Friday, March 16, 2007

On grade inflation and giving Fs

MSNBC recently another ran another “report” that seems to indicate that American teachers and American education are doing a terrible job. The major point of the story is that while grades for American high school students have been improving over the last fifteen years, test scores aren't improving at all. The very clear impression given is that teachers are giving out higher and higher grades in their core classes while students are learning no more, and possibly even less.

“The reality is that the results don’t square,” said Darvin Winick, chair of the independent National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the national tests.

If they had conducted that study at my school, the results would probably be about what they were nationally, but the impression it gives would be completely unfair.

I would guess that the average GPA in our school is higher than it was fifteen years ago, but it isn’t because teachers are giving out higher grades in their classes. There are a number of other reasons for the higher GPAs. First of all, about ten years ago, our school decided to start “weighting” our AP classes. We hadn’t done that before, but it seemed to make sense that a B in an AP Government class should probably mean more than a B in a regular Government class. So would that raise a student’s GPA? Yes. Does it mean that the teachers of those classes are grading any easier than they were before? No. But is that a reasonable thing to do? I think so.

Our school, like many others, has found that most students do a very poor job of utilizing their time in study halls. Because of this, we have increased the number of credits kids need in order to graduate. In order to fulfill this requirement, more kids are taking more electives, and many of those electives aren’t very hard. Grades tend to be high in Weight Training and Native American Arts classes. So would that raise a student’s GPA? Yes. Does it mean that the teachers of those classes are grading any easier than they were before? No. But is that a reasonable thing to do? I think so.

Finally, in our school we have also had a proliferation of student aids, who assist teachers in running off copies of tests and assignments and run other various errands for them. Being a student aid is treated as a class, and guess what grade the kids tend to get? Once again, does that raise students’ GPAs? Yes. Does it mean that teachers are giving higher grades in their actual classes than they were before? No. But is that a reasonable thing to do? This time, I’m not so sure.

Since I am only in my own school, I can't say with certainty that the same things going on here are going on in schools nationally, but I suspect they are. Did MSNBC or Darvin Winick check into things like that? I doubt it. It seems that the media--even the so-called "liberal" media--can't wait to throw a little dirt at American education and teachers in general.

There is one area, however, in which I think most teachers are too generous, and by doing so, I think we are doing our students a disservice. I believe one of the greatest mistakes of teachers today is their refusal to give F's to kids who deserve them.

The fact of the matter is that most teachers don't want to give students F's because doing so creates a lot of headaches. When a teacher gives a student a failing grade, he's going to be catching flak from the student, from his parents, and maybe from the administration. He had better have enough evidence supporting the grade to make a prosecuting attorney smile, and he had better have given ample warning to everyone about what was coming. Many teachers feel there are a lot more effective ways they can use their time and energy, so they will often just give a kid a D and be done with it. The problem with this approach is that we are teaching too many students that they can do almost nothing, and still get by.

If a student is doing failing work there are two possibilities. The first one, which is the case about ninety-five percent of the time, is that the student isn't trying very hard. Over the last several years, I have had a number of students who were shocked by Fs on their report cards into making much better efforts in the following marking periods. In the process, they would demonstrate that they were capable of doing much better work than they had been doing. Early in my career, when I would frequently give the same kinds of kids "breaks," I would never see improvement. As a matter of fact, their performances often deteriorated because they learned one lesson very well--if they didn't do their work, somebody would give them a break.

The second, and much less frequent reason for a student doing failing work is that she needs more help than what she is being given. It's tempting to give these students passing grades, especially if they're quiet and cause no problems in the classroom, so it's easy for them to end up never getting the help they deserve. In either case, when we give kids "breaks" by giving them passing grades that they haven't earned, we are not actually doing them any favors.


Blogger CrypticLife said...

And then there's grading on a curve, which when I went to high school was relatively prevalent, even though virtually none of the teachers knew how to do it properly (so it ended up being "here's a boost to your test score"). To his credit, the physics teacher did, which was good because the average raw score was often somewhere in the 20's.

The unfortunate reality is that grades don't necessarily correlate with learning. You've pointed out some very good and valid reasons, of course, but the basic reason is simply because they don't have to correlate in this manner. Some don't think it's a bad thing, or think it's largely irrelevant, and others support grade inflation in their own schools because if a school sticks to a legitimate B average (for example) while other schools raise their standards, it makes their students' college applications less appealing. Granted, formulaically colleges may have a way around this, but the admissions officers and interviewers are still seeing "3.0" (or whatever) on one student's transcript, while seeing "3.5" on an equivalent student at another school.

I'm not really afraid of grade inflation per se, as it's just a number. I do, however, worry that teachers do not have the technical background or mathematical savvy to keep their grading consistent across years.

3/16/2007 2:13 PM  
Anonymous Rose said...

I have several thoughts. I teach at an inner city school where wth a opulation of students that are mostly bilngual. Due to the lack of understanding of higher level academic English, the work students, as a group, in my school produce is not as sophsticated as the work in schools in another part of town. The lack of background knowledge creeps in constantly when attempting to teach so what do we do? Give the students all low grades as their work is inferior when compared to work from schools with students whose parents are better educated and thus the students have better knowledge of language and culture? If the top students in a class are doing much better work, compared to the other students in the class don't they deserve a high grade even if their work doesn't compare favorably wth work from higher income schools?

The other issue is what do we grade on. We have moved to standards so we are told to grade students on how well they achieve the standards. Fine. However we have students who achieve the standards who do little or no work to do it because it is easy for them. Do we also grade on work completed, which is the tyical method teachers have graded in the past? Do we grade on standards met, even if the the student has done little work and is erhas disrupted in class? Do we fail a student who is working hard and is having difficulty proving his or her achievement because of language issues? In an ideal world a student who has achieved a standard would move on to the next, however education is not set up to move each student individually according to need. We teach to the group mean. The conflict between ideals and educational theory and reality is crazy making.

3/16/2007 4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can relate to Rose's 2nd paragraph, although I teach in a suburban/urban school. There is one other issue. Students don't do as well on standardized tests as they are capable of, period. Even high stakes state tests (which are coming but not here) in our state will require that students pass five of seven - emphasis on pass and five of seven - in order to graduate. They may make an "A" in a class because they want the good GPA, but even if it's required to graduate, make only a passing grade on the test. Eventually, (starting in 08/09)the seven tests will be given over a period of three grades - 9th, 10th, and 11th - imagine how well students will perform on the 11th grade tests, knowing they've already passed five they need to graduate in earlier grades. However, their 11th grade report card grades may very well reflect their desire to have a good GPA for college entrance.
The same goes for ACT and SAT scores - kids take these tests multiple times; plan to take the tests multiple times. Again, if a student is taking the ACT to wet his her or feet, so to speak, the results will be very different from the work he or she does for a grade that same year in school.
So many continue to assume that because it is a test score, it must be a true reflection of a student's ability. Often, that is simply not the case.

3/16/2007 5:34 PM  
Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

Thanks for bringing this report to the forefront. I've posted here and other places about my frustrations regarding grading.

Dennis, some of your problems at the secondary level begin with the elementary....Many of the things I do are not my choice. They are mandated by district wishes and desires in a desire to create an atmosphere of all is well.

I keep two sets of records. My gradebook and the online grade book. My actual gradebook contains all the bumps and warts---assignments not turned in, incomplete assignments, and the actual grades students have earned. The online grade book shows zeros as well, however, if little Susie earns a 20 on a quiz or test I am required by my district to record the grade as a 55. I keep an old fashioned pen and paper gradebook so I can speak the truth at conferences, but I have to be careful. I have been told by those in charge I should not tell a parent I have to give a 55.

Their philosophy on this (I have challenged several in power) is an F is an F is an F. However, my opinion is we are giving parents a false picture of their child's performance. Invariably students squeak by with a 70 ( in my district anything below a 70 is an F) and believe it or not many parents are satisified with that.

I've actually had a former administrator to tell me "to lighten up....its just elementary school. They'll catch up."

Sadly, they don't.

On the flip side let me tell you about one young man I have. He's never lifted a pencil before in his life except for something that he is absolutely made to do. He never has paper, never takes a note, and never finishes a project or other assignment. However, he never takes his eyes off me during class, he participates in the discussion and makes huge connections and leaps in the content. He can ace every test. The tests are not enough to earn him a passing grade since I usually have other assignments he will not complete. He obviously has met the standards in that he passes a test and can manipulate the content in conversation very well. Do I fail him with a 30 or do I "give him" a 70 or 75?

3/16/2007 6:55 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

EHT, in my section about failing students, I should have made it clear that I was writing from a high school teacher's perspective. I have read solid arguments against failing elementary school kids, so at your level, I'm not so sure. YOU and other elementary teachers are the experts at that level, and I wouldn't presume to tell you how you should be doing things. When it comes to those kids, we need to listen to you. The youngest kids I've taught have been 7th graders, and my argument about failing kids would apply at least down to that level. I will say that your administrator's comment that "it's only elementary school..." sounds like one of the most idiotic comments I've ever heard.

Rose, we obviously all look at these things from our own perspectives, and yours might be a lot different than mine. I'm teaching high school kids and I'm able to set my American history classes up in such a way so that kids are going to have to demonstrate reasonably good study and work habits in order to pass. If kids don't have the ability to handle my regular American History classes, they are placed in my basic class, and that class is set up so that those kids can be successful.

It seems to me that if we've got kids in classes in which they are unable to perform well even if they are trying hard, we've got a big problem. We either need to set up basic-type classes for those kids, or else somebody has screwed up by passing kids along who shouldn't have been passed. A couple of years ago, I had a ninth-grader in a study hall who couldn't read. Whatever problems that kid had, it couldn't be denied that that was a failure of our school system.

Anonymous, I hear you. Our school has gotten a huge black eye, at least in part, because we had a number of juniors last year who made little or no effort on a state math test that counted for our school but not for the kids.

Crypticlife, I am not big on the idea of grading on a curve. I have always had a point system, and 96% is an A; 67% is the bottom D. Some years I have a lot of kids with As and Bs because a lot of kids have performed well. Other years I have a lot of Fs because they haven't.

3/17/2007 3:40 AM  
Blogger rightwingprof said...

I sat on a university committee to study grade inflation. Our findings, based on hard data, contradicted the assertion that grade inflation does not exist, or can be explained away.

The primary cause of grade inflation at the university was the growing use of subjective grading criteria. More faculty were using things like "participation," and more faculty were increasing the weights of subjective criteria in their grades. The inevitable result was grade inflation.

And we did not just find it across the university. We found significant grade inflation over time in the same classes.

It exists. And it's a problem, particularly when students who can't calculate a 15% tip or make change complain about their grades and say, "But I got straight As in my high school math courses!"

3/17/2007 5:57 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Rightwingprof, that crap goes on, no doubt about it. But there is nothing new about it. I remember an education class I had in college in the 1970s in which I graded myself. Guess what grade I got? My point is that I don't see any more of that now than I did fifteen years ago. In fact, I actually think I see less. But I definitely see more weighted grades, elective classes being taken as schools increase the number of credits necessary for graduation, and student aids.

3/17/2007 8:58 AM  
Anonymous Ian H. said...

I see it both at the very top end and at the bottom end. We are pressured to let kids pass our classes (50% in my area) - if they have not completed the requirements for the course, I've seen kids pulled out of the class for the last week to do assignments down in the office, and allowed to pass. What does that teach the kids? That they don't have to try the first time out, because someone will always give them another shot.

At the top end, we have grade inflation among our honours students. Our honour roll presentations had more kids at the top end (honours with great distiction) than at the bottom end (honours). Why? Because teachers want to see these kids get into university, and if every other teacher's top student earned 100% on the course, there's pressure to put the top kid in your class at 100% also. Did these students, any of them, complete the course requirements without making any statistically significant errors? I doubt it.

Because I teach a second language course, I've heard that my students suffer grade-wise compared to English-only students. Rubbish... they get the grades they earn, but no parent wants to hear that...

3/17/2007 10:49 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I think it's shocking that students in your school get graded on being a student aide. Do we go to high school to learn how to run errands?

I had a personal experience that contradicts the notion that students should be graded on effort: When I was in the 6th grade, I was bored out of my mind because I was advanced compared to other students in my grade (even though I'd already skipped one grade). I never did my math homework, because I saw no purpose in it since I already knew the material. But I aced all the math tests. My end result was a "C" grade even though I'd clearly demonstrated that I knew the material 100 percent. This was unfair. Too young to realize that this was unfair and that the C grade was not a reflection of my abilities, I concluded that I was stupid. I was shocked when late in the school year I was called into the principal's office and told that my math aptitude test scores were so high I was going to be sent for an evaluation for a special accelerated math program for gifted students, run by John Hopkins University. If I passed a second test, I would be taken out of public school math classes altogether and sent to the University's program.

Unfortunately I did not score well enough on the second test to go to the special program. I went on to the 7th grade and was placed in an average math class, since class placement was based on previous grades, not on aptitude. My self esteem slipped again. I was saved when my guidance counselor advocated for me and had me placed in the advanced math class in the school. My self esteem, and my interest in my studies, went up.

The point is that students are telling us something through their behavior. Anyone with a grain of intelligence could have looked at the disparity between my C grade and my aptitude tests and concluded that I was simply bored. But my teachers and the school administrators lacked that intelligence, or they didn't care. Only my guidance counselor saw the truth and took the appropriate action.

3/18/2007 9:37 AM  
Anonymous CartTeacher said...

I teach 6th grade in a very diverse, extremely overcrowded public middle school. I teach both language arts and social studies. Earlier this year, I was told that I am flunking too many students and I need to change my class expectations so more kids pass. I only had 3 flunking out of the 90 students I have for social studies. Our building literally cannot retain students because we've got too many kids in a building too small. This is my second year teaching and I will be tenured (5th year) before I get a classroom. Every classroom is used every hour. (There are no plans on the horizon to build on or build an additional middle school.) If we held back even the few number of students that do flunk, we'd be having to go to a split shift. Anyone want to teach 6th graders at 7 am or 5 pm? Basically, we can't flunk the students who need to be retained because they'll be passed on anyways due to overcrowding. The rest of the students then know that they can get away without doing anything and the problem gets worse. Bottom line: No flunking of students in my school.

Also, according to several parents I'm wrong for requiring students to write in complete sentences. I only give half credit if an answer is not written in a complete sentence. It doesn't matter that I teach world history out of an art room and don't have any maps or places for kids to keep materials---I'm too tough for making them write in complete sentences. The argument is that their child should only be required to write in complete sentences in language arts---not in other subject areas. In my district, it's a combination of parents wanting every child to always be an honor student and a lack of space that's causing grade inflation.

3/18/2007 11:59 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Elizabeth, as you can tell from my post, I'm not thrilled with the idea of grades for student aids either.

Regarding your math experience, I can't begin to judge that because I never saw the assignments, and I never saw you in action. If the assignments were long, I can see why you didn't do them. I do believe in giving assignments that I know all the kids are capable of doing. That means that they are going to be easier for some than others. American history is different, though, because if I give a three page reading assignment, the brighter kids are going to be able to finish them very quickly, while the slower readers will take longer. I must say that I would have very little sympathy for a student who refused to do the reading assignments because "she already knew the material." I can also say that you were putting your teachers in a very difficult position. If they said, "Elizabeth doesn't have to do the assignments because she's smarter than everyone else," that would go over like a lead balloon. If they said the assignments are only for practice, and only the tests count, nobody would do the assignments. The obvious solution was to move you to a higher level, and I'm glad your guidance counselor had the common sense to come through for you.

Cartteacher, you have my sympathy. It sounds like you have a very difficult situation, and it's got to be even more fun when you're not tenured. They put you between a rock and a hard place, and if you make the wrong people mad, you're gone. It makes education look like a wonderful field to go into, doesn't it?

3/18/2007 1:36 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

"If they said the assignments are only for practice, and only the tests count, nobody would do the assignments."

Really? What about the kids who needed the practice? Do you think they'd be so dumb that they couldn't figure out that they needed to do the assignments IN ORDER TO learn how to pass the tests? Are the kids you teach that dumb? I guess it's possible; but it seems hard to believe.

I was being assigned busy work in that class. The "assignments" were just problems that I knew how to solve; by doing them I wouldn't have been learning one single thing about math.

The underlying philosophy you seem to be promoting here, Dennis, is that the real "lesson" is how to follow orders, regardless of how stupid and pointless they may be. That's the lesson that totalitarian societies teach their kids--we shouldn't be teaching that "lesson" in a democracy.

3/18/2007 4:04 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Well then Elizabeth, I guess you should just call me Adolf.

If you think that the typical high school student in America will do assignments for which they are not going to be held directly accountable, you are dreaming. It would be a wonderful world, and my workload would be cut significantly, if students really would do work because it is going to help them do well on a test that they won't be taking for a week or two. But that simply is not the case. The very best students--the most mature kids--would. But the middle and lower ends? Forget it! And believe me, that is not just in my school.

3/18/2007 6:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"My end result was a 'C' grade even though I'd clearly demonstrated that I knew the material 100 percent. This was unfair."

Not at all. You're assuming that passing the test at the end is all that counts in a grade. You were apparently bright enough to be bored but not bright enough to understand that doing the homework assignments was part of what you were being graded on.

"The underlying philosophy you seem to be promoting here, Dennis, is that the real 'lesson' is how to follow orders, regardless of how stupid and pointless they may be."

Stupid and pointless to a bored 12-year-old child? Why should that be the standard? I don't know what you do now, but if you came to work for me and simply ignored everything I told you to do and instead unilaterally substituted your own judgment about what was worthwhile, you'd be out the door faster than you could say, "You're hurting my self-esteem!"

Learning to follow directions given by adult teachers when you're a child and by your employer when you're an adult is not a fascist plot. It's part of life.

3/18/2007 6:26 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

anonymous, I've had two careers (really three careers, but two are in the same field and simultaneous) and in each of them, the most important skill I needed was the ability to make quick decisions ON MY OWN. If I worked in a factory, I guess following orders might be the skill I would need. Your attitude illustrates why American workers are falling so far behind. The US has to import massive numbers of foreign doctors and engineers because we don't teach our kids problem solving skills. Meanwhile many US workers whose main skill in life is how to follow orders are unemployed. You are just totally wrong about what people need to succeed in our industrialized, globalized, technological society. What you say would have been true 100 or maybe 50 years ago; it isn't true anymore.

Dennis: If you have such totally different types of kids in your classes, obviously, your classes need to be broken up into smaller classes. I know what you're going to say: The school budget and bureaucracy don't allow it. Has it occured to you that this might be one reason why so many parents want vouchers to send their kids to private school, or want to teach them at home?

3/19/2007 4:39 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

btw, anonymous, I was 10, not 12, im the 6th grade. I was thinking you might have figured that out when I mentiioned I skipped a grade--but maybe wherever you come from, kids are usually 13 in the sixth grade...

3/19/2007 4:49 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Elizabeth, that's a completely different issue, and it's also not a problem here. I teach three regular American History classes, one Basic American History class, Economics and Sociology electives, and an A.P. American Government class. By and large, our kids are able to take classes with students of similar abilities or interests. Regardless of how the classes are set up, my point is that the typical American high school student isn't going to do assignments unless they are directly accountable for them. I could pretend that's not the case, or I could say to myself, "If they don't do the work, they'll be the ones who suffer because they'll fail the test," and as I said before, it would significantly cut down on my workload. But it would also be a cop-out on my part. You shouldn't be expected to know that because you don't teach high school classes. But I do, and I have to set my classes up in such a way to deal with that reality. (I hope you don't take that as an insult, because it's not meant as one. I'm sure that if I were to try to do your job, I would be totally clueless.)

Your bringing up the idea of ability grouping reminds me of something. When I took over the A.P. American Government class, which of course, has the top kids in it, I asked former students for suggestions. The suggestion I heard most frequently was that I should make kids accountable for the reading assignments because almost no one did them. I'm sure you'll be thrilled to know that I have followed their advice. ;-)

3/19/2007 5:05 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/19/2007 5:05 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I just don't know what to think about your students, Dennis. The people I went to high school with were different.
I've counseled kids; they never told me they'd never do an assignment unless it was graded. Then again that subject never came up because they had bigger issues, usually at home.

As for:
"or I could say to myself, "If they don't do the work, they'll be the ones who suffer because they'll fail the test," No Dennis--here's what you should do: SAY TO THE STUDENT NOT TO YOURSELF "if you don't do the work, you'll probably fail the test." That puts the responsibility on them--isn't that part of what you should be teaching them, decision-making? Where in the real world does someone tell you what to do every single day? (regardless of what anonymous thinks). Most people in the real world are responsible for projects and planning how to make them successful (again, if you work on an assembly line or at McDonald's you don't have to do this). But you want your students to do better than work on an assembly line or at McDonald's, don't you? There aren't too many jobs left on assembly lines.

3/19/2007 6:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You are just totally wrong about what people need to succeed in our industrialized, globalized, technological society."

I didn't say anything about what people need to succeed in a globalized society. I commented on what you'd need to succeed working for me.

Your poor reading skills confirm my sense that you'd be a substandard employee.

3/19/2007 7:36 PM  
Anonymous Ian H. said...

Speaking as a secondary teacher, I can affirm that unless there is some kind of grade attached to an assignment, most of my students will not do the work, despite me telling them the skills they gain by doing the assignments will help them pass the exam.

I would love to be able to grade students on their efforts in my class, so the slacker "A" student would get a lower grade than the student who works his ass off for a "C". I disagreed with my prof of Evaluation Methods on this when I was at university, and I continue to disagree with colleagues and the administration of my school about what the criteria for evaluation should be. More and more, I've found myself adding marked homework checks so the students who do the coursework get a leg up on the students who wait until exam time to put some effort in.

I am also very conscious that the assignments I give have to be more than busywork, or I will only get minimal effort in return. Despite my attempts to craft meaningful assignments, the first question I always get is "How much is this worth?", not "How is this helping me learn the course material?"

3/19/2007 10:49 PM  
Blogger The Tour Marm said...

I agree with anonymous.

Part of the problem we have with students is a poor work ethic and no initiative.

I did receive an failing grade in my history class because my reports were not completed in time, my homework was sloppy, and my research was not up to standard. I was bored. I aced the tests and contributed in class, but my teacher still failed me.

It was a reality check. My teacher said that I should not expect to get through life by wit and charm; it takes effort, pride, and respect. If I was bored, then I should have devised something that would have stimulated me and shared it with him and/or the class.

My parents were appalled. From that moment on, they monitored my homework, helped me devise a schedule for my reports, and suggested extra credit projects.

I did eventually get an A but I learned a valuable lesson.

3/20/2007 6:39 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I think that some confusion has developed about what I meant by "assignments." I wasn't talking about papers and projects--I was talking about routine practice assignments like you get in a math class. Obviously I don't think learning can be judged merely be tests.

I also think--and I've often thought this when I counseled children--that some teachers confuse my job with theirs. As a counselor, my job was to help kids with their self esteem and coping skills. I remember an 11 year old girl bringing to me an assignment she'd gotten 100 percent on; she was proud. I looked at it and realized it had errors. What SHOULD have happened is the teacher should have graded the assignment fairly, then the student could have brought it to me and we could have talked about how she felt about it. Her parents would have supported having her study harder and I'm sure she could have gotten 100 percent.

In the real world, you don't get "graded" on "effort." You get graded on results. A doctor who tries really hard doesn't get credit if he botches the patient's operation. Some people aren't meant to be doctors and they need to learn that at a young age so they don't waste their time (and kill people later). People should get grades and diplomas relative to whether they've learned what they were supposed to, not for how often they followed orders and made polite remarks.

I went to a liberal arts college that I got into because of my high SATs and extra-curricular activities. I had family problems in high school and that plus my rebellious attitude hurt my grades. As soon as I got to college my GPA went up because I was away from my family and because I was learning in an atmosphere of respect from my professors rather than an atmosphere of condescenion and infantilization from my h.s. teachers. Meanwhile, some of the straight A students from high school couldn't handle the college work. They suffered serious emotional letdowns when they received Bs and Cs. They hadn't realized that just "effort" and turning in their assignments and being buddies with their teachers doesn't cut it in college work. I think the expectations these kids were given about themselves in high school set them up for disappointment in college, not to mention wasted money as some of them dropped out.

3/20/2007 7:20 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/20/2007 3:36 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Elizabeth, speaking of condescension, do I detect just a hint of that in your comment?

It is clear that you have a very low opinion of high school teachers, and I guess, teachers in general. I doubt that anything is going to change your mind on that. I hope you are aware, however, that there are many people out there who credit teachers they had with making a very positive difference in their lives. I'm sorry you had such a bad high school experience, but have you ever considered the possibility that at least part of that might have been the result of your own actions and attitude?

3/20/2007 7:16 PM  
Anonymous Ian H. said...

Elizabeth, while that may be true of some students who go on to university, do you think it happened more to the ones who slacked off and got "A"s or more to the ones who were used to working hard for their "C" or "B" grade?

3/20/2007 7:56 PM  
Blogger Tracy said...

Grades tend to be high in Weight Training and Native American Arts classes. So would that raise a student’s GPA? Yes. Does it mean that the teachers of those classes are grading any easier than they were before? No. But is that a reasonable thing to do? I think so.

Just read this, and I wonder. Why would Weight Training and Native American Arts have high grades?

I don't know much about what is taught in either class, but from my very little knowledge of seeing Native American Art in a variety of museums, I would say that creating good-quality Native American Art is as difficult an endeavour as creating any other form of art.

Do the same students who get high grades in Native American Arts get high grades in standard art?

And what are marks in Weight Training based on? Why are students in those classes getting higher grades? (If they're being graded based on form I'd hope they'd all get 'A's, because if the teacher is letting them get away with bad form s/he's risking their health).

What I'm asking is why would electives not be hard? Shouldn't an elective be as hard as a core subject?

3/25/2007 11:14 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Tracy, you raise a fair point. I probably shouldn't have picked on the two classes I did, because electives, in general, tend to be easier. I teach two elective classes--economics and sociology--and I make both of them less demanding than my required classes. I wouldn't call either of them an easy A, but if the economics class was required, I would definitely make it more demanding than it is. In any case, if you think it's wrong to make elective classes easier, I am as guilty as anyone.

There is a method to my madness, however. A number of the kids who take my electives have very tough schedules. They might take A.P. Government, A.P. English, Calculus and Physiology or Chemistry. They already have a great deal of work to do outside of class, so they don't need any more from my electives. Also, if electives are too demanding, no one will take them.

One reason I chose Weight Training as an example is because I am very familiar with the people who have taught it, and I run our summer weight room program. If a student goes to class every day and works hard, he or she will get an A--simple as that. And I think that's the way it should be in that class.

3/26/2007 3:00 PM  
Blogger Tracy said...

Dennis - I don't think it's helpful to average together grades from a toughly marked course with grades from an easily marked course. If electives are deliberately easier, then they should be kept separate from the GPA. Otherwise you're being unfair on kids who take more of the core courses.

Unless, of course, you weight the elective courses in the opposite direction to the AP courses by assigning lower weights to electives. This would reduce the disincentive effect you talk about from taking harder electives.

I don't generally care for making a course easier as it means compressing the upper end of the grades and so not being able to distinguish between good and superb work - as in the case of Native American Art.

I don't think it's sensible for a high school to increase the number of credits required for graduation and then allow students to make them up with easier courses if your objective is better educated students. Though of course it does make political sense.

Weight training is of course a weird one as bad technique is so physically harmful.

4/03/2007 8:32 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Tracy, with all due respect, I disagree with you. I think having kids actually learn something in an elective, even if it is easier than a core class, is a lot better than having them sit around and play hangman in a study hall. Some classes are harder than others. That is the way it has always been, and that is the way it will always be. Please don't misunderstand me; I do not hand out A's in my Economics and Sociology classes like candy. Even in electives, every class needs to maintain a certain amount of integrity, but I still think it is natural that electives will not as demanding as required classes.

By the way, regarding Weight Training, every student should be using decent technique. If he or she isn't, the teacher is putting himself and our school in position for a nice little lawsuit.

4/05/2007 2:48 PM  

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