Monday, March 1, 2010

To Grade or Not To Grade

This week's blog cruise is about grades.  What is the purpose of a grade anyway?  It's just a coded communication from a teacher to a parent (or a potential college) that tries to sum up in one letter or number how well a student is performing.    It does not necessarily mean the student is learning.  They may be able to retain facts just long enough to take the test and then they wipe the slate clean and prepare for the next chapter of the book.   Or the student may be a lucky guesser.  My mother told me the story of a fellow nursing school candidate taking a multiple choice test.  If she didn't know the answer she would look at the sweeping second hand on her watch.  If it fell between the 12 and the 3 she would pick A, between 3 and 6 she would be B, and so on.  She managed to get a B on her test, but I'm not sure I'd want her assisting the surgeon during my operation.

Grades (in a public school setting) may be relative to how all the other students in the class are performing, not just the one you're interested in.  The famous "bell curve" assigns a C to the class average.  If you do better than average you may get an A, even if your score is far less than the standard 90 percent.   Grades can also be manipulated by the teacher with partial credit.  You would think a math test would be easy to grade--an answer is either right or wrong.   A teacher, especially in higher subjects, may give credit for using the correct formula or argument, even if the addition or subtraction is wrong.   How is a parent looking at a report card supposed to know these things based on one letter grade?

Since I am both teacher and parent, I can tell when my son understands the math application or has learned something about history.  He applies it outside our school setting.   Yesterday, he heard someone introduced as Gladys and turned to me to say "That's the same name as the missionary lady in China we read about."  We read Gladys Aylward's autobiography last October.  

I do make Fritz take the tests in his Math U See curriculum. I keep the papers and record the scores just in case I'm asked to provide evidence that we are doing schoolwork.  We don't take the tests though until I'm sure he's mastered the concept.  Sometimes if I spot a mistake, I'll make him grade the test himself.  If he finds the mistake I'm reasonably sure the error was caused by his rushing rather than a lack of understanding the problem. 

Of course my son is only seven years old.  I'm sure as he reaches the "high school" years, I'll bow to convention and assign grades.  He'll need a transcript  if he wants to pursue college.  Again, it's a single number or letter for me to try to communicate to an admissions board how well my son has performed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well written, worded and explained. We feel similarly. I have two grown daughters who graduated from my homeschool and one currently in High School so I do have to keep grades for them. We to reach for mastery and understanding.

Debbie @

fellow crew member

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