Correcting the Record on Grading
The Press Democrat article contained many inaccuracies, most importantly the grading scale printed on the front page. Without explanation, it does look alarming. Teachers who understood how to implement it developed that scale, but unfortunately it has also been used by some who do not.
Let’s say the following score were reported for an assessment:
Equal Interval (100 Scale)
Equal Interval (5 Scale)
60 % D
We all agree completely about wanting high expectations and rigor in our schools. Over the course of the last two years in our district we have had multiple meetings with dozens of teachers to look at our grading systems from a variety of perspectives. We do not want to lower the bar for achievement in any way, but we do want to give students an opportunity to learn, achieve and pass courses in which they demonstrate competence and mastery.
Our previous policy, and the one recommended by the California School Boards Association and adopted by school districts around the state, allowed for teachers to grade based on achievement trends. One would hope that the trend would go up not down, but both could occur. There were, and still are, robust discussions about the mathematics of equal interval grading versus the traditional weighting of an F at up to 60%. I believe well-meaning reasonable people can have differing viewpoints. Regardless, a student who is not competent, not completing assignments and performing in the failing range should receive a failing grade. Neither the new policy nor the old policy changed the rigor required for students to demonstrate competence. Teachers can assess for competence in a variety of ways through daily assignments, homework, projects, essays, reports and assessments. The equal interval policy does not change that.
I meet regularly with teachers at secondary schools who are working together to find ways to accurately and fairly grade students with a focus on motivating them to learn. Those conversations and meetings will continue and our goal is to have a learning environment with high expectations for all students. As a parent of two students in Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District, if nothing else, I hope these conversations continue, because to me it shows how much teachers in this district care about students.
Below is an email sent to the reporter by one of our caring teachers to give you some perspective other than what appeared in the paper.
Subject: what I told Jeremy Hay
Hello, I am an English teacher at Technology High School in Rohnert Park, and I’d love to provide another opinion of our grading policy.
I (along with many of my colleagues) still use the regular scale, in which 100-90 is an A, 89-80 is a B, 79-70 is a C, 69-60 is a D. However, we have effectively blocked out the bottom 50% of the scale.
The result is that most of my students’ grades are not different this year, but that rare student who had a 22% under the old system would have bottomed out at 50% this year. It’s still an F, and clearly the student is still on our radar as needing intervention.
The advantage is that the student can more easily bring up her grade before the semester is over. She may be able to get it up to a C, for example, by working hard and availing herself of the extra help we offer struggling students.
Under the old system, she would give up, knowing that at best she might bring her 22% up to a 45% - still an F, despite her increased effort and learning.
Indeed, it is that learning that we focus on. Whatever we can do to hold students accountable while still not crushing their motivation, we will do.
Without knowing all this background, it may indeed seem ridiculous to give 50% to a student who does nothing. Looking further into the policy however, you will see that – as is so often the case – there is more to the story. Responsible journalism would require that you make the effort to look further, instead of merely reporting the views of a few disgruntled teachers.
Technology High School