Friday, August 3, 2012

More thoughts about my research focus....

One of my continuing, swirling thoughts is about "dispositions". So much has research been done in the area of grading and grade reporting,  and I wonder why it's so hard to make systemic change....I do understand why it's hard for parents to grasp a new way of determining/measuring student growth. I just wonder why it is so hard for some teachers to consider something different than the punitive, "gotcha" model. ("This assignment is 1 day late, you get a zero. I'm just preparing you for the 'real world' type of approach" if you didn't turn in your eligibility paperwork/grades on time, did you lose a day of pay? You mean that "real world"?)

Much of what I have been reading about grading is integrally tied to assessment (as it should be); however, I don’t know which group of stakeholders actually understand this deeply, and to what extent the understanding of this helps people understand what grades really should be/mean.

So far:

High stakes testing and accountability are no longer new to public education; however, communicating student progress to parents in this age of accountability can be very challenging. Parents know and are deeply connected to the “A, B, C, D, F” grading system they experienced in school. Everyone knows what “A” means, what “C” means. This grading system is even used in many capacities outside of the school system because it is so widely understood (“Grade your website”, “Grade your Doctor”, etc.). But what does this really tell students and parents about what students really know and are able to do?  Gregory Cizek states “grades continue to be relied upon to communicate important information about [academic] performance and progress . . . they probably don’t” (1996, 104).

Assigning grades to students can be a very controversial issue; some educators have even proposed their abolition (Kohn 1999; Marzano 2000). Communicating student progress to parents (and to the students themselves) is one of the main purposes of assigning “grades” to students and GPA is used by most post-secondary institutions as part of the application and acceptance process, making abolition is unlikely in the foreseeable future. Grading is a highly volatile issue with most stakeholders. Teachers spend many hours grading papers to determine the “report card” grade.

Should a “report card” grade reflect the average of the semester’s work? Or should it reflect mastery of the course content? Or perhaps it should reflect some hybrid/combination of both? How do we inform parents and students of their ongoing progress toward course content standards and expectations?

Harlem Consolidated School District #122 serves approximately 8000 students per year. We are a Unit District, serving students in grades Pre-K-12 in 12 buildings, including a Kindergarten Center, 1 building serving 1st-3rd grade students, 1 serving 4th -6th grade students, 6 buildings serving students in grades 1-6, on 7th-8th grade Middle School, one 9th Grade campus and one High School campus serving grades 10-12. In 2009, a consistent grading scale was developed and implemented for Grades 1-6. There is less consistency in grades 7-12. While Departments at the High School attempt to align their grading expectations, teachers still have flexibility in determining the weight that homework, tests, quizzes and classwork will have in grade determination. Teachers do not want to give up control of their classroom decision-making when it comes to determining student grades.

Early during the Fall of 2010 (my first year serving as Director of Accountability and School Improvement), I received a call from an agitated parent. She was very unhappy with her son’s report card. She had spoken to the teacher several times, and was not happy with the outcome of the conversation. That school was being led at that time by an interim principal, who directed the parent to call me when she contacted him after several meetings with the classroom teacher. Mom shared with me that the teacher determines a reading grade based only on one test, and that she “gives everyone a C in Social Studies since we really never have time for Social Studies anyway”. I met with this teacher to discuss the parent concerns and her grading process; she believed that she was “directed” by the District to determine reading grades this way. The “grades” this student received in reading in this class was discouraging the child; he began to believe he just wasn’t a good reader, leading to lower grades in other content areas.

Upon further investigation with other teachers in that building and others, I found that teachers had widely differing interpretations of district expectations for grading. Some were very adamant that their way of “grading” students was right and that they were not willing to change what they do. Others were dissatisfied with their process, but did not know what to do to change what they were doing, or if “The District” would let them change their grading expectations and processes.

Much research has been done that supports the use of standards-based grading as a strong process that supports and improves student learning (Guskey, 1996, 1999, 2009), Marzano (2000, 2006).(more research). If strong research exists to guide and support best practice in assessing and reporting student progress toward grade level or content goals and standards, what prevents systems from making that change? Do dispositions affect teachers’ ability and/or willingness to change how they assess and grade students?

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