Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The "Grades" Wars: Swing...and a miss...strike two

I wrote this comment in response to an article in today's Lewiston Sun-Journal: 

Both traditional grading and standards-based reporting miss the point by about a mile, when it comes to student learning. I know what I'm about to post will be counter to what many of us believe about what schools should do....but face it. Schools are failing.

There are multiple reasons why, and a biggie is just are bored. They are disconnected to learning. They do what they need to do and no more; just what's required to get adults to leave them alone (and if you don't see this as true of our better students, then you've never heard a high-achiever ask, "Will this be on the test?")

Here are some phrases from the article that jumped out at me and waved their arms:

“I’m the parent of an eighth-grader. When he goes next year, I want to know how he’s doing in school. ... We need to do a better job.”
We have accepted the idea that we need a number or a letter to know how our kids are doing in school. Should the question be "how are they doing?" or "how fulfilled and satisfied they are with their learning? Are they doing work that is fun for them to explore? Are they creating cool stuff?"

"For instance, he said, freshmen are no longer graded on homework. Some freshmen have interpreted that to mean they don’t have to do homework. They are now beginning to understand why they need to do their homework, that if they skip homework they won’t do well."
If they skip homework, that means they aren't interested enough in the work to do it. That fact has meaning beyond the archaic notion that one must do homework in order to be successful.

"Parents complained that freshmen grading is so inconsistent, incomplete and confusing that students don’t know where they stand. Some have lost incentive to do well in school."
Their incentive to do well should come from their passions and their interests. We are so divorced from the idea that kids are able to direct their own learning, that we can't imagine what might happen if they were doing work that they felt strongly connected to. We have thrown in the towel on the whole notion of fulfilling, satisfying learning that comes from their identities, their strengths, their enjoyments. And we are unacquainted with the idea that the best preparation for the "outside world" is the development and pursuit of creative ideas.

All grades, standards-based or traditional, derive from adults' ideas on what "should" be learned. We're so confident in our judgment that we don't feel it's necessary to see who the student is, and what they're actually intrinsically interested in learning. It's an idea that never really worked well, and now is positively binding and gagging our students.

Before we "strike out" in our pursuit of "fixing" the education system, we need to look at what nobody in the system seems to want to see -- that in order to "do well" students need to direct their own .learning. Let's get out of the high-stakes testing business, let's reject the Common Core, and embrace -- OH MY GOD! -- the students!