Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Musings on Grading.

Progress reports due today. One boy has a 17. I managed to give him credit for participating in classwork and he earned a 7% on a test. Never did the test corrections. Doesn't hand in homework or even most of the classwork. Another works hard, hands everything in, tries to pay attention in class, but can't score better than 60% on tests. Still another pays attention, answers questions, hands nothing in but still gets As on tests.

Should we grade these students based on what they do in comparison with the rest or compared to a mythical norm? Should we give more credit for effort or for knowledge? What's the balance between homework and tests? Is it the learning at the end that counts or the learning process?

I've often thought about this balance between grading for effort/ improvement and grading for results. I guess I come down on the side of the latter. I'd much rather a kid who gets the knowledge in the long run.

I've been doing this teaching thing for a while now and I think the most frustrating part of a new class is figuring out how much the kids know and where to go from there. Are the kids similar in ability and knowledge to other post-algebra one students? I think that grading should reflect knowledge more than effort.

A grades is my way of telling the next teacher what to expect.

If the transcript says "B" in algebra I, then the kid's gotta know certain things. When you put him in algebra II, you are launching him into a course that assumes an understanding of certain things: factoring and distributive property (don't call it FOIL! h/t jd2718), linear functions and graphing, english-to-algebra translation (word problems), numerical and algebraic FRACTIONS, all those simple algebra rules, an intro to quadratics and radicals.

What happens if the kid gets a push, with too much credit for copying homework and "really trying" and "cooperative learning"? He was the lower man on the totem pole last year and needed a push - now he's even worse off. I don't think it's fair to him. Let him repeat algebra I. Better yet, let him repeat the eighth grade pre-algebra if needed.

This idea that process is more important that knowledge is killing our schools. We're also pushing the content lower and lower, replacing the practice and knowledge that middle school used to focus on. We've got kids who are taking a watered-down algebra in seventh or eighth grade who then wonder why they have so much trouble in calculus when they get that far.

21st century skills, my foot. How about some 20th century knowledge? It's 20th century knowledge and skills that built all these wonderful toys and technology - why change horses now?


  1. I don't think it needs to be entirely either/or. I find it valuable to reward process... but, and this is huge, knowledge/skill remain primary.

    But if by rewarding process (or progress) I can get kids to do more, and that leads to more knowledge or skill, well sure, I have no problem with that. But kids who can't do algebra don't pass my algebra.