“How many pages does it have to be?”
“Is this going to count?”
“How many points is it worth?”
“What can I do to bring my grade up?”
“Can I do extra credit?”
You’ve all heard these before, right? I have said for a long time that the worst part of teaching is grading. It’s a tough situation because somehow we have to put a number on it. If we don’t grade, then “kids won’t do it.” But because of grades, we often get students who are looking for the least amount of work for the maximum grade. I hate that about this job. I want to ask questions that lead them to ask questions and have class end up with a giant group hug where we all walk away realizing that we may not know the answers, but man, we sure questioned the heck out of it.
We have done a lot of work on our campus to try to get kids to go beyond the curriculum. We just became the first middle school in our county to reach 800 in API. Yeah, hold the applause. It’s based on a standardized test which we all know don’t mean nuthin’ when it comes to having kids actually think. But truth be known, this means that principals from our area will come calling asking, “what are you guys doing?” They may be disappointed when they come to see the dog and pony show but end up seeing a staff that is doing their darndest to get kids to question and speak/write complete thoughts. You see, these principals are asking the wrong question. It isn’t about what we are doing. It’s about what the kids are doing.
Apparently our students are doing something right, though. They are developing a reputation in high school for being “Sequoia kids” who sit in the front row, ask questions and, at times, challenge an occasional teacher to step up their game. Fantastic! But how do you grade that? How do you grade a kid who has learned how to learn? Last I checked, that isn’t in my state framework. There’s no standard for that. Which brings me back to grades.
How do you quantify learning? Why is 90% average the accepted norm for a kid who really gets it? 90% of what? Is this student truly advanced, or did she take a bunch of tests full of a bunch of basic questions and get 90% of them correct?
So tell me, what does a kid have to do to earn an A in your class? What are you doing to ensure that the grade actually means something and isn’t just verification that a student jumped through all the right hoops?