Sunday, September 20, 2009


The earlier post mentioned two recent experiences. Here is the second one. I am outraged about this, but as I have watched my kids in school I have been outraged about it on numerous occasions.

My daughter is in the IB program at Cooper High School entering 9th grade and for the summer she had the pleasure of reading The Alchemist for her english course. This is a great text and the assignment was sufficiently innocuous not to have prevented her from enjoying the reading. She was asked to take notes on the text and to write a few paragraphs in response to some specific prompts.

She got this assignment back on Friday. It seems it was worth 35 points, 20 points for each of the four paragraphs, and fifteen points for her notes. Here is how she was graded...

Paragraph 1: 5/5
Paragraph 2: 3/5
Paragraph 3: 3/5
Paragraph 4: 3/5
Setting Notes: 1/5
Other Notes: 10/10

The only qualitative feedback she received was that paragraphs 2-4 and her setting notes were too short. There was not feedback regarding the quality of her thinking or of the stylistic elements of her writing. To the best of my knowledge, there was nothing in the assignment sheet indicating specific expectations for length.

Notwithstanding the pedagogical difficulty of having a scored evaluation of student product prior to any instruction having taken place, I want to use this work as an example of poor scoring practices. My apologies to anyone who has read anything about this topic, as it is an obvious example of the pitfalls of this grading practice.

First, note that the resulting score was 25/35, which would be a low C. Having seen the work before it was submitted, in the context of no instruction I am not sure how the teacher would justify this grade.

But, examine the individual elements of the score. The three paragraphs which seem to have fulfilled the requirement of the prompt but were arbitrarily identified as too short each received a grade of 60%, which would generally indicate very poor work. The setting section, which was arguably of low quality, received a grade of 20%, a grade that is unlikely to be assigned in any holistic approach. The cumulative consequence of these choices is that the assignment receives an overall grade that significantly understates the student's performance.

I see this all the time in classrooms where, rather than risk a more subjective and holistic qualitative score, the instructor protects themselves by identifying arbitrary elements that they are comfortable giving ridiculously low scores to because they seem like such insignificant point values. The cumulative effect, however, is not insignificant.

We do the same thing when we allow zero scores for missing work. The cumulative effect of zero scores is much greater than the actual deficiency in learning or performance would suggest.

Sigh...okay...well, so much for grading today. In short, if we graded learning instead of compliance, high school would begin to look very different.

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