Standards-Based Grading: Passive Aggression
The hulk meme is getting a bit out of control. There are about 50,000 different hulk-related personas on twitter, all typing in capital letters. I’ve retired the Cornally-Hulk. Mostly because being mean and angry never really changes peoples’ minds.
Now that I’ve been proselytizing SBG at my school for a while, I’ve developed a core group of students that totally drink the Kool-Aid. By that I mean they actually want to think, learn, and don’t really care about their grades. This group of students might represent the only professionally meaningful thing I’ve ever done, well, that and this.
One of these students came to me upset. She was obviously having a philosophical dilemma; she said that another teacher had told her that this SBG fad sweeping through our school was ridiculous. She was all worried because the other teacher had claimed that this whole “retesting” thing was going to ruin kids’ ability to study for “real” classes and college.
I couldn’t help but hulk out a little. I could feel my brow deepening and my shorts ripping. My emotional response had more to do with the fight over this student’s view of education than about any particular system.
To her, both teachers represent authority. How is she supposed to choose between us? It was very uncomfortable to have to make the decision to completely disagree with a colleague directly to a student’s face. Perhaps it was unprofessional.
The conversation played out like this: We talked about how recess is given to elementary students but not to middle or high school kids. We talked about developmentally appropriate education and the psychology of motivation. We talked about how preparing for college is not the same as mimicking college verbatim. Disregarding the psychotic amount of time I
get to spend with my high schoolers in favor of the lecture-ignore model that college makes bank off of seems ridiculous to me.
I told her that SBG reflects learning, and grades should not be on the pedestal that they are, acting as the soul product of our school system.
Common SBG Misconceptions:
I can totally empathize with the other teacher. At first, SBG seems as flimsy as boiled spaghetti and half as rigorous.
However, the grand misconception is that somehow “retesting” is this free-for-all where everyone just tries the same problem until they get it perfect and then everyone hugs and does the happy dance.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. Reassessments (not retesting) are generally more difficult — varied in context and application — and require the student to identify the content standard from within a tangled mass of information, or better yet, a lack thereof.
It makes me absolutely crazy to imagine this student wondering which one of us is preparing her for her future, and which one is lying. The false dichotomy there hurts. The fact that we spend all this time arguing about grading at all is the real tragedy.
All I want for my students is to be able to interact with a piece of knowledge, step back for a second, surmise the situation, and then approach learning with a fervor that has nothing to do with “just doing something.” That’s not good enough.
I had a student seriously pissed at me today, because I said that, “No, I will not simply explain the answer to what is about to be an 84-minute exploration of seismology.”
Her retort was telling: “I want to go to a good college, so what’s the answer? I need to get an A on this test.”
“You won’t get an A unless you understand earthquakes.” I said.
“Fine, I’ll just have someone from last semester tell me the answer.” She said.
Rest of her group: face-palm.
To Put My Foot Down:
1. Don’t define yourself by the “difficulty” of your assessments. Get over yourself. No one cares how many people fail your class.
2. The only thing that matters is extensibility. How many of your students actually learned the material well enough to use it later in a unique situation that has none of the trappings of the previous hamstringing problem?
3. Proceduralism is barely on the learning spectrum. I could teach a fifth grader to take the derivative of a polynomial, but most fifth graders can’t grasp the concept of infinitesimals. Which matters more: doing it, or understanding it?