Saturday, February 8, 2014

Currently Grades Are Inherently Unfair

If grades matter as much as many say, we need to make reforms.

I’m the proud father of identical twins. Essentially, they possess similar academic and non-cognitive skills.  Yet, their high school experiences were dramatically different, as were their GPAs.

The discrepancies came down to one, randomly assigned variable—their teachers.

In science class one twin’s teacher weighted homework at 40%, while the other twin’s teacher didn’t calculate homework. In another subject, one teacher allowed extra credit while the other didn’t. Similar subject exams ranged from 10% to 20%. Of course, these differences are only the tip of the iceberg.

Dinner conversations frequently centered on such disparities. “I wish I was allowed to turn in extra credit.” “You’re so lucky to have her. She’s so much easier.” “I’ve worked so much harder, but I’ve only got a B and you have an A.”

Such disparities shouldn’t exist.

By no stretch of the imagination am I fan of more regulation, and since grades are here to stay, we need to make significant grade reforms. Here’s a simple 3-step policy:

1.     Each school should collaboratively develop its own grading policies. The policy should include what goes into a grade and how grades are calculated. As the policy is formulated ask the following questions:
·      What can and cannot be included in grades?
·      How do we ensure that grades indicate student understanding?
·      Will extra credit be allowed?
·      Will redos/retakes be permitted? If so, how will they be computed?

2.     Next teachers should meet in grade-level or subject-specific teams. Each team should then describe what they want their students to know and how this will be measured (performance indicators)

3.     Teachers articulate their grading policy to students and parents.

The above reforms will take time and energy, but effective grading policies require deliberate planning.  Reforms will enable grades to accurately reflect what students have learned and are able to do.

If we must have grades, we should strive to ensure that they indicate the same level of learning in classrooms across the spectrum.

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