Have You Ever?

Have you ever done something you knew was going to irritate you, but did it anyway?

I did that today. Today, I opened a folder of notes I took while meeting with a friend over coffee about a new grading policy at our high school.  She knew I was a student advocate and wanted to share some observations on this topic of which we both were concerned. Previously, I had blogged about the rationale, or lack there of, regarding this grading policy.   I had told her I would look at the information in more detail that she shared with me. Due to my own graduate school course obligations, I have not had time to do so. Until today.  I wish I had not looked.

Needless to say, what she had discovered and what was verified in looking at saved copies of my high schoolers’ final grades, was disheartening. What was billed as a change to provide and use a standardized grade book for our high school classes, has done nothing of the sort.  Finals were thrown in with summative grades for each term. The percentage of points given over to a final assessment (final exam points if you need it stated plainly) varied widely, from roughly ten percent to over 50% in several classes. Higher weighted finals seemed to be the norm in the classes we both looked at. I am defining higher as a final weight of over 40% of total points of a students final grade for the semester.

We both realized that in some classes, there were not many summative points offered at all – roughly two to four other assignments that made up the remainder of summative points. This was not an absolute for every class, but much more common than not.

To make matters worse, I had pointed something out during our June meeting that she had not realized. This was that the multipliers on many of the summative assessments were being changed – sometimes using very bizarre numbers, like .47, .71. 2.381, or .29.  Both of us agreed that we were not sure the students knew how the change in multiplier affected their grade.  She, as both a teacher and a parent, had not even realized the multipliers were changing from class to class and even assignment to assignment. She thought, incorrectly, they were locked in at 1.0.

This is not even considering formative assignments – weighted at 20% each.

It was announced last fall, that commencing with the 2016-2017 school year, the high school online grade book was being standardized and that the teachers must put all assessments into either a 80% summative category or a 20% formative category for each assignment and/or assessment. This included all courses, even AP courses. But, you see what happened here, don’t you? The use of the multiplier still allowed the assessments to be weighted with values all over the place. The intention of the system change – to standardize – was negated by use of the multiplier. There was no standardization! Interestingly, when I pointed this out over our coffee in June, my friend stated that they are not allowed to change the multiplier where she teaches – it is “locked” in at 1.0.

Furthermore, this teacher/parent voiced concerns over the finals not being placed in a separate, uniformly weighted category.   Finals have previously been categorized as separate, although weights still varied widely. She did not know. It was the first time she had a student at the high school.

I spoke to one of the high school administrators early last fall about concerns with this 80/20 split when this system was implemented. My concerns stemmed from the high value placed on summative assessments when I have a student who suffers from test anxiety.  In essence, his intelligence is much greater than the sum of his test scores. My concerns were listened to but I am not sure they were heard.  The whole change seemed arbitrary to me, and this feeling was reinforced when I asked how the values that turned out to be 80/20 were decided upon. This other parent voiced similar concerns at the end of this school year, actually providing documentation of point values in the summative category (which included finals). We both were listened to, albeit separately, by different building administrators.  I am not sure either of us were heard. I am not sure who, if anyone else, noticed.

You know, my kids do well in school – well above average,  so I am not upset about their grades at the end of the term.  But, is not an equitable system what we are after?  I have yet to cross-reference the findings this other parent provided me with my own. Both of our students took some of the same courses, but from different teachers….will the final weight be the same? It should be. I do not expect to find that outcome.

I also will cross reference data I have now with data from courses taken the year before (2015-2016 school year) the 80/20 system was started. I am sure I will find some very different weighting. Should not have all this data analysis been done by a district administrative team before implementing a building wide system change? I would say emphatically, YES! Should not have “fake students” with “fake grades” have been generated and examined before using a building of secondary students, some of whom are trying very hard to get into good colleges, were used as guinea pigs?  Again, yes, of course.

To make matters worse, the decision to implement the new 80/20 policy was thrust upon our student body and community of stake holders just as school began for the 2016-2017 school year.  It was a decision, I am told, made by a person who no longer works for the district! Talk about wreaking havoc and jumping ship! Whoa! The mates are left cleaning the decks, to be sure!

In the end, although I am looking at this information and even writing about it here, I am not sure what I will do with it. I have spoken up before, only to have my students bear some form of retribution. Yes. Really.  I am not sure I want to take that chance again. It seems my efforts to point out how we need to improve the system end up helping other students but not my own. I have tired of that occurrence. What is clear is that we have some work to do to make our system equitable.  Strangely enough, just as I started looking at this data today, a book arrived from my ASCD membership on building equity in schools. I will read it (already started) and go from there.

equity book from ASCD

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