD get a ZERO.

Because that is EXACTLY how much you showed you learned.

Consider, for example, a 20 question True/False quiz.

Students may get any number of questions correct that span the whole range from 0 to 100%.

Why should someone who doesn't even try automatically score above someone who tried, but only got 40% correct?

Anonymous said...

I have found that an Incomplete motivates some students more than a 0. With an I, they can't know what the grade is and can't figure out how to pull it up without turning in some work to get a grade on it.

As for a 0, it means "nothing." The gap between the 69 and the 0 means nothing and is just being used hyperbolically. 0 is 0, nothing, nada, zilch. Student did not participate in his education.

Do away with the bottom? How will you know who is really at the top?

No teacher that I know wants to give 0s or any other bad grade. We want students to practice the skills and turn in the work for feedback, but if I get nothing, that's what I have to give. After all, I've "given" my skill and knowledge to try to teach the students.

I am always willing to grade something if a student is willing to turn something in.

Anonymous said...

A terrible mind is a thing to waste.

Anonymous said...

I like many of you had to struggle with my child for not turning in homework that I know he did. There are ways in CMS to track your student's progress daily. Most times, I know his grades before he does. If you do not turn in an assignment you should get a 0. I think one point is being missed. In every grade and class my son has ever taken homework is weighted differently from a test. So, if you don't turn in homework and you are not affecting your grade as much as getting a 0 on a test. Using that as an excuse to not try is pathetic.

Kids need to be taught to be responsible and parents need to be more involved in their child's education. Otherwise - stop having children if you do not want to raise them...oh yeah - for some this is their income and it isn't about the children at all.

Anonymous said...

In first grade the grading system was a happy face, a straight face or a sad face. I remember getting a sad face on an assignment that I crumpled up in my bookbag so my mother wouldn't see it. I did the assignment over again and got a happy face.

Two years later, we put a man on the moon.


Anonymous said...

So a kid goes into class, writes their name on the paper, then puts their head down and sleeps through the test and gets a better grade (50) than the child that tried but only got 40% of the questions correct? That is about as fair as approving (required) community service hours for students that "do church work" when they really don't do anything.

Anonymous said...

I believe that we lose focus when we think too much about homework.

True, in my generation, we were taught that all work matters and should be completed but if a teacher distributes their grading as 30% tests, 30% in-class work, 30% projects and 10% homework, a student can blow off the homework and still have a high enough average to get a really good grade in the class (especially if they do a couple of extra credit assignments in-class). Many of our students have already figured this out.

The "no zero" or "minimum" grading convention is mainly targeted toward tests and quizzes where the majority of the course points are earned.

Too me the "minimum grade" and zero to 4 grading scales are the same in that neither method portray the severity to which a failing student does not get the material. I believe that the difference between a 90 and a 60 is just as great as the difference between a 60 and a 30 if the test is comprehensive in nature. Don't put the kid that tried but just didn't get it on the same level as the kid that didn't even try at all.

Anonymous said...

Receiving a Zero if you do not turn anything in, is acceptable! Why should children be rewarded for not doing what they are supposed to do? In this world you should be taught that you get what you work for. If my children (yes i raised 5 of them) brought home anything less than an "A" on something I would make them do it over and over until they figured it out. Not to turn it in for a higher grade, but to learn what they were supposed to be learning in school. I would always put it to them this way, "Would you want a doctor, dentist working on you or even a mechanic working on your car if they only understood 70%-80% of what they needed to do to take care of you or repair your car? Ususally the answer was no so then I told them that if they didn't want to be that person that wasn't trusted they had to work hard to learn and do it over and over until they understood. Everyone can learn, each in his own way and parents need to quit relying on everyone else to educate their children. Public schools are great foundations, but parents have to take the initiative to help their children learn if they need extra help!

Anonymous said...

No one here has addressed the issue of "chasing 0's" that this household unwittingly experienced with the Parent Assistant accessibility. And this subject was also covered in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. We have to be careful of this type of grade reporting, because instant information and a teacher's burden of having to post grades and then, in some cases, using the 0 to hold the place of a missing grade can wreak havoc on proper parent-child communication at home. Ann, two cents please on CMS policy for grade reporting - I understand from talking with parents from several CMS schools that some have policies in place for teachers to post grades every two weeks, and on a consistent schedule by all teachers, and some high schools - like Providence, have proven to have a policy like that in place, but individual teachers spring 0's with all grades whenever...particularly at the end of a grading period, i.e. when it is panic time to realize there is an issue either with missing work, or with performance.

Because of this, I personally fell into the trap of checking online to chase whether the grades accurately reflected the work turned in or otherwise, mostly around days when my kid was absent for a required school function such as a choir performance during the day, or other excused absences. This resulted in way too much checking...and ensuing communication issues with my kid, the teacher, the administration. And I am sure I was not the only one.

Regarding the 0 - yes it is a necessary grade for total lack of performance, but an incomplete - "I" is a much better tool when dealing with what was or wasn't done, and whether make-up work or excused delays for submitting work have been arranged between the student and teacher.

Wiley Coyote said...

I found Parent Assist to be totally useless at our school.

We made sure all of our son's teachers had our home, work, cell phone numbers and email addresses so we could communicate if needed.

Teachers I communicated with preferred email as they could communicate when their time permitted and most returned information in a very timely manner...

Here's one for you Ann....

With all the hullabaloo over technology the past three months, is CMS going to implement a digital program that will make it easier for teachers to post grades, assigments, etc. where parents can access them easier, using a unique login for each child? Maybe using a student ID number?

Anonymous said...

I'm the chasing 0's person. the WSJ article wasn't yesterday, but this week, sorry - the online grading systems are on a lot of minds...

Bill Stevens said...

Ann, thanks for "The Exhaustion of the American Teacher". I have been accusing of screaming till I am blue in the face about the "other" issues in our society and the unfairness society, politicans, newspaper editors, and community organizers have heaped upon our teachers.

Another prime example, the key reason to secure our southern border is not so much because of the Mexicans but because of the OTM's (other than mexicans, read abo them on ICE's website)especially of the Arab persuasion. Smuggling in a nuclear device is far too easy. But in the discussion, everyone gets defensive about illegal immigrants.

Anonymous said...

ADH. Find out about the State of NC having to buy a new way to keep student records since the old NCWise will no longer be supported by the company that bought it. Ask about the specifics of the roll over next summer and how all systems will be shut down for 6 to 8 weeks. Gonna be interesting.

Anonymous said...

New System is called PowerSchool. Google it.

Anonymous said...

How would grades transfer from school system to school system?

Anonymous said...

My son shaped up quickly after receiving a few 0's in 5th grade for failing to turn in homework. I was really nervous about how this was going to impact his report card but I supported the teacher whose objective was to prepare kids for middle school. The teacher gave students plenty of opportunities to get it right the next time. My son's report card was good and he was well prepared to make the transition to middle school where his report card mattered more.

Anonymous said...

Do report cards matter in elementary school since students are tracked in classes by 6th grade based on EOG scores?

Can anyone answer this question?

Anonymous said...

Not sure why we grade homework anyway. First, the purpose of a report card is not to be a "gotcha" for kids, but to let parents know how they are doing with the curriculum. Second, homework statistically has no impact on student achievement in elementary school and some (depending on the quality, NOT quantity, in middle in high school. Did you know that too much HW in middle and high can actually have an adverse affect on achievement? Third, responsibility isn't taught by zeros. It is taught by committed parents who follow up and model responsible behavior. The 0 isn't "pushing" the child--the adult (teacher or parent) is. If we want responsible children, we will model that in our day to day living, and hold them to those expectations. Chores around the house are one way. Fourth, you want to teach responsibility, then teach it! Get the kids a calendar and work with them on how to space out assignments. Get them an alarm clock, and let the get themselves up for school.

Anonymous said...

My child attends Lincoln Charter school. They've used an online management system, where parents can see all coursework--resources, test, quizzes, assignments, instructional materials...and check their student's progress. I've found this invaluable as I can tell within the day whether my child missed his work, was tardy or absent. Click of a button, and I'm prepared to have a discussion when he gets home.

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