Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Even our brightest students..." Part II

In a recent post, I spent a lot of time criticizing the attitudes of students--including myself. Even back then, I knew that I was being pretty pessimistic about the future, and that bothered me.

So I tried to find out if my outlook was accurate.

A few things I should say before I start:

The students that I work with have only had--at most--two flavors of standards-based grading. Whenever I refer to SBG in this post, I'm generally referring to Chris Ludwig's approach, because that's the one I've seen in action and debated.

With that out of the's what I've found:

1. Some students agree with me--even though SBG is preferable to a points-based system, it wouldn't be widely accepted.

2. Some students don't like SBG. Period.

So, basically...nothing new. I've been hearing both of those all year, typically when I'm, for some reason, describing SBG in a group setting--and someone else jumps in and says either:

"Yes! I really like standards-based grades!" and then goes on to explain why, or the student will say:

"But standards-based grading [is confusing/kills my grade/is hard]!"

Why is that second response even there? I think the answer is quite simple: students on the whole--especially after over ten years of grades--are so used to viewing a single letter grade as an achievement or as something that communicates some sort of information about them that many simply don't get why that's really not the case.

What I'm about to say has been said many times, but in a summative system--which is basically all I've seen for the past eleven years--grades are developed by building points that often become meaningless. I've heard teachers say, "Now, if you can just remember that the answer to Question 14 is C., you'll get more points for the test." And before this year, I didn't really have a problem with that. But when grades simply become who brought in the most Kleenex and could remember certain answers to a test (and, of course, forget them five minutes later) it's ridiculous to think that they have any meaning.

And the more I think, the more I believe that some students really don't want them to. After all, when we're signing up for the ACT and the SAT (and, after all, that's our only chance to get into a good college), we meet pages like:


Since grades obviously matter so much, students have to get the best ones they can! Right? RIGHT?!?

Now, those of you with incredible memories will recall that, at the beginning of this rambling, I mentioned that there are some students who agree with me--that SBG is preferable to a summative system. And it's these guys that give me hope. I look around and I see classmates' posts (like this one and this one) and I realize that SBG really did bring out a different level of learning in many students--and that they appreciate it.

Students like those two--self-motivated and willing to adapt--are the only reason I believe there is a chance for SBG to become widespread. They know about this idea, support it, and hopefully they will continue to spread it in discussions, like I've been trying to do all year. After all, many people do not know about these non-traditional grading/instruction methods--as I've said before, before the 2010-2011 school year, I had never considered either.1

Ok, I've rambled enough by now. Seriously, though, if you don't think I'm giving an accurate representation of students, yell at me. On this issue particularly, I really want to know what you think.

1. Of course, some may suggest that teachers should be forced to use SBG so that we can let more people know about it. I disagree, because I think that, if a teacher is going to make this change, they should make it because they understand the reasons behind it--because they truly believe that the conventional method of assessment is flawed.

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