COMMENTARY | Which kid hasn’t felt the dread of waiting for the report card to show up in the mailbox? When I was in the seventh grade I had a really bad last six weeks of the year. Normally, I was an A-student, but some lax and foolhardy behavior had given me a slew of Bs, including a dreaded “80.” Every day after the end of the school year was stomach-churning agony, wondering if that day would be the day my parents got the slim envelope from Robert H. Goddard Junior High School.
In the end, I got the report card out of the mail before my parents got home and hid the horrid piece of paper in a paperback novel.
Now, according to CNN, things might be changing. More and more elementary schools, but perhaps soon to include secondary schools as well, are switching from traditional numerical- and letter-based grades to written assessments of how well students are learning academic concepts. Instead of sending home sheets of paper with a slew of numbers or letters, which provide little context to a student’s educational situation, teachers are now using written rubrics providing detail about where students are succeeding and where they need help.
Parents appreciate the details and advice and students, obviously, will appreciate the absence of low grades!
However, this high school teacher wants to caution against trying to expand this “standards-based” assessing to secondary schools. While elementary school students may benefit tremendously from the increased teacher-parent interaction of standards-based grading, secondary students may fail to develop work ethic or personal responsibility. Additionally, the increasing length and complexity of secondary school work makes many of the teacher-parent interactions described by CNN exceptionally difficult, placing undue burden on both teacher and parent.
As a teacher and a parent, I am most concerned about standards-based grading being used as a grade inflation tool to make sure nobody fails. Without objective numerical grades, school administrators can say that all kids “met the standards,” basking in the glow of state and parental adulation while shuttling troublemakers and apathetic students on to the next school. Teacher and administrators will be encouraged to make written assessments sound “less harsh” and to “talk up” students’ “strong points.” Basically, standards-based grading risks becoming a subjective “feel-good” tool.
As a teacher, I deal with over a hundred students a day. Frankly, I don’t have time to deal with a wordy grading rubric and contact parents three times a week. Expecting secondary teachers to write paragraphs about each student for each assessment area and regularly update parents about changes in these areas is simply unworkable. There is no time.
And what about students? Students at the secondary level may struggle when no longer faced with objective numerical or letter grades. They may have trouble self-regulating their behavior and academic effort when being graded via verbose rubrics, not knowing whether their current work is insufficient, acceptable, or good. Or they may take advantage of the lack of objective grades to slack off and then attempt to argue their way to a more “feel-good” evaluation at the end of each grading period. In the end, many students may come to dislike the standards-based grading as too subjective and arbitrary, not allowing them to easily gauge their own skills and allowing their less-motivated peers to game the system.
Teachers should be able to use objective grades and factor behavior into grades. This is far more accurate to the real world than feel-good rubrics. If you do not perform, you face real consequences, and behavior does count. While many parents and school administrators may like the idea of school without objective grades, teachers and employers are more apt to roll their eyes at the idea. This teacher says “no way!” to ending old-school, objective grades.