More on the grading controversy
A commenter who is a student of Ken O'Connor's has asked how I was exposed to his work (there was lots of other interesting comments made too, so it might be helpful if you read them on this previous post.
Classroom teachers in my building were given a fifty-five minute or so presentation on Ken O'Connor's theories about "standards-based" grades during which no comments or questions were allowed until the very end. Mr. O'Connor is from Canada, but has also apparently worked in Australia. The title of the book from which this material was drawn is A Repair Kit for Grading: Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades,which is published by Educational Testing Service.
Now let's leave aside the fact that the end of the school year is usually a frantic time for teachers, and we do not have loads of time hanging on our hands to do research on a system presented in a rapid-fire manner via fifteen or twenty PowerPoint slides before we are being asked to buy the proverbial "pig in a poke," or we could talk all day long about how this method of extracting teacher feedback could be interpreted as being designed NOT to elicit real conversation or contemplation before it is, shall we say, shoved down our throats.
There are certainly some practices that were outlined that I personally would never use, such as giving a group grade for a project to every individual in the group. I do not like group work for a plethora of very practical reasons.
But since entire books have been written on the subject or grading, let me be very brief and very specific upon ONE aspect of this presented system.
One part of the system presented that caught my eye was the idea that plagiarism or cheating should not receive a consequence upon a student's grade, since it was stated that this is a BEHAVIOR, and grades should only reflect ACHIEVEMENT. We were told that administrators would administer consequences for the behavior, but that any paper or assessment upon which there had been cheating should simply be thrown out and or redone to be included in the grade.
Here are my responses to this, and they come from a practical, experienced, and current classroom teacher's point of view, and from the get-go let me state that my response touches upon far more than grading, because assessing students is only a part of what a classroom teacher does (a consideration that anyone suggesting an overhaul such as this should keep in mind, much less respect:
1) Apparently a concern leading to "standards based" grading is that letter grades are meaningless and capricious. Unfortunately, so are the expected consequences that one can usually expect in a school that has several administrators. Already, the consequences assigned by administrators vary wildly for identical infractions and circumstances of students. The expectations of behavior we already have are not enforced anywhere near uniformly. I can only imagine the further erosion of academic and character standards were principals given the only right to assign consequences for plagiarism or other infractions against academic honesty. And my concern about academic honesty is not out of a masochistic desire to punish students-- it is because I am actually interested in my students' learning and their present as well as future success.
2) But more to the philosophical point of Mr. O'Connor's system (as presented to us), it was exclaimed repeatedly that BEHAVIORS should not be represented in grades. I find this to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what education is. A real education, which is the one that students all ultimately craft for themselves for good or for ill, is based completely upon the way in which they choose to behave, to change or not change the way that they act and interact with knowledge, skills, and opportunities that are presented to them. This is what cognitive theory is all about, and it is much neglected in an era in which it is assumed that if a student fails to achieve mastery, it is always due to some external factor. Learning is an individual process in the end. That's not a cop-out, nor is it meant to negate the very real impact that instructors, school, community,or parents can have. But the ultimate determiner of success in education is the student and his or her attitude or behavior, if you will.
3) When am I supposed to have time for all this retesting and re-evaluation of assessments that have been tainted by plagiarism or cheating? I already have forty-five minutes a day to plan (short term as well as long term), to write assessments that are meaningful, to contact parents, to grade papers, to confer with colleagues, to talk to counselors about concerns I have about students, to touch base with administrators, to enter grades, and to perhaps go to the bathroom (doesn't usually happen). Continual reassessment of papers and tests and the like due to plagiarism simply teaches students that cheating has no consequences about which they care. And that is a BEHAVIOR that this type of system would certainly enforce, to everyone's detriment.
Tell me what you think.