Saturday, March 26, 2011

Session 2: Grading Exceptional Learners

I'll want to blog more in depth on this later. This is going to be a ton of notes that I'm dumping on you.

First, if you ever get the chance, go see Thomas Guskey in person. He's passionate about his topic and wasn't afraid to draw a line in the sand. I've found his books to be dry so he really surprised me. His co-presenter was Lee Ann Jung.

Main idea: Grades should be both fair and meaningful.

Things I found interesting, but not necessarily that I agree with. My quick thoughts are in italics:

A high quality grading model would include the 3 Ps: Process, Product, and Progress. They don't necessarily have to all be number/letter grades but they should all be kept separate. He doesn't advocate for one being more important than the other. That can be a site decision.

Teachers argue that grading the 3 Ps takes more work. Teachers who actually do this in other countries argue that it takes much less work. They're gathering the same information as us, they just don't bother to use complicated formulas to combine them into one score.

This is my argument too for the "it takes more work" complaint.

The problem with our grading systems is we don't agree on the purpose of grades. So we come up with systems that try to support all purposes and end up not serving any of them. Most schools fail with report card reform because they disagree on the purpose. Consensus amongst the staff of the purpose of the report card is the first step for report card reform.

Grading programs only make this worse. They're based on "antiquated" notions of grades. The best schools develop their own systems.

Shout out to ActiveGrade.

There isn't a grading style more prevalent that does more damage than a percentage system. Nobody can distinguish between 101 levels of quality. He also brought up the zero issue.

Not only do we disagree on the purpose of grades, we disagree with what counts. For kids it ends up as a big guessing game and grades become a mystery.

Grading and reporting are not essential to the instructional process but checking is. Grading is evaluative but checking is diagnostic.  Teacher is asked to be both advocate (checking) and judge (grading). We are aware of the tension when it comes to principals being asked to be both advocates and judges of teachers, but don't acknowledge we are in the same position as a teacher.

Grading and reporting should always be done with reference to learning criteria, never on a curve. A hidden example of grading on the curve is selecting a class valedictorian. Guskey pointed out that the word "valedictorian" actually comes from "to say farewell." They're the person that gives the speech. There's nothing that says that they have to be GPA #1. Even colleges don't do this. They give criterion-referenced awards (e.g., cum laude).

Guskey gave some interesting statistics. For the entering class of 2008, Duke rejected 58% of valedictorians, University of Pennsylvania rejected 62%, and Harvard rejected 9%. Highly selective schools are more concerned with the rigor of your coursework than your class rank. He gave the impression that this had to do both with the preparation needed to succeed in college and with the general meaningless nature of comparing grades from school to school.

I'd add that comparing grades from teacher to teacher at the same school, even within the same course, is also meaningless. 

I'm going to summarize about 30 minutes here: We're screwing over our kids by modifying grades for them. The kid who "tries really hard" so you change her grade to a B. The mainstreamed kid who you don't want to fail, but don't think he deserves an A or B, so he gets a C or D in every single class he takes.

Accommodations level the playing field but don't change the standard. Probably what you get in an IEP are accommodations, like a student getting extra time. These do not need to be reported on a report card.

Modification do change the standard. These must be communicated. Modifications, at most 5 or 6 per student, need to be specific, measurable, attainable this year. After modification is created, apply standard grading practices to it. It should be written out and reported on the report cards and the transcript. 

The gen ed teacher is valuable in this case to define grade-level criteria.

It is illegal to report the exceptionality of a student, however it is legal to report the level of skill. Thus you can report the levels of skills on the report card.

We should collect data. Most commonly in these cases we have narrative reports. Some argue these are more rich, but nobody ever goes back and summarizes.

Guskey and Jung then spent the next twenty minutes sharing an example of a report card which I don't have a copy to show. It was a standard report card with an asterisk next to modified standards. Attached was a report showing more detailed information for that modified standard. It included an annual goal and a quarterly objective. There were narrative reports of what specific accommodations were made. The modified grading scale was shown. In this example they used a 1-4 system. The 1 represented where the student was right now. The 4 was the objective goal. 

Takeaway: When creating a reporting system, start with the purpose and then work backwards. For exceptional learners, modify the expectations to make them attainable but report those modifications. Don't leave it up to the teacher to make arbitrary grade modifications.

I plan to blog more in detail about this when I can get a hold of some visuals to show you. It was a good session and a lot of food for thought.

1 comment:

  1. "Grading programs only make this worse."

    SO true! I have spent so much time trying to make a grading system do what I want it to do, and making ludicrous compromises to my own personal wishes because the program doesn't allow that. But, I have to use that grading program. Or, do the work in another grading program, then transfer the data into the program that everyone is using. Ugh!

    I just started using ActiveGrade this trimester, and I already love it.