Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"No-Fail" Grading

     This photo is from Neatorama and is the opening image for an article on the many parking meters that do not function in Los Angeles.  The city is currently experiencing a "financial crisis".  This is a very real example of failure in policy and action.  Where do such low standards come from?
     This past year, the state of Texas did away with the policy of "No-Fail" grading.  The policy affected all of us, educators, differently.  I used to work in an at-risk, tier-1, school where we were told to award a grade of 50% for anything earned, lower than 50%.  What this looked like for many students was a long list of 50's and one or two higher grades to ensure a passing grade.  Many times this was a guessing game, as percentages were lost on many of the students (and faculty).  The students, and faculty, sometimes didn't know what passing really was and didn't care.  It seemed so attainable, who cared.  The bare minimum was all that was required.   I moved districts and found that my, privileged, at-risk kids had a similar strategy.  The strategy was modified though.  The students and faculty knew what passing was.  The calculations of percentages happened on a daily basis.  You could hear students doing the math in their head....  "If I get a 50 on this then I just need to get a 73 on my next exam to pass!"  I actually thought this showed higher level thinking.  Inadvertently, Texas had taught a whole generation how to calculate percentages in their heads!  Many, in fact most, of the kids used this strategy to some extent.  The dependent factor was their expectations or that of their parents.  My "on-level" and "honors" students tried for 80's.  The rare few strived for their 90's and there were always the ones who had to earn their 100.
     Expectations seem to be what drive achievement.  I've seen teachers and districts coddel students or reprimand them with grades and with little conscience.  Consequence does not seem to drive student performance, expectations do.  I have a new policy in my classroom and it works!  A student must make an 80 or higher on exams.  If they do not, they earn a "Not Yet" until they complete a second review and take a second, but different, exam.  It is a lot of work, but worth it.  I will not, however, pass a child if they do not put forth the effort.  I have had two to three kids each year, who will not put forth any effort.  They have their reasons.  They are confident they understand the consequences.  And, after all the "Response To Intervention" you can dish at them.. they fail.  I personally am glad the law is gone but urge educators not to be tyranical in their grading policies.  What do you think?
     Follow the link for a news report by FOX on the subject.,2933,518101,00.html
     I credit the grading policy to Spence Rogers' PEAK Learning Systems.  You can learn more about PEAK at this link.

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