Here’s a post I wrote back in March of 2009 to give readers a little insight into what school board members do. The “reality check” refers to what forum attendees learn about the misconception of a) running for the Board and winning a seat, and b) single-handedly imposing their will on the district. It just doesn’t happen that way. I’ve included some updates in italics.
You want to return to the traditional grading system. Is this what you’re wishing for?
10 Reasons to Return to the Traditional Grading System
- The teacher puts anything they want into the grade. Test scores, quiz scores, homework, participation, tardies, absences, headings on the right side of the assignment, neatness, responsibility factors, citizenship, miscellaneous behaviors that are important to the teacher, MMPI scores…you name it. (With all that stuff in the mix, what does that “traditional” grade tell you about your child’s achievement?)
- The teacher may or may not impose penalties through the grade, such as zeros or 50% off for late/missing assignments/assessment. (And not give feedback to the student, which was the purpose of the assignment/assessment to begin with.)
- The teacher is free to ignore the mathematical rules of statistics (measures of central tendency) by including zeros for missing/late assignments/assessments into grade calculations, thereby having a disproportionate negative effect on the report card grade, and possibly college admissions (This is where the lawsuits could really come from.)
- The teacher isn’t concerned that another teacher in the district, the building, or just down the hall, who is teaching the same subject at the same level, has different grading criteria. Your child could get an A in one class, and a C in the other class – for the same level of actual achievement. This could be due to punitive grading (zeros and 50% off) or different grade cut-offs (90%=A in one class, 94%=A in another class). There’s no consistency in the “traditional” system, and your child gets “the luck of the draw.” (And it’s really tough to get the principal to pull your child out of one class and put them in the other. Building politics play a big part in a “traditional” grading system.)
- The teacher may collect and give credit for homework without knowing if it was the student, parent, or friend who did the actual assignment. (Check out those busy students in the cafeteria before school starts…lots of homework copying going on there. How does that foster responsibility and character development?)
- Your child’s grade can get dragged down by the poorest performing student in a group work assignment. (Not the way it’s supposed to work in group learning situations, but it’s all up to the teacher in the “traditional’ grading system.)
- Kids don’t learn from mistakes – they get hammered for mistakes. (The learning environment is tense, conflicted, much less effective, and directs student attention to scheming about acquiring “points” rather than actual learning.)
- Grades can be inflated through the addition of “extra credit” for academic or non-academic factors. (Exactly how does bringing a box of Kleenex factor into a grade that’s supposed to indicate level of learning according to standards?)
- Grades can be severely deflated if the teacher chooses to use grading as a tool to force compliance by punishing students with zeros or other grade reductions unrelated to actual performance linked to an education standard. (The belief that the threat of punishment through grade reduction has a positive effect on student performance is wishful thinking on the part of some teachers. Can they find some evidence out there – research – that punitive grading is a force for improving student achievement? No, they cannot. There is no evidence to support punitive grading.)
- The acquisition of learning – both for the student and the teacher – is compromised in the “traditional” grading system by the inclusion of “practice” (formative assessment — also known as “assessment for learning”) in the report card grade. You can read about this in a report on a 1998 research meta-study by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam titled “Inside the Black Box.” The saddest aspect of “traditional” grading is that its advocates don’t seem to care that we are shooting ourselves in the foot by ignoring this powerful research. The teacher’s most effective tool – feedback to the student about learning – is compromised by attaching “credit” to everything a student does. That same feedback loop also gives the teacher information about the effectiveness of their instruction and may suggest to the teacher ways to improve their instruction, and your child’s opportunity to learn more effectively.
Those of us then serving on the HSD 1J Board of Directors, i.e., the school board, were somewhat stunned to learn recently — via letters of protest and/or appearances at school board meetings from/by students, teachers, parents, a USAF officer, two professional journalists (who are alums of the Glencoe journalism program), and other Glencoe graduates — that although the District had been able to backfill some of our cuts, including some athletic programs that had been consigned to fund-raising, high school student newspaper advisor stipends (and thus the newspapers) remained on the cut list.
The high school community, the current Board and former Board members, and, I suspect, the entire District community, would like to know why…
John Peterson, a local trial attorney and fellow Board member emeritus (we both declined to run again after two four-year terms ending June 30th) frames the issue well in his letter of July 28, 2011 to the current Board…
From: John Peterson
Sent: Thursday, July 28, 2011 2:17 PM
Subject: Plea for Journalism
July 26, 2011
To: Hillsboro School Board
Re: Cancellation of Journalism Advisor Stipends at High Schools
Dear Board Members:
It is with some considerable disappointment I address you on this subject once again. After receipt of grateful news the State of Oregon would be providing slightly more funding than originally projected, we had a discussion of where to “backfill” budget cuts already planned. I then made the statement such decision-making should be pursuant to a prioritization of deserving programs. I urged programs supporting our academic curriculum should be of the highest priority. My failure was in not insisting we have a debate then and there about what we believed as a board should be funded once again with these unexpected revenues.
I apparently placed too much faith in the belief that anyone with an educational background would recognize that the school district is first and foremost an academic institution. It was with great dismay the next word I received was that our district administrators had decided non-academic athletic stipends were apparently to trump the stipend for academic faculty support and supervision of journalism. The budget document does not require administration to spend allocated money as it might appear in the document. The funding of stipends is entirely a decision of administration unless the board specifically directs a reversal of a decision made. It is just such a reversal I urge upon you.
No one enjoys high school athletics more than I. However, that is not the issue. We should be ashamed of ourselves in the decision to fund any non-academic activity before we assure that those traditional and excellent activities directly supporting and complimenting our academic curriculum are first served. Are we or are we not an academic institution above all else?
As the sports editor of my high school newspaper I can attest it was one of the most enriching educational activities of my life. Concise writing, persuasive writing, deductive reasoning, appreciation of access to a broad working vocabulary were but a few of the skills acquired from my experience. Organization of thought and words to state a point succinctly and accurately is a skill honed well in the pursuit of a journalism experience. Writing under time deadline and pressure is yet another. Confidence to interview others and speak for and against and defend positions is likewise fostered by an experience with journalism. I was certainly impressed by the young lady from Glencoe who eloquently explained to us the disappointment over loss by her and many others of the ability to continue to develop their journalistic skills. I found her arguments extremely persuasive when she shared how much of the funding for the newspapers is raised by the student’s own efforts and the large number of students directly involved in the production and publication of a newspaper.
Far more students are involved in this activity than are involved in many of the athletic programs we offer our students. If you want to count heads you would find far more students are served by the journalism advisor than are served by coaching stipends for small team sports. I hate to make this a contest over numbers as I would hope we could fund all stipends to maximize what we offer to all students. But, I feel compelled by our Strategic Plan Mission Statement to make the point that sports coaching stipends should never trump the funding of stipends for traditional academic support of activities such as journalism. The classroom in which journalism is taught and will continue is but a fraction of the learning associated with journalism. The journalism laboratory, where the nitty-gritty real world lessons are learned is in actually assembling and publishing a newspaper.
Why would this school district choose to abandon decades of journalism excellence exhibited by those of our schools that still have a student newspaper? Alas, I suspect principals are not excited with the prospect of conflict possibly arising over issues of censorship which has afflicted some schools in this country. But, this is another compelling reason why we should embrace and encourage student newspapers. It is the very reason we have faculty advisors to instill a sense of responsibility in our students and accuracy in the written word. In my opinion this decision to abandon student newspapers is a “cop-out” on the part of district administrators and high school principals of this district. It should not be permitted to stand.
I can only now speak to you as a concerned patron of the district. I beg this board to reconsider the defunding of the journalism faculty stipend and support the publication of student newspapers. Our mission as stated in our current Strategic Plan is to “Engage and challenge all learners to ensure academic excellence.” Glencoe’s newspaper is a model of academic excellence. With the many student members of newspaper staffs we were engaging and challenging them as our mission statement would charge us to do. Now, we have chosen in this instance to ignore our own mission by elevating funding of non-academic pursuits over those of direct support of curriculum and the classroom. Shame on us! It is not too late to reverse the course and decisions of principals. Abandonment of student newspapers is not chiseled in stone. I remind everyone, demanding accountability and adherence to our mission statement is a board responsibility. In fact, as this board learned from the last two years of involvement in the Lighthouse Project, it is school boards who demand accountability and adherence to their mission who govern the most successful schools in this country. Please direct a reversal of this wrong-headed decision. Do the right thing! Following the spirit and intent of our mission statement is always the correct path to take.
Educational Leadership is doing an upcoming issue on Promoting Respectful Schools (September 2011). We’re looking for stories about creating respect among teachers and students. Selected responses will appear in the September issue.
Contributions need to be under 200 words…not much for such a worthy subject.
Here’s what I wrote (198 words):
Displayed on my classroom wall and in the window of my classroom door was a sign that said, “Respect Zone/Zona de Respeto.” I talked about this when I briefly introduced myself to a class.
After telling students who I am (and why I was there in the case of post-retirement substitute teaching), I explained “The Respect Zone” like this: “Unlike a lot of teachers you know, I only have one rule in my classroom. I respect you. You respect me. All the rest of the rules are in your student handbook.” Lots of surprised and attentive faces greeted that announcement.
I further explained that The Respect Zone extended beyond the classroom…in fact, everywhere.
If a student disrespected a peer, or challenged me, I gently reminded them of The Respect Zone. Often other students offered verbal support for the idea of mutual respect, something we all crave.
If a student needed to pay more attention to mutual respect, I invited them into the hall for a private conference and explained that teaching is a difficult job and I can’t do it alone. “I need your help too,” I told them. I usually made an ally that day.
Paring the subject down to 200 or less words required some thought. But here on my blog, I’m free to include all my rough draft thoughts on student-teacher respect...the key to effective classroom management and augmented student achievement.
Respect in the Classroom (rough draft)
As a middle school social studies teacher, and after retirement as an occasional secondary substitute, I would introduce students to the concept of “The Respect Zone.”
Prominently displayed on my classroom wall and in the window of my classroom door was a bilingual sign that said, “Respect Zone/Zona de Respeto.” Both as a regular teacher and as a substitute I would talk about this when I briefly introduced myself to a class.
Keys to The Respect Zone: After telling students who I am (and why I was there in the case of substitute teacher), to give them a connection to a fellow human being, I would explain The Respect Zone like this: “Unlike a lot of teachers you know, I only have one rule in my classroom. I respect you. You respect me. All the rest of the rules are in your student handbook.” I would further explain that The Respect Zone extended beyond the classroom…in fact everywhere.
If a student disrespected a peer or challenged me, I would gently remind them of The Respect Zone. Often other students would offer verbal support for the idea of mutual respect, something we all crave.
If a particular student acted out and needed to pay more attention to mutual respect, I would invite them into the hall for a private conference and explain that teaching is a difficult job and I can’t do it alone.” I need your help too,” I would tell them. “Come on, let’s go back inside and make it work for everybody.” Besides avoiding a public confrontation, I usually made an ally out of the previously recalcitrant student because they felt the respect I was giving to them.
This isn’t a foolproof “fix” or system. It sometimes fails and I have had to issue a behavior referral, but I never averaged more than five referrals in a school year (and that included mandatory referrals for the occasional hallway fight I had to break up).
The Respect Zone requires a large degree of humility on the part of the teacher, which means, not being perfect myself, that if I ever spoke sharply to a student, I would apologize to them in front of the entire class. But encouraging respect in this fashion pays off for me because it results in more instructional time and less time devoted to behavioral intervention. And, did I mention, way less stress.
Apparently not all teacher unions are averse to rational and unbiased conversation about grading policy. Go to page 16 of the New Jersey Teacher Association’s NJEA Review magazine for October 2005 to read their cover story on whether or not teachers should use zeros in grading.