Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The trouble with grades

How many times have I written about grades?  (Well, Señor, if you were better about tagging your posts, you'd be able to find out.)  I'm brushing up my syllabi for the coming school year, and I'm pleased to note that relatively little needs changing for the first week or two of school.  This is excellent, and now I can focus on the other 34 weeks of school.  I feel like I'm in a position, finally, to begin with the end in mind.  (If you parse that sentence carefully, it's full of false assumptions, logical inconsistencies, two or three confessions of less-than-best practice, and possibly a spelling mistake.) 

One of the things we did in teacher college (I say it that way to liken it to "clown college," a slightly more prestigious organization) was to write out course-long rubrics.  "An A student in this class will have these attributes and display these skills and knowledge..." on down to at least a C student.  We stopped at C because evidently D students weren't worth defining; they were defined as the not-quite-critical absence of the skills that made all the other students A, B, or C students, I guess.

Now I'm doing that for my 2nd-year Spanish students.  This is an exercise I engage in periodically.  It's based heavily on ACTFL performance standards.  But they just don't fit nicely into grading categories.  At the end of year 2 of high school Spanish, according to the state, students should be performing at a Novice High level of communicative ability: able to function in familiar, formulaic communicative settings, with limited re-formulation of the language.  So, if that's the minimum required skill level, does that become a D-?  A C?  A B?  An A?  At what point am I penalizing students for not being outstanding? 

I'm going to a training on Thursday and Friday.  We're going to work on one of Marzano's books, I don't remember which off the top of my head, which talks about grading in a standards-based system.  Hopefully I'll know more after that. 


Ray said...
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Ray said...

Creating measurement topics and learning goals, which I expect to learn about on Thursday and Friday, I think will help you determine it really won't be about the letter grade but about the extent of mastery. Clown college sounds like so much fun. I wonder if you get a letter grade and how is it determined?

JohnCosby said...

You were right, Ray, that training clarified my thoughts a great deal. I have a pretty good idea of what most of my topics are for my Spanish classes, but I'm still working on my ELA topics. My predecessors were outstanding educators, but they spent a great deal of time teaching the textbook. So I've had to rejigger the whole curriculum. With the training we had, that will help a lot.