Saturday, October 1, 2016

The value of an A

Good morning colleagues! Yesterday was the end of first quarter, so as always, the students were scrambling to get their grades up by the end. "The scramble" is nothing new; I have seen it every year that I've taught. What WAS new this year was that 1) my overall grades were lower than previous years and 2) more students than before were asking in the last week how to get an A in my class.

"The scramble" led to a conversation with a colleague about grades. My colleague had most of these students last year, so I wondered how her grades were. Overall, her grades were similar. The difference was that she did not have our "honors" students last year. Currently, their first B is in my class, and now I'm feeling the pressure. Do I curve assignments to ensure that students have an A? Are my grading procedures too hard? Or are my students even working at an A-level? What IS the value of an A?

I am not entirely sure from where the pressure is coming. The administration team has not had a conversation with me about having too few As, but I am waiting for that conversation to happen. I have only had slight pressure from one parent, so we will see how that goes next week. Most of the pressure is coming from the students. In general, I do think that this pressure is unfair. My class is challenging because students have to think in a different way, the thinking is very gray instead of black and white (which is DOK level 1), and students do not get 100% for turning in an assignment. I am trying to off-set the "challenge" of my class by trying something different with grading. On large projects, I am not putting a final grade on the rubric. Instead, I am marking where they are on the proficiency scale. I then Screencastify myself giving them feedback. Once the students access my comments, they can redo the assignment. My goal is to get students to proficient (*hint* this is an A). I am also allowing students to revise, actually, any assignment except for flipped learning.

I noticed that this group of students has a "one and done" mentality. They do not want to redo an assignment because they think that they did it right the first time. Students are telling me that my rubrics are too open-ended; they want to know EXACTLY how to get an A. They want my rubrics to be entirely black and white because they have used these type of rubrics in the past. But when I watch my students redo an assignment, they will change one or two things, then expect that they will get an A. I am not sure if my students understand that they have to work for an A. An A means advanced; if a student is getting As (or 100%) on "gray" assignments, then that student should also be advanced on state and national assessments.

The student may not get an A right away, but that is why the revising process exists. It is not about needing extra credit. Instead, it is about finding where one went wrong, making a change, and improving their assignment AND their learning. There is a jump in learning from seventh to eighth grade as there SHOULD be. Every year should be more challenging than the previous. The student, will at first, struggle. If the student does not have to exert themselves, and already knows how to do everything, then I am doing the child a disservice. I am not doing my job. I am not getting them ready for the real world. The real world is not black and white. There are many shades of gray. I have to help them learn how to wade through the gray.

This whole grading dilemma might be my biggest call for standards-based grading in my district. Grades should have meaning. Students should be able to understand their education, and where they stand on the scale of objectives and standards. Students should not be playing the game of school points.

So how can I get my colleagues on board? Where do I go from here?

Thanks for reading! I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website