Multiple school districts in the US Are Changing Their Grading System. Is It A Good Idea?

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phinds
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The Week magazine Oct 30, 2020 page 8
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To be fair, it's not quite as simple-minded as that makes it sound, but it is still, to me, is a terrible idea. Another progressive education idea that is well-meaning but likely to be disastrous in practice.

Here's an article with more detail:
https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterg...rading-system-is-it-a-good-idea/#6b76bd395dd6

The whole thing reminds me of this cartoon:

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Your thoughts?
 
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  • #2
DaveC426913
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Other than broadening your sentiment in the thread title to much more than just this one issue, I can add no constructive thoughts.
 
  • #3
Fervent Freyja
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Insane. My daughters academy adopted this as of last year. The grading standard is a: exceeds expectations, meets expectations, or below expectations. Their goal is to ONLY focus on ensuring that all students meet expectations. Students that exceed expectations are now blacklisted, because their intention is to only pour resource and focus into students that are below expectations. Teachers only care about grading students at meeting expectations and I suspect grading them at above expectations means more work for them, while grading them at below expectations and then later intentionally raising it means more funding (thence, her school has recently received national award and presidential honors/millions of dollars).

Pretty much, changing grade based standards and systems are ploys for raising funding in public schools.
 
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  • #4
phinds
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Other than broadening your sentiment in the thread title to much more than just this one issue, I can add no constructive thoughts.
Oh yeah, I agree but it's against forum rules to get into politics.
 
  • #5
Office_Shredder
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That quote about not using factors that measure knowledge confuses me. How is mastery of the standard measured if not by, I don't know, measuring knowledge? And since when has attendance measured a student's knowledge?

The idea of not caring about attendance, not doing midterm tests, and just giving a giant exam at the end of, say, a three year university degree to see what you learned at the end of it, and letting that exam decide your grade is actually what oxford and Cambridge university do. So it's not just a hippie liberal idea that's never worked in the real world.
 
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  • #6
hutchphd
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Standardized teaching is a two edged sword. My public school education was pretty lousy because I didn't need to do diddly-squat to graduate fifth in my class oi 450. This was fifty years ago. It took me quite a while to actually learn the techniques of effective and disciplined learning because of this "education"
The best teachers I had challenged me at an appropriate level. I think this may be a very good idea for students of varying capabilities: perhaps enabling more people to flourish. Do not to weep for America: expect a Renaissance led by people willing to rethink prevailing dogma.. We are never better than when we face real challenge with new ideas.
 
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  • #7
phinds
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The idea of not caring about attendance, not doing midterm tests, and just giving a giant exam at the end of, say, a three year university degree to see what you learned at the end of it, and letting that exam decide your grade is actually what oxford and Cambridge university do. So it's not just a hippie liberal idea that's never worked in the real world.
So you think grade school education is equivalent to college-level education and young kids can be treated the same as adults. I think that nuts.

People at university can be expected to do well in such a situation BECAUSE they had disciplined education when they were younger. Do you think the feeder schools for those universities used that form of education?
 
  • #8
phinds
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Do not to weep for America: expect a Renaissance led by people willing to rethink prevailing dogma.. We are never better than when we face real challenge with new ideas.
I admire your optimism but not your understanding of reality in this particular case.
 
  • #9
hutchphd
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But I am not inherently an optimistic person. The reality of my public school education was hardly ideal. You decry a change to the system when there is no data presented to show the old system to be optimal in any way. For me it was not. For the black kids who went to that "other school" in my youth in Maryland it probably was not.
Interestingly in Indianapolis the rise of the KKK in the 1920's produced a new resegregated high school (named for Crispus Attucks) which had remarkable success. It was "separate but better" because of the quality of the teachers..
So before asking me to weep or questioning my understanding of reality , please show me some relevant facts about the subject.
 
  • #10
sysprog
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I think that this includes a misinterpretation that is due to an inclarity of the strikethrough attribute in the SDUSD New Policy pdf:
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Here's the paragraph marked more clearly:
The Superintendent or designee shall inform teachers of the district’s policy regarding grading, including expectations that academic grades shall be based solely on students’ current levels of mastery of the Board-adopted standards and shall not be influenced by behavior or factors that directly measure students’ knowledge and skills in the content area and shall not include nonacademic factors measures. Academic grades shall use multiple means to assess mastery and will include opportunities for reflection, revision, and reassessment in order to ensure the mastery of grade level standards for all students. Academic grades shall reflect progress towards standards and not quantity of assignments completed. Citizenship grades shall be based on students’ behavior and nonacademic measures, such as work habits, effort, and ability to meet indicated timelines for assignment completion. Board-adopted standards for citizenship shall be used to communicate current levels and areas for needed improvement.
And here it is with the new underlined parts no longer underlined and the strikeout-marked parts eliminated:

The Superintendent or designee shall inform teachers of the district’s policy regarding grading, including expectations that academic grades shall be based solely on students’ current levels of mastery of the Board-adopted standards and shall not be influenced by behavior or nonacademic measures. Academic grades shall use multiple means to assess mastery and will include opportunities for reflection, revision, and reassessment in order to ensure the mastery of grade level standards for all students. Academic grades shall reflect progress towards standards and not quantity of assignments completed. Citizenship grades shall be based on students’ behavior and nonacademic measures, such as work habits, effort, and ability to meet indicated timelines for assignment completion. Board-adopted standards for citizenship shall be used to communicate current levels and areas for needed improvement.​
I think that good academic performance and good behavioral conduct are not as fully mutually exclusively compartmentalizable as the new policy appears to mandate that they are to be held to be; however, the policy statement correctly parsed is not as absurd as when the words to be stricken out are instead incorrectly included.
 
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  • #11
Rive
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I do understand the notion but would like to point out that being able to work alone, work in a society, work steadily, attend a schedule over a longer time also standards of a successful and promising student.

I really do wonder how they are going to measure anything useful about any subject without caring about homework, tests and attendance and such.
 
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  • #12
fresh_42
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There are many schools in Europe which do not give grades at all, mainly in Scandinavia, but others elsewhere test this approach. too. I found a lot of articles about it, but none with a decent reference, so I will not quote them. One e.g. said that Swedish schools do not give grades until year 10. Not sure whether this is true or still true. A fact, however is, that Scandinavian students are regularly among the top ranks in the PISA studies.

The idea itself isn't as strange as you all make it sound. The necessity to measure has some significant consequences to skills like creativity or social behaviour.

Thus the results of such approaches are by no means trivial, and the concept might make more sense than it sounds. Unfortunately, and that is why I didn't quote what I have found, this issue immediately becomes political: liberal versus conservative (at least here it does). As a matter of fact, this politicalization hinders a scientific debate. I am sure, there are a lot of studies, given that the method is actually used, but I have no idea how to find them - especially ones in english.
 
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  • #13
Dale
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And here it is with the new underlined parts no longer underlined and the strikeout-marked parts eliminated
Thanks for that!

I like this approach. As a parent and as a teacher myself, I don’t really care when a student finally “gets it”. So to me it is good that “grades shall be based solely on students’ current levels of mastery”. That means that if a student does poorly on the homework, learns from his mistakes, and understands the material in the end then they will receive the grade representing their final state of knowledge.
 
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  • #14
phinds
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... this issue immediately becomes political: liberal versus conservative
I agree w/ that. I am socially liberal in general but not in all areas and I'm particularly sensitive about pre-college education in the U.S. My wife taught in middle school and high school for 25+ years and the stories she told were horrible about kids with no self-discipline at all and a system with no way to motivate them. A system like what is described in those news articles would be a disaster, at least where she taught in Ithaca, NY, a liberal city and one that might well adopt such "standards".
 
  • #15
fresh_42
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what is described in those news articles would be a disaster,
I think this is a crucial point. There are many non schoolish parameters which will presumably play essential roles: social and intellectual background of students, size of courses, time available, general commitment to learn, language(!), etc. I am not sure whether all these circumstances can be leveled out in a study.
 
  • #16
jack action
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My wife taught in middle school and high school for 25+ years and the stories she told were horrible about kids with no self-discipline at all and a system with no way to motivate them. A system like what is described in those news articles would be a disaster
I'm not sure I follow your train of thoughts. According to you, the system in place for the last 25+ years leads to no self-discipline and it doesn't motivate children. And you want to keep it? Or maybe reinforce it? And how is the system described going against self-discipline or motivating children? How is giving a bad grade to someone who knows the material, but didn't learn it the way expected can be seen as motivating? (and vice versa)

Personally, I think the problem of self-discipline and motivation has more to do with the people surrounding the child (parents, teachers & more) than the system in place.
 
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  • #17
Vanadium 50
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Here is another quote:

Instead of grading a student based on an average of quizzes, homework assignments and tests, grades will be given depending on how well they understand the material at the end of the semester.

"So, we don't think if you had let's say F's early in the term and then you aced that final that that should average out to a C," said Barrera. "We think you've shown you've mastered the material and should get an A."

I suspect that if this were instead presented as "San Diego is going towards a system where the entire grade comes from the final exam" many folks position on this change would reverse.
 
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  • #18
Office_Shredder
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So you think grade school education is equivalent to college-level education and young kids can be treated the same as adults. I think that nuts.

I mean, no. Also, I'm not sure when the last time anyone cared what grade I got in elementary school, so who cares what system they pick really?

People at university can be expected to do well in such a situation BECAUSE they had disciplined education when they were younger. Do you think the feeder schools for those universities used that form of education?

I never said anything about how the students get feedback about their performance, I only said how their final grade is determined. During the degree they do one on one meetings weekly with teachers to assess how they did on their homework and figure out what they need to get better at. It's actually the opposite of being thrown into the wild for three years and see what happens.


The scheme for assigning grades and the method of teaching and providing feedback through the year are waaay less correlated than most people here think. The students will still be given quizzes and homework, they just won't count towards their final grade.

If you instead set up a system of quizzes and homework throughout the year, you can get into a situation where halfway through the class someone is guaranteed to fail. How is that motivating? Do you expect them to do any work the rest of the class, knowing they will be forced to retake it anyway?
 
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  • #19
phinds
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... how is the system described going against self-discipline or motivating children?
When a child is given no discipline and allowed to run roughshod over rules and standards with no repercussions ever going to learn self-discipline?

How is giving a bad grade to someone who knows the material, but didn't learn it the way expected can be seen as motivating?
I'm not aware that anyone suggested any such thing. I certainly didn't.
Personally, I think the problem of self-discipline and motivation has more to do with the people surrounding the child (parents, teachers & more) than the system in place.
I couldn't agree more, but I do think that school is a place where kids who don't have good role models at home could get them. I don't think that can happen in EITHER system (the old one or the one I'm railing against) unless the school system allows it and I don't see either one doing that today, but at least the old system tries and in less recent times it succeeded (more than it does today).
 
  • #20
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If we are going to get all "weepy" about this decision, I think one should look at its core: Minority students are having poorer outcomes. So rather than improve our instruction, we are going to change how we do assessment.

If you think this is a good path forward, raise your hand.
 
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  • #21
Dale
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So rather than improve our instruction, we are going to change how we do assessment.
In most organizations you get what you measure, so the two are not unrelated.
 
  • #22
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I can't tell. Is your hand up or not?
 
  • #23
Dale
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I can't tell. Is your hand up or not?
Mu.

I believe the question asserts a dichotomy that doesn’t exist.
 
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  • #24
Office_Shredder
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If we are going to get all "weepy" about this decision, I think one should look at its core: Minority students are having poorer outcomes. So rather than improve our instruction, we are going to change how we do assessment.

If you think this is a good path forward, raise your hand.

Is the problem they are having poorer true outcomes, or they are having poorer measured outcomes? Those aren't the same thing. In as far as the measurement is saying they are doing worse than they really are, changing the measurement seems like obviously a good idea.

Do you think someone who masters the material for a class but misses 22 days of school has had a worse outcome than someone who shows up every day and kind of gets it? Because the former probably fails the class and struggles to move on to the next academic topic in the current system, while the latter moves on no problem. And then we say the former was a worse outcome.

This is not to say the the measurement is the only reason that minorities get worse outcomes in schools in America, but the argument against measuring whether people know the material at the end of the class to pick a grade still doesn't seem to exist in this thread. Why would it be worse?

Edit to add: I agree with the above posters that a lot of the reaction here is political. If the Kansas State Board of Education was making this exact same change and the NAACP protested that minorities tend to struggle on tests because they can't afford expensive test prep, I wonder how people would react.
 
  • #25
fresh_42
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The question behind any grading system is: Does it reflect the skills I want to measure? And prior to this: Are the skills I want to support measurable at all? A common objection to the ordinary grading systems is, that they enforce a type of teaching which makes students' skills measurable in the first place, and thus damage e.g. creativity.

I experienced e.g. the following effect: A first class memory for facts guaranteed good grades at school. The same skill in a mathematical verbal exam has been pretty useless, as the professor asked primarily for understanding instead. The example I have in mind is certainly due to a bad choice of professors, since there had been also professors who rather asked for factual knowledge.

It is a single example, but it demonstrates the dilemma: Do I want to cultivate students who are disciplined, always in time, and can repeat Wikipedia pages; or do I want to cultivate primarily soft skills? The question is old, as old as grading systems are. What changed, is the fact that factual knowledge lost its importance as it is available 24/7 and everywhere.
 
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  • #26
phinds
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What changed, is the fact that factual knowledge lost its importance
yes, it has, it seems
as it is available 24/7 and everywhere.
No. SUPPOSED factual information is available everywhere but without critical thinking skills how can you tell one from the other? I'm sure you're aware that there is a HUGE amount of untrue "factual" information available 24x7.
 
  • #27
fresh_42
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I'm sure you're aware that there is a HUGE amount of untrue "factual" information available 24x7.
Well, there is untrue factual information which is actually taught at schools in the US ... and I have no reason to doubt what my sister told me about ID etc.

Students and people in general had always the problem to evaluate their sources. So this isn't really new. Books can fail as much as "the internet" can, e.g. plate tectonics. What I meant was, that e.g. it is not really necessary to learn all 50 states by heart, if it takes 3 clicks to achieve the same result.
 
  • #28
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Four examples that come to my mind:

- I had an English teacher who would often give us a list of xx new words, "learn these at home, by Monday we'll have a test about them". The next class was then about something else and the new words would be used in class after the test. I hated that approach and these tests always dragged down my grade for no good reason. I learned the words, but not by the time of these tests.

- I almost never did my mathematics homework in school. I knew how to do it, my teachers knew that I knew and accepted it. If they would have given grades for homework I would have needed to waste my time or get bad grades.

- studying medicine was infamous for its very late tests. 15 years ago you could study it for 3-4 years without needing to pass any test. That worked well for some, but others realized way too late it's not for them.

- the physics department avoided that by having tests in the first year that you needed to pass. Apart from that: We got grades for most of our courses but the final degree was only based on 4 oral exams (covering "everything we have learned", basically) and the thesis. What you learned overall mattered more than the time when you learned it. That worked well. When they switched to the BSc/MSc system suddenly every homework problem ended up in your grade for the course which would end up in your final grade. A main difference? Students now argued about every extra point they hoped to get for partially correct homework and even more about points in exams. Such a waste of time.

Focus on what people learned overall. Feedback in between is useful but ruining the grade because someone learned something at a different speed, didn't do their homework, didn't attend class or whatever is unnecessary.
No. SUPPOSED factual information is available everywhere but without critical thinking skills how can you tell one from the other? I'm sure you're aware that there is a HUGE amount of untrue "factual" information available 24x7.
I think that's the point. Learning how to look for information became much more important than learning that information by heart. The former is much harder to evaluate objectively, however.
 
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  • #29
phinds
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What I meant was, that e.g. it is not really necessary to learn all 50 states by heart, if it takes 3 clicks to achieve the same result.
Agreed
 
  • #30
phinds
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Learning how to look for information became much more important than learning that information by heart. The former is much harder to evaluate objectively, however.
On that we agree. That's what my wife tried to instill in her students but without much success due to their inattentaviness and just general lack of interest (not ALL of her students but a very large percentage).
 
  • #31
phinds
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To all who have participated so far, I thank you. I don't always agree but I'm glad to have started such a robust discussion.

Let's keep going. I DO think that I am to some extent an "old white guy" who was raised in a military household and I put too much emphasis on short term order and discipline.

I am very much in favor of any changes that will truly help disadvantage poor kids of all races/creeds/colors/whatever. They are not well served by our current K-12 system but personally I don't see how abandonment of interim results/feedback is a good thing and the statement in the original article I posted (indicating abandoning using anything associated with directly measuring students' knowledge) REALLY raised my hackles. The subsequent article that I reference softened that somewhat but not enough for me to favor the new system.
 
  • #32
fresh_42
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Agreed
I'm not sure I do. I think it is important to know that Oregon isn't at the atlantic coast. And if you know where to find which, then you know all 50. Maybe Delaware slips through a list, but even I think I can name all 50. Maybe I should have chosen the oversea territories instead, or some volume formulas in geometry.

It is always about where to draw the line. E.g. my grandmother had to learn many poems by heart, I still had one long one to memorize, and I bet there is (often) none nowadays. Critical thinking becomes more and more important, and this cannot be learned by hard skills. Whether a specific grading system is a good measure for that is a different question.
 
  • #33
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They are not well served by our current K-12 system but personally I don't see how abandonment of interim results/feedback is a good thing
Who wants to abandon interim results or feedback?
The proposed change just doesn't want that interim result/feedback to enter the final grade.
 
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  • #34
phinds
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To all who have participated so far, I thank you. I don't always agree but I'm glad to have started such a robust discussion.

Let's keep going. I DO think that I am to some extent an "old white guy" who was raised in a military household and I put too much emphasis on short term order and discipline. I am very much in favor of any changes that will truly help disadvantage poor kids of all races/creeds/colors/whatever. They are not well served by our current K-12 system but personally I don't see how abandonment of interim results/feedback is a good thing and the statement in the original article I posted, indicating a distregard for things that measure knowledge REALLY raised my hackles.
Who wants to abandon interim results or feedback?
The proposed change just doesn't want that interim result/feedback to enter the final grade.
I finally got that they do want it in the final grade but it DOES seem to me that they are proposing abandoning interim feedback. Perhaps I haven't looked at it enough.
 
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  • #35
phinds
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It is always about where to draw the line.

Boy Howdy ain't that the truth. Reminds me of the story about Feynman's statement when asked to give a talk on the state of physics education in Brazil after he had taught there for a year. Basically he said that they weren't really teaching physics at all, they were just teaching memorization. When I was young I think there was too much emphasis on memorization, but I don't think abandoning all of it would be a good idea. For example, I personally am appalled by the fact that most school systems in the US no longer require kids to drill on their multiplication tables and they leave school not knowing them (*). Having some idea where states and countries are is also a good idea.

* As an example, A friend of mine bought 12 plants (all the same kind) at a store and when he got to the register they were lined up 3x4. They clerk started COUNTING them and when Nick pointed out that it was a simple case of 3x4 she just looked annoyed that he had interrupted her and started counting again. I've had similar experiences.
 

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