Meaning of grades? You tell me.

Student D shows up for class early, Staples-issue binder, Lou Lou Lemon lovely, warm breakfast sandwich lovingly wrapped in one hand and a Venti Starbucks in the other. As she enters she asks: “Can I ask you a couple of questions?” She sits at the front, during class she will ask up to 10 questions and gets impatient if her needs are not quickly meet. At break she hangs out with other like-minded’s and they map out a plan of attack for the up coming Physics project.

Student S shows up late. She struggles to get to school every day. Her mom tries to text her from work in the morning to wake her up. Her binder is somewhere, she just can’t remember where? Maybe her boyfriend’s car? She does not have time for breakfast or really the energy to make it. She rushes out the door hair wet. Once again, she did not bother to get the answers for the chemistry homework assignment….oh well.  None of her friends are in chemistry and she does know anyone well enough to text them for the worksheet answers.

Student C works upwards of 20 hours a week. She and her Mom have just moved to an apartment closer to school so she can walk to both school and work. When homework is assigned she relies on her friends. She is happy she has smart friends. She would like to do her own work but she just can’t keep up with the demands of work and school. For a Physics assignment where she had to build a catapult she thankfully purchased one from a former student. She tries to get her friends to tutor her right before tests and go through the material. She finds she is too tired most days to focus in class.

Student M sneaks quietly into to class, head down, books clutched tight, treading lightly as she moves to the back corner of the room, hoping to remain unnoticed a little longer. During class, she does not interact with other students and only on the rare occasion will talk to her teacher. She dislikes group work and any enforced group activities make her feel anxious. For the last group project she had no one to work with and ended up by default having to work with the other “left-over” student. The partnership did not go well and as a result the project feel on her shoulders to complete.

Now. Guess the grade for each of the above students?

Go on. I’ll wait.

By guess I mean use your detective skills to figure them out.

Did you have a knee jerk reaction of some sort to each description on how you expected them to do based on your experiences and biases?

Lately, I have been wondering (and feeling kind of queasy as a result) if grades, especially at the secondary level (as I watch my teen and her friends move through) in a points based transactional model, are more related to how the student is socially connected and than anything else.

What do grades tell us? You tell me.

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4 thoughts on “Meaning of grades? You tell me.

  1. Great post ! Student grades go way beyond our ( teachers ) best instincts or worst biases. They do not exist in our little classroom vacuum. They exist in a wide social political context too. Your student profiles aim toward this. Your last girl has some trauma or mental health issues far beyond just introversion. Your first students Starbucks Venti points to her means but not her academic altitudes. Are teachers so shallow we evaluate based in social status? Obviously not overtly but exams are ‘rigged’ in a way because they too often measure the unimportant. Look at the controversy over the ZERO marking practice in Edmonton. Even if we ‘personalize’ the process and use AFL models of inclusion, teachers must consider IRP and expectations that they may know are meaningless to the student. Sometimes we pinch our nose and try to motivate and assess our students as honestly as we can. The balance between accountability, motivation, honesty and fairness makes accurate authentic grading practice almost impossible- certainly a task a lay person and even many educators fight over.

    • My profiles were definitely rigged to emphasize some stereotypes. I have started to wonder almost daily if we are not re-sorting what is already sorted. Much of a point driven system is tied to who the student knows (or does not), even though we “pretend” that results are representing “the student” don’t the results often times represent a life of support, high expectations, good connections and high EQ? From what I see from around our kitchen table is students working collectively to do the chemistry worksheet or physics project, but how about those students who don’t have those connections due to as you mention mental health problems or other challenges?
      Such a confusing, challenging and contentious issue in ed and a big elephant in the room for me right now.

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