Day 128 (of 189) a little rant on pass/fail and %s
Recently, I found out my name was mentioned during a meeting session:
Definitely something I have learned since I shifted away from checkmarks, Xs, percentages, and letter grades and moved into descriptive feedback (typically starting with “two stars and a wish” while being mindful that one negative comment can skewer a whole list of positive comments…) where the “thing (singular) to work on next” is achievable and relevant.
It has also led me to do some rethinking about what makes a pass/fail – especially when many still allow score calculations perpetuate the game of school (which my oldest daughter apparently won by getting ‘the’ Governor Generals award – only one per school….and if its not a game, why are we keeping scores?). And my kids roll their eyes when they talk about their percentages in their courses because they now know, I will ask what is the 18% that they don’t know? or how could they demonstrate that they learned the missing x% – assuming 100% means having learned it all – or remembered it long enough to regurgitate the information presented to them…. sorry – I digress a bit….
But I have a son who processes a lot of information, but whose anxiety and autism prevents him from achieving well in a traditional manner. For every question – asked by a teacher, or on a worksheet, can have thousands of possible answers and struggles to figure out which “one” the teacher wants to see/hear. So his learning can be deep, but his scores on tasks is low. My youngest daughter has learned from both of them, so blends a love of learning with a wonder if the current school structure is the best methodology….. all different learners, but all measured the same…. hmmmmm….
And it gets me to my rethink/wonder about percentages. Specifically the fallacy that 50% is a good barrier for pass/fail. Heck, my daughters engineering program has 60% as its “fail” barrier. And is 95% good? Good enough for the average successful landing for an airline? Or for survival rate in a tonsillectomy? A batting average? <– unachievable by the way, heck no batter has ever hit at a 50% rate and a 30% rate gets you consideration for hall of fame entry.
And I have friends who did not achieve 50% in our Algebra 11 class, but passed (as long as they never do another math class again – one ended up having to teach math 9 in his first year as a teacher….) and I KNOW I did not get 50% in my university french class…. but that’s a story better told in person….But I also liked one of my education profs who said as long as we did 3 essays, we would get 80%, (task completion – and had to be completed to a standard) and there would be extras that could be done to achieve a higher mark – if we had the time and wherewithal to do more by learning more/deeper. Took away the stress and I don’t think many just stuck with 80%, but I also know that the education program was very stressful to some, so knowing they didn’t have to do the extra work… helped reduce the stress.
So why can’t we acknowledge that perhaps a percentage is lower but can still be a “pass” – especially if we take into consideration how much is authentically learned vs what is already known – I have worked with students who got As (back when I still had to do letter grades) but I was not working with grade level curriculum with them; we were doing some extension work instead – and my oldest went (and continues to go) deep into subject material prior to even taking her course, so do we reward inherit knowledge over/same/??? as learned material? Does the change from pretest to posttest matter?
When I taught in the secondary world, I used to say to my English and Socials students when they were worried about failing, that they would likely have to work harder to fail our class than what it would take to pass it (or do even better). A mindset I have continued, and blended with my other rant that I always emphasize quality over quantity when it comes to the learning outcomes, because no matter how hard I have tried, I don’t believe I ever fully covered every one – and why I have loved the shift to “Big Questions” in the BC Curriculum because it allows a good bit of versatility over how to address them (aka not everyone needs to know the names of all 206 bones in the skeleton, but there will always be one who needs to know the name of all 206 bones).
Then there is also my ever growing bias that the more I learn about %s the more I get worried when told how precise they are…. Too often “margin of error” is not factored in. Likewise other errors in test analysis, bias of questions, etc etc – and I admit my own bias is from a friend who got 85.4999999999999% in Biology 11, and the teacher refused to give credit for a question he saw was marked wrong but was right because his behaviour meant he shouldn’t get an A.
Yet there is also the wonder about types of average – too often we rely on the mean average, when there are so many to explore; mode, median, range, most-recent etc. So why use percentages? to indicate “how much of a course was learned” –> because then there is the question about “learned for a task/test?” or learned deeply. Does one matter more than the other? I’d say its 50-50 (but largely because sometimes I can be jerk).
Essentially when it comes to people in education using percentages, I admit I get nervous and often bite my tongue, because too often….
Maybe a student getting 30% is good enough for credit for a course. Maybe for some courses 90% isn’t good enough for credit. And conversely for some courses, a student getting 40% may be more of an achievement than a student getting 75%. The numbers don’t tell the whole story of what is needed, and the story of rite learning journey is much more important and vital! I admit I look forward to the day where nobody bats an eye when we see 25% (A) …. and likewise 100% becomes an expectation because we focus on the learning outcomes, not just task completion.