I had an interesting conversation with a colleague today that followed-up a heated discussion that took place yesterday among several staff members over lunch in the teachers' lounge. Yesterday's ongoing question was, "Do our grading practices promote compliance or learning?" For example, when a teacher continually awards five points for merely completing a homework assignment, we're sending a hidden message to parents that the way their student can raise their grade is to make sure that all of their assignments are turned in. Consider the following fictitious email communication:
Dear Mr. Townsley,or I'm guessing any secondary teacher can relate to this one:
I logged on to PowerSchool last night and saw that Johnny's grade dropped from a C to a D. Is there any extra credit he can do to raise his grade?
I look forward to hearing back from you today!
Dear Mr. Townsley,How often does parent communication emphasize turning in assignments, late work and following directions? These are all examples of compliance or "doing more work." Wouldn't it be great if parent communication instead looked something like this?
Jessica told me that she has been turning in all of her work, but her grade is still an "F." Could you send me a list of the assignments she is missing so that she can get her grade up?"
Dear Mr. Townsley,
Suzie does not seem to have a passing grade right now. Could you send me a list of the concepts and ideas that she still does not understand so that she and I can work on them together?My colleague had a great "aha" moment as she thought about this conversation last night. She agreed that traditional grading systems promote compliance and often report out responsibility rather than learning. She challenged my thinking by suggesting that many parents are happy to ask about compliance and responsibility in relation to grades not only because it is what they were used to in school, but also because it is something they can control. Parents can quickly and easily ensure that their children are completing assignments. There is great satisfaction in holding homework completion up as bait for free time watching television or playing video games. "Once you have your essay written, you may play Halo." She went on to suggest that many parents might begin to feel helpless once they realized the reason their student was failing Algebra wasn't because he/she wasn't turning in their homework, but instead because he/she is unable to solve two-step linear equations. Further evidence of this idea plays out when thinking about elementary report cards which tend to be descriptions of skills and abilities rather than letter grades. These skills are typically less cognitive and presumably a larger portion of our society has mastered them, so parents may be willing to accept a skills-based report card at this age. Parents are better able to control and teach those abilities at home, so there is more of a sense of ownership. This sense of control seems to decrease as the content students are expected to know and apply becomes more complex and unfamiliar to the average citizen as students progress through the public school system. Anatomy and calculus have a stigma attached to them that writing cursive and subtracting integers don't seem to possess.
Here lies a new reality in challenging system-wide change towards a more "standards-based" reporting method in our schools today: traditional grading schemes promote a "compliance" mentality and parents seem to be happy with it because they feel like they have more control. "Un-schooling" both students and parents is a natural first step, but what does this look like? As one of only two teachers in my building currently embracing standards-based reporting, I see a steep hill ahead.
Is "parent control" a valid challenge to standards-based reporting? If so, what can be done at a system-wide level to overcome this challenge?