Friday, February 24, 2017

The Great Grading Dilemma

For the last 10-ish years, I have used Standards Based Grading in my classroom. What this looks like has evolved over time, but overall, the same basic principle was at work. My classes are broken down into overarching ideas that span the entire grading period. Those ideas are each marked separately and repeatedly. Students are able to see the ideas in which they perform strongly and which ideas they need work on. The targets I have written for my classes are ones that we circle back to over and over throughout the trimester. We don't stop talking about conservation of mass because we had a test over that unit. We come back to it and apply it to new situations and explain why it is such a big deal. I have tweaked and perfected over the years, and I love how this system lays out my curriculum and my classroom.

But I'm tired. I am still the only teacher in my 7-12 building that uses this type of system. I have gotten an impressive amount of push back from a lot of people. Interestingly, that has only come about in the last few years since I have been teaching chemistry and now physics. It comes mostly from parents of "A" students who don't want to understand the differences. And those are only the parents I hear from. I know my principal (bless him) acts as a firewall for me and I do not hear most of what is said.*

He does a good job of communicating the concerns with me. The biggest criticism has been that a grade at any point in time before the end of the semester does not reflect the student's understanding of the material. In other words, if a particular target is going to be reassessed and that grade might change down the line, then why should their grade be so low right now? Why can't little Susie just have an A all trimester if I think she will end up with one at the end.** This has been tweaked so that there is less variation in the grading than I had before, but grades are typically still lower than what most parents find acceptable.

My grading philosophy has not changed. I still believe that a student's grade in my class should only reflect what they know. I'm not bending on that point. I won't grade homework and I won't give participation grades. I hate how a percentage averages out so it's okay to not fully understand some topics. I have, however, given a bit on that one this year in a tweak I made to how scores factor into the final grade.

The irony*** here is that I have had so many students and parents place the blame for lower than desired scores on the system. This is not the reason. The reason is that I expect my kids to have a high level of understanding of the subject. But, of course, it is easier to put the blame on something they can't control. This argument is the main reason I am thinking about going back to a traditional system. Of course then I would just have to deal with all the complaining about the class being too difficult.

Today, my chemistry class had their first quiz of the trimester. So today or tomorrow, I am going to have to decide which grading road I am going to travel down. I know which one will make my life easier.

*This in itself is especially frustrating. Parents are always welcome to visit with me directly, but a few of the most outspoken won't and instead seem to want to apply pressure indirectly.

**Actual question from a parent...

***In other news, today in chemistry, we were discussing average atomic mass and how it was figured based on weighted averages. We do this by comparing it to weighted grades that some teachers use. Not a single one of my students knew how to figure their final grade using weighted averages. Some of them couldn't even explain a straight average. I just wanted to ask if you don't understand the traditional system, what difference does it make if I'm not using it???

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Change in the Wind

The last year or so have brought about a lot of changes for me. But the biggest one is coming up next year.

Next year we are using the retirement of our other science teacher to completely restructure our science department. Our new motto is "all standards for all students". There are arguments for and against that philosophy, but we decided at this point it is the direction we wanted to go. In order to align more easily with NGSS standards, we are moving towards a Physics First sequence.

Freshmen coming in will take physics. Sophomores will follow with chemistry and biology will be a junior level class. There are other elective science courses that will be offered, including an advanced physics, engineering, anatomy and physiology, and a rotation of individual earth sciences. (Yes, all of this with just two teachers!)

I'm nervous. This is a big deal. The more I am put in front of people to talk about it, the more I realize how big of a deal it really is. You see, I sort of live in my isolated little bubble. When I leave my bubble, it tends to be when I go out to meet and learn with other science teachers. And the ones I hang out with tend to have the same philosophy that I do about rigor. To an awful lot of people "rigorous" when referring to a science class simply means "higher level math." While to some extent that is true, I do believe kids can learn and understand physics concepts without having had trig. (Or maybe I'm delusional and this is all going to go down in flames.)

I am also under no illusions that the success of this endeavor is all on me. Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of support in place. I know my administration has my back and will do everything they can to act as a firewall so I can do my thing, but I know that this will be watched very closely by a lot of people, some of whom who will look for any little chink in the armor to find a way to bring it down for no other reason than because it is different.

But I'm ready for it. And I am excited for it. And I truly think it's going to be a great thing for our kids.

I Haven't Got It Right Yet...

My boy is a fourth grader who hates school. He's good at it, but at this point in time, he wants to "be a youtuber" when he grows up, so he doesn't really see how long division fits into his plans.

In yet another conference with his teacher, she was scolding him about how if he doesn't show his work she can't know whether or not he understands the concepts. She ended with a question,

"How am I supposed to know if you understand it or not?"

He looked at her, blinked, and said,

"Well, I haven't gotten it right yet."

As a teacher, this hit me hard. I have students in my class right now that I KNOW aren't getting it. Sometimes I forget that part of my job is to make sure they are getting it right.

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