Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Speaking of report cards...

Yesterday I mentioned my daughter's stellar report card.

Today there's an article in the New York Times that discusses how letter grades based on achievement have been replaced by a numerical, standards-based system based on approvement. Numbered 1-4 (with a 4 meaning a child has met the learning standard for a particular skill with distinction, and a 1 meaning she has not met that standard). Anevay, for example, received primarily 3s (which mean she is 'meeting learning standards'), and 4s, (which means she is 'meeting learning standards with distinction').

The New York Times article mentions that "the new grades are based on year-end expectations, 4s are generally not available until the final marking period." Hm. Conceptually I get it... Within this system, Anevay is working towards a year-end goal. This means that I can chart her progress as she jumps from a 3 to a 4, and that I can cheer as I see that the school system is shaping my creative, brilliant little girl into the sort of standardized learner they want her to be.


"Thomas R. Guskey," it states in the article, "a professor at Georgetown College in Kentucky and an author of 'Developing Standards-Based Report Cards,' a book that is soon to be released, said the new approach was more accurate, because it measures each student against a stated set of criteria, rather than grading on a curve, which compares members of a class with one another. 'The dilemma with that system is you really don’t know whether anybody has learned anything,' Dr. Guskey said of grading on a curve. “They could all have done miserably, just some less miserably than others.”

So does this mean that students are no longer compared with one another? That it's not as subjective?

Hm... I guess I need to know a little more about the ways in which my daughter's teachers came up with the numbers I find on her report card. What exactly is the criteria for a 3 as opposed to a 4? (And a brief aside: What were the determining factors for my daughter receiving a 2 for only 'partially meeting the learning standards' in the skill of 'understanding the cultural contributions of the arts'? I had to laugh over this one... hell, I went to school for art history, have a loft filled to the gills with art and theory books, and regularly expose Anevay to conversations and have her take part in community activities in which she is learning about 'the cultural contributions of the arts'. I'd go out on a limb, in fact, and venture that Miss Anevay has been exposed to more 'culture' than some of the teacher's she has had).

So are they really trying to tell me that this number system is not subjective? How does a teacher from an inner-city school grade using this method compared to a teacher from Westchester? Many of the children in my daughter's school have behavioral and learning issues that they're working on... Would my daughter, who is fortunate enough to not have any learning issues, and is, in fact, reading at a 5th grade level (she's in 2nd grade... and yes, the testing for this is also open to debate) have received lower numbers were she in a school with mostly children from the 'burbs? And what if, *gasp*, my kid is actually 'meeting learning standards with distinction' right now, but the reason she's been given a number of 3s is because if she had been given all 4s I would be unable to mark her 'improvement'?

Hard to say.

Without the lengthy comments teachers used to make on my own report cards (oh, sweet youth!), a number doesn't tell me much.

I agree with John, from Ohio, who made the following comment about the New York Times article.

"The time spent attempting to reach these goals winds up being counterproductive. The drive to provide more data and to 'ensure more consistent grading' is homogenizing instruction and finding teachers spending inordinate amounts of time collecting and communicating data on separate skills and 'learning behaviors' instead of planning and implementing inspired experiences for elementary children."

Amen, brother. John continues.

"Learning has its own rewards and does not have to have false rewards of A-B-C or 1-2-3. Teachers have only 24 hours in their days. I’d much rather see my child’s teacher spend time being creative and inspiring (and actually getting to know my kids) instead of designing ways to measure, collect organize, and communicate data on 39 separate skills. Have we lost all common sense?"

Any illuminating thoughts on this? I have my parent-teacher conference next week. In the meantime, please, let me know if I'm missing something...

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