Day 10 (of 186) Letter Grade comeback? (ugh)
“I’m glad that it went back,” said Jennifer Wood, PTA president at Twinbrook Elementary. “I grew up with an A, B, C, D system, and I think probably most of the teachers did. It makes it an easier process to communicate.”
This line came from an article via the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/report-cards-p-is-for-perplexing-traditional-grades-make-a-comeback/2017/09/17/65a1a2ce-9725-11e7-82e4-f1076f6d6152_story.html?utm_term=.4f9b82dbe0b9&wpisrc=nl_sb_smartbrief
But letter grades were not meant to be descriptive ways to report on achievement – but rather meant to report out on a “snapshot of time” – originally stolen from the Meat Industry – the rankings of ABCDF were meant to reflect how students achieved based on completion of common tests…..becasue that is how meat is measured – common appearances of similar types of cuts of meat allow for a Ranking of quality…..for that date – and there is an expiration date attached to that (28 days for many types) and while they can be thrown into the freezer…..things change over time…..but a mark on a report card seems to ‘last’ longer….
If Fresher Meat is a goal, should’t Fresher Assessment be more meaningful? And don’t we think that something better than a meat ranking should be used to describe our learners? (Yes I have particular bias)
Just because letter grades are more comfortable because they were what was being used by previous generations , does not mean they are effective – there is so much discussion and debates that rage in staterooms, parking lots and homes:
C+ is the new F – I still remember when (the last time) I solely used letter grades and a child worked very hard to get a C+ on math (overcoming math anxiety) and her father was wanting an immediate intervention because any grade below a B was “at-risk” for not graduating.
The case for letter grades? To create a rank/order (aka percentile rank) to compare students on common tasks. This was appropriate when the focus was the exploratory/industrial mindset that needed a number of workers to know and replicate a specific set of tasks – f’r instance when the British Empire was conducting affairs around the world which then led into the industrial revolution – learn a task, perform it well. Reading Writing and a bit of Math (with some history and scientific studies for the elite)
But the world has moved on.
We can and should be personalizing education more and more (as uncomfortable as it sounds: a class full of IEPs) which means the overarching ranking of students cannot and should not be done on equivalent tasks. By minimizing the authentic learning that takes place, the reward is more on schema than it is on gaining knowledge.
Letter grades devalue the work learners due. %s are untrustworthy. The article refers to the wideness of Ps (Proficient) but the “B” in most jurisdictions ranges from 73 to 86 percentile points (13% of what’s available) C+/C/C- is worth 23% of what can be earned – and of course an F is at least 50% of what a student may accomplish (not including the warning around including distractions like attendance, behaviour, work habits into the mix <— for more look to The Grade Doctor Ken O’Connor www.oconnorgrading.com who has a 4th edition of his How To Grade For Learning coming out in October).
Performance Standards allow students to identify how they are doing and where they can focus their attention for “next steps” – my own bias is to focus even more so on ongoing Descriptive Feedback Loops that provide descriptive language about what is going well, an area to focus on and what the next steps are to be more successful. Think of it like a coach – if all you received was numbers based on an activity, the motiviation changes from getting “better” to just dealing with that damned number.
So why revert back to letter grades? It’s what’s been done and when implementing change (and going through the implementation dip) there is a sense of comfort to return to what was done (even if it wasn’t that good) because of familiarity…..thank goodness we haven’t taken similar approaches with how “discipline” has been measured out.
With letter grades, usual responses include “work harder” or “work smarter not harder” or “study more”. They create a token economy: will this count for grades? Can I earn bonus marks to increase my % for a higher score? And I confess my bias comes from being read articles my father was collecting in his journal while I was still in the womb:
Can we stop the Merry-Go-Round of Grades? By Bea Bates who points out: “Grades are the symbols of failure – the proof that they can do nothing well – to a number of students. The high school sophomore who drops out of school has learned he cannot learn – he has the grades to prove it.”
Report Cards Belong To The Stone Age by Sister M. Robertann Lathrop talked about how “Report cards are judicial not diagnostic” and makes a lot of points raised by others (Mr O’Connor) about the issues connected with averaging percentages – especially if you use any 0s…!
The debate is not new. We have 50+ years of educators making attempts to change and move away from Report Cards. It hurts to see jurisdictions “go back to letter grades” when the shift is just starting to heat up and gain momentum – and learn more and improve along the way – a lot faster than the search for a ‘better report card’ – something that like the ‘better mouse trap’ is a fools errand. As I still refer to for my own reflection: https://technolandy.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/sol-9-i-learned-i-dont-want-a-faster-horse/
I’m glad the Washington Press had educators like Rick Wormeli @rickwormeli2 and Thomas Guskey @tguskey <–both educators who inspire me and regularly appear on #SBLchat wednesdays at 6pm where the discussion is around Standards Based Learning and a common complaint is how to make this approach “fit” into a report card (my opinion – the report card was not meant for this, so it can’t and shouldn’t).
Letter grades…..? Ugh.