by James C. Sherlock
After I posted yesterday on Albemarle County’s Draft Grading Policy, I wrote each of the members of that school board. Still troubled, I wrote them again this morning. That board is a very distinguished group . I thus have reason to hope the messages have some effect before the vote on the policy on September 24. We’ll see.
Here are the messages.
The Daily Progress reported that you “didn’t ask many questions” on September 10 concerning the pending Draft Grading Policy.
I have experience in Virginia schools as both a public school teacher and, once retired, as a volunteer tutor in remedial mathematics.
I read the draft policy closely. I found considerable cognitive dissonance and large gaps both in the newspaper interviews and in the draft policy.
This grading policy as written will present teachers with a major challenge to their integrity.
At first read, an experienced teacher can be forgiven for thinking that only practical way out of the box you are building will be massive grade inflation. That is the elephant in the room.
It will need to be addressed forthrightly and publicly on September 24. You are very smart and accomplished people, so you and the Superintendent may have in your minds some way to avoid that pitfall. I hope you will you share it.
I offer a number of additional questions that I hope you will ask on September 24th so that we can get the answers on the public record.
- How will college admission offices perceive and evaluate the grades of applicants from Albemarle County high schools under a unique grading standard?
- How will students transferring to or from Albemarle County schools to or from another district or state will be evaluated for proper class placement in their new schools and their grades translated for transcript purposes?
From the Draft Policy section “Grading practices in the ACPS will be:”
- Explain “teachers implicit bias.” Which of your teachers are so afflicted?
- Explain “reflective of a student’s environment.”
- Explain “mathematically sound calculations.”
Supportive of Student Learning – Explain how grading practices can:
- “Reflect individual differences and rates of learning.”
- “Address the unique needs of special populations of students” – one of the grade inflation red flags.
- “Make adjustments for transitional periods (including elementary to middle and middle to high).”
- “Encourage students to take an active role in setting goals and assessing progress.”
- “Foster a positive self-image for the student” – another grade inflation red flag.
- “Inform teaching practices and student learning.”
- Be “credible” under this policy.
The criteria listed are entirely subjective. With so much subjectivity required on the part of each teacher, achieving consistency “within and across students, teams, departments, courses, and schools” absent grade inflation will prove impossible as a practical matter.
Stacey Heltz, an assistant principal at Charlottesville High School was quoted in the Daily Progress:
In a standards-based class, the homework piece is not really factored into that grade,” she said. “ … But their grade in a regular classroom or on a traditional grading scale might be low because they don’t access or because they might be taking care of their siblings. So their grade is negatively impacted, not because they don’t understand but because they didn’t play the game of school.
I never before knew an AP that considered school a game or at least would admit it if she did.
Unless 5,000 years of teachers around the world have missed something, failure to do homework will reduce understanding. It will indeed silently factor into the grades, unless grades are directed by policy or unspoken understanding.
Superintendent Thomas was quoted:
(Superintendent) Thomas said changing grading ties into the division’s anti-racism policy, which calls on staff to ensure that each student can be successful. “This is one of those inequalities — grading — that we know happens systemically nationwide, and we’re going to tackle it and it’s going to be hard and we have a lot of staff members who are excited about that and want to get behind that,” he said.
Perhaps the superintendent can elaborate on his assessment of the difference between nationwide grading inequities and nationwide achievement gaps.
“(Superintendent Thomas said … that changing grading practices will be a big challenge.”
So we arrive back where we started – at grade inflation. That will be the default interpretation of the guidelines unless you and the superintendent can explain how the grading practices will meet the goals without it.
That explanation is key to public acceptance of this proposed policy.
As a former teacher I cannot get this off of my mind.
Reading the Daily Progress stories from February and from the other day, the unmistakable takeaway is that your superintendent will direct teachers to not require homework be completed (assigned?), not require classroom participation and not require correct answers on tests while awarding good grades.
In my experience, children who do not learn multiplication tables in the third grade, for example, have no chance to successfully participate in math instruction for the rest of their school years.
Those are the children that as a volunteer I for four years taught to multiply in the fifth grade at a side table in their classrooms. They were all volunteers. Nearly half of one class.
I had almost a 100% success rate, but it required homework. Those children were unfailingly proud of themselves, and now had a chance in math classes.
Now on to Albemarle County schools.
The children will figure out what is happening with the new policy as soon as their teachers begin to execute it.
The kids who have struggled with school will suddenly begin getting good grades. They will tell the other kids they are suckers for doing homework. You couldn’t stop that with an army of APs. How do you think that is going to play out at recess?
If you go through with that policy, your dropout rates will soar as your school population shrinks.
Children without a clue what is going on in the classroom after three or so years as “beneficiaries” of the new system will leave. The children with high learning ambitions whose parents can provide them with an option will leave.
You are literally gambling with children’s lives. I hope the “game” proves worth the candle.There are currently no comments highlighted.