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I have frequent conversation with her about this. "Your grade is just a grade," I say. "The most important things is that are you are acquiring the skills you need."
She answers, "You just don't understand the atmosphere at school, Mom; kids always know where you measure up. And, if I don't do well in school, I won't get into college." Bah! I hate this misconception and tell her that's just not so.
Of course, you know a daughter's answer: "What do you know?"
So, I asked her math teacher if she is exaggerating the pressure she feels. His answer? "No, she's right. The kids here are GPA obsessed." He goes on to share with me that he and another teacher in the district were discussing this very point. He says, "We decided we should only give three grades: A, A-, B+. These are the only grades parents and students wish to see."
I think there are lots of teachers out there who feel this pressure. I know I absolutely hate handing back graded paper. A few weeks ago, one of my students ripped up his evaluated research paper because it was a C. When sharing this story with a fellow English teacher, she said, "We ALL hate handing back the papers...and isn't that sad?"
I cannot fully express how very sad this is to me. For education is NOT about grades.
It's about learning. Right???
I think most parents and teachers know this philosophy, but give it lip service only. It simply is not reality: GPA is. Reflecting on my 20-year career, I know I have always received pressure from parents: "Why isn't my kid getting an A?" One time a few years ago I was conferencing with a parent and shared her son was at an A-. Her response: "What is he doing wrong?" It's often worse: "What are you doing wrong, Mrs. Olson?" I remember I said to one parent last year, "Why don't you just grade the papers?" Yeah...I lose my patience sometimes.
So, when certain educational critics cry, "Where's the rigor?" my answer is, "No one really wants rigor. Everyone wants A's."
How do we fix this? CAN we fix this?
I say we MUST fix this, for learning is swept under the rug. A's no longer hold the worth they once did. This truth is reflected in that colleges are re-vamping their admission requirements to discount GPAs because they are so falsely inflated. Many universities consider the rigor of courses students take instead. (How many students do you know took basic math instead of pre-calculus in order to protect the GPA?)
And our nation's obsession with standardized tests does not help the situation. When discussing the possibility with of my daughter's school moving to 1:1, her math teacher said, "Our district isn't leaning that way right now. It doesn't seem to improve test scores much."
What? Are you kidding me? And what does a standardized test measure? Does it measure how well students use Diigo to collaborate as they gather resources for a research paper? Does it measure student's creativity who can use Garage Band to create a theme song for Hamlet which captures his moods and really his essence? I think my head exploded when the math teacher said that...because it meant the leadership of the district values these standardized measures most. No wonder my daughter is obsessed.
But I am not going to give up this fight. Recently I had my sophomores write an analytical essay over Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and I handed back the essays at the beginning of the hour. But, I did strike preemptively. I put percentages on the essays, not grades, and to correspond with percentages, I put evaluative words: 90-99 % is outstanding; 80-89% is very good; 70-79% is competent. And I told students my goal is to have everyone's analytical writing be to the competent level, which means it shows the reader you have thought critically about the piece and expressed that thinking in a competent way (this competence is defined more clearly on the rubric).
The results? Well, nobody tore up their paper. And I know some students were disappointed with their scores, but I believe they need an honest evaluation of where their skills are and what skills need more time and attention. Then they can continue to learn.
It's about the learning, not about the grade.
Do you think there's any hope?