An old school LYS’er submits: The Assault on Educational Mythology, Continued OK, now that we have beat up homework, its time to move on to another mainstay of education, grades. Go ahead and brace yourself, this might hurt. Every bit of research I have seen, both anecdotal and valid, indicates there is NO correlation between the grades we assign and student achievement on standardized tests. Yet we continue to assign grades in schools as if they really mean something. How can this be? Let’s look at it. First, most teacher assigned grades come from tests, which the teacher creates. These tests are created by the teacher to assess what the teacher taught, of course. Whether or not the teacher actually taught something to state standards is irrelevant in this case. We all think we are great test writers, but I have yet to meet a teacher who is an expert test writer, as test writing is actually a profession in its own right. Same goes for curriculum by the way, but that is another story. Second, the remainder of the grades generally comes from teacher created assignments, such as homework. Having established some main sources of grades, lets ask ourselves what a grade means. Ideally a grade means that the student mastered the material presented. Hopefully the material presented was aligned to state standards, so the grade should indicate the student mastered state standards. But we have already established there is NO correlation between student grades and state assessments, assessments that are certainly aligned to state standards. So it appears in most cases grades have little meaning to learning that is aligned to state standards. Let’s assume you are an exception and ALL of your assignments are meaningful, well thought out, and are true indicators of a student’s mastery of state standards. If that is the case, those are some important assignments, VERY important assignments. In fact they are so important, the student must do them in order to be successful in your class and on state assessments.So a student doesn’t do this very important assignment, you wait for the appropriate amount of time to pass as indicated by district policy, and then you assign a ZERO for this very important assignment. Seriously? By assigning a ZERO for an assignment that is truly important and critical to student success, you have just sent the message that the assignment truly had no value at all. If your assignment were truly that important, you would take every step humanly possible, including parent contact, home visits, and office referrals, to get the assignment completed.Let’s also talk about “daily” grades in general. What if a child fails every daily assignment for a weeks, yet near the end of the unit actually “gets it”, does well on only two of your “daily” grades, yet passes an assessment with an 80 that is truly aligned to the district curriculum, ergo the student learned the material. In this case, congratulations, you did your job as a teacher. However, all of those failing daily grades will likely bring the grade down to a low C, or maybe even an F. In this case, what did you actually measure with your daily grades? In this case, and in most cases, daily grades measure how a student learns an objective and how long it takes the student to learn an objective. In the above example, if you assign a grade any less than the 80 for the grading period, shame on you. Should we really grade students on how they learn and how long it takes them to learn? Of course not!So there we have it. Either your assignment is like most and is totally unreliable for indicating success on state assessments, so assigning any grade at all for the assignment is questionable. In this case giving failing grades, particularly a ZERO, seems particularly silly. Or your assignment is good but the grades collected are actually measuring how a student learns and how fast the student learns. Or your assignment is unlike most and is very aligned to state standards and is critical for the student to succeed not only in your class, but also on state assessments. How could you EVER decide to record a zero, or for that matter a failing grade, for such an important assignment? So either way you take it, your grades are probably meaningless. Stop focusing on grades and start focusing on the needs of learners and their mastery of the district curriculum. SC Response Anyone who does not believe that grades are subjective is simply fooling oneself. I always chuckle when a read someone defending the sanctity of their assigned grade. All a grade does is give an indication of how well the student played the teacher designed game and/or how compliant the student was in a particular class (I myself was more guilty of this than I like to admit). Like the writer, there is no need to bore you with a summary of the literature that supports this, you either intuitively understand this or you don’t. If you understand this, you search for and use other metrics to determine student success. If you don’t, you continue to tilt at windmills. As you briefly touched on, as teachers we have a difficult time creating valid tests. Now before the flurry of contrary comments come flying in, let me explain why this is the case.1. As teachers, we create tests based on what we have taught, not what we were supposed to teach. But to do otherwise, would unfairly punish our students for the pace of instruction. This is a no win situation for the teacher. Compromise your students or compromise your test. 2. As teachers, we provide weak (easy to identify) distracter answer choices. This compromises the validity of the test.3. As teachers, we test primarily at lower levels of rigor. As you point out, creating a valid test is a profession and requires technical expertise. This does not mean that teachers can’t eventually become expert test writers, but I argue that it is a waste of teacher time. If at the end of the day, the teacher has one hour of preparation time. I would much rather the teacher spend that hour working on how to better deliver instruction instead to trying to create a better test. Trust me, the professional test writer isn’t spending time trying to figure out how to teach better. Creating a test for just my class is one of the traditional activities that teachers need to let go of, either voluntarily or by mandate. Note: This is not an argument against common assessments, it is an argument for common assessments. I also agree with your observation that most grades are simply an indication of how quickly the student grasped the material. And really, how fast one grasps the material is not only of little relevance, it unfairly penalizes the student with fewer out of school resources. It might be a coaching philosophy, but during practice time all I want is effort and improvement. I’ll assess (and be assessed) based on game results. Apply this to the classroom and it means that during the week I want effort and improvement in mastering the material, but it is actually performance on the common assessment, cumulative final, or state assessment that really gauges the success of the student and my effectiveness as a teacher. I’m not advocating getting rid of grades or giving away grades. I just realize that as a source of valid information, relying on reported grades is as useful as getting all of your news from just one source. There is always a bias. Think. Work. Achieve. Your turn…Follow Sean Cain at www.Twitter.com/LYSNationAttend the LYS Presentation at the National Conference on EducationAttend the LYS Presentation at the TASB Winter Legal ConferenceVisit the LYS Booth at the NASSP ConferenceAttend the LYS Presentation at the Texas Middle School Association Conference

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