Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Grades, and The Game of School

Continuing on the topic of teaching . . .

My youngest, in her last writing assignment of the year, is exploring a change she would make in schools if she ran things.  While brainstorming, she proposed expanding the percentage range for grades: 80-100% for an A, 60-79% for a B, etc.  Note that this means 20% is a D-.

I gently pointed out to her that if you were to give a child a quiz on, say, multiplication of 9s, this child could get eight of the ten problems wrong and still pass the 9s.  Is that good enough?  Hmm, she pondered . . . and then decided to write about a different idea altogether.

But this brings up a valid point.  As our grading system stands now, a child can have only six of the ten 9s problems correct and still pass.  Is that good enough?  Do we really think it's okay for a student to catch on to only 60% of the material presented in a class and his teacher says, "Alright, that's good enough; you have a passing grade." What is this concept of "passing"? 

Toward the end of my teaching stint, I set up a totally different grading system for my honors classes.  I had a list of the major objectives for the course, and they had to prove to me they had met all those objectives to get anything above a D.  That was the primary focus.  Then, whether they ended up with an A, B, or C depended on whether they finished all their assignments, got them in on time, participated in class . . . basically the effort they were showing.  It wasn't a perfect grading system, but it got my honors kids -- who were masters at playing the Game of School -- to think in terms of learning something rather than racking up points like in a round of Mario Bros.

I don't necessarily give my daughter grades for her subjects in our homeschool.  This is because our goal is her learning, and it's always clear to me whether or not she's learned what I want her to learn.  If she hasn't, we keep working on it.  Neither of us need a letter grade to know what she's accomplished.  Now, when she's in high school, she has to be given letter grades because colleges will need to be able to look at grades on a transcript to know what she's accomplished -- just like they do for every other kid they admit.

Thing is, I don't know what they expect that grade to tell them, other than that this kid knows how to play the school game.

No comments: