The Harford County Public Schools Grading and Reporting Planning Committee got an earful from the public at a community meeting held last Tuesday at Harford Technical High School. The meeting was planned to gather input on proposed changes to the Board of Education’s grading policy and procedures for grades 3 through 12, and there were plenty of questions and comments from the 35 or so teachers, parents and students in attendance. Enough so that about halfway through the 2-½ hour exchange, one Committee member pleaded with the audience not to “shoot the messenger.”
The Committee began by presenting draft documents containing new procedures for calculating grades in HCPS. The goal is to align grading with mastery of the curriculum, so that grades reflect what students know and can do – a worthy goal to be sure; and also to provide “consistency of grading from teacher to teacher and from school to school.”
To achieve consistency, the Committee proposes standardizing grade calculations in all subjects for all students in grades 3 – 12 as follows:
To help ensure that grades reflect mastery of the curriculum, study habits and behavior are defined as “Learning Skills” that would no longer be factored into students’ grades. Instead, these skills would be reported separately, the way comments now appear on report cards. One committee member said this was designed in part to eliminate bogus extra credit assignments, such as bringing a box of tissues to class (tissues are a hot commodity in the classroom, for the sniffles and a myriad of other uses).
I attended this meeting as both an observer and a participant. The concerns that were raised focused less on the goal of ensuring that grades reflect student achievement and more on the methods for calculating grades and the problems with a one-size-fits-all formula. Many of the comments came from parents and teachers at Patterson Mill Middle High School, where the principal implemented a form of the new plan at the beginning of this school year.
Here’s a sampling of some of the comments made Tuesday night:
The grading formula that values tests and projects at 50-60% of the final grade, quizzes and class work at 30-40% and homework at 0-10%, better applies to elementary students. The grading formula should vary depending on grade level and course content.
The process for grading special needs students based on grade-level content is unclear.
Under the proposal, an “E” (a failing grade) is worth 50% instead of zero, meaning a student who tests well could intentionally slack off and still pass the class.
Some courses, such as Living in a Contemporary World (LICW) do not have established standards against which mastery can be measured.
The grading formula can create unintended results depending on the number of assessments a teacher offers in each grading category. For example, if three or more tests are given in a marking period (totaling 60% of the final grade) and only one quiz (worth 30%), then one quiz will have a greater impact on a student’s grade than any one test.
Advanced Placement (AP) requirements are not aligned with the grading formula.
The stated goal of “consistency of grading from teacher to teacher” is undermined when class work or projects are assigned as homework in some classes. Blurring the lines between categories of assessments creates differences in grading standards.
Teachers can still offer dubious assessments (like bringing in a box of tissues) within the confines of the formula.
Teachers need time to retool their assessment plans to fit this, or any new grading formula.
Professional development must occur prior to the implementation of new grading procedures. (The Committee agreed wholeheartedly with this one)
“Multiple opportunities” for summative assessments, such as re-testing, are prescribed in the policy but may be impractical at the end of a marking period. Students who do not test well will be negatively impacted.
Separating learning skills from grades may not support learning in the case of homework. Completing homework demonstrates learning skills, but it also improves and reflects mastery of course content.
Students have a disincentive to do homework when it’s valued between 0 – 10% of the final grade; 20-25% is more reasonable for most subjects, such as English, math and foreign language.
If teachers establish a valid grading standard at the beginning of each marking period and hold students accountable, a reasonably consistent grading procedure is established. Variances among teachers and exposure to different teaching styles can benefit students as long as students are held to appropriate standards.
Last but not least, was the comment from a Fallston High School student who got to the heart of what’s wrong with having one, inflexible grading formula when she said: “Teaching is an art, not a science.”
The HCPS Reporting and Grading Planning Committee will present these and all other public comments, along with any further revisions to their proposal, to the Board of Education sometime in April. The Board will then determine next steps.
In the meantime, your comments can be sent directly to board members by email or delivered in person during the public comment session at the beginning of any board business meeting. For more details, go to www.hcps.org . Then go out and buy a box of tissues. Extra credit or no, your child’s teacher probably needs them.
“Multiple chances to demonstrate mastery” sounds like a slippery slope to me. I am all for using many different ways for students to demonstrate that they have mastered a concept, but when is it that the students take responsibility for their learning? If students are given chance to re-take tests, etc., what is the motivation for doing it right the first time? What will that do to grades? Will the grades be valid and fair (one student gets a “B” the first time and another earns it after three tries)?
If you cannot trust the teachers you hire to develop a fair grading scale that adequately measures the subject the teacher is teaching, you need to hire better teachers.
I have only been involved in education for about 40 years, but I have never heard of anything like this. Where did this idea come from?
Bari Klein says
I think the idea of multiple chances to master a skill is incredibly appropriate. The mission of schools it to teach students not to grade them. If the end result is a student that demonstrates that they have learned and understand a concept then the teachers have done their job. As for never having heard of this concept before please refer to the Montessori method, the Reggio Emiglia method and those taught by the Waldorf School, and the exclusive Evergreen University and Hampshire College.
Bari you are comparing apples and oranges. When was the last time you heard of a Montessori teacher having 175+ students to teach, test, and evaluate? Hampshire College has an enrollment equal to about the student load of four or five Harford County High School teachers. Don’t confuse Harford County Public Schools with anything that you would describe as exclusive. I am looking at the practicality of multiple chances to test. And, perhaps unfortunately, colleges are looking at grades; they don’t have time to test for mastery.
As far as mastery, it is quite clear to me that they say they may want to access mastery but I would sure like to see a curriculum besides posibly math or science in which mastery is somewhat possible. If you are confused, let me explain, it is quite obvious that certain curriculums can’t be taught for mastery nor are the Supervisors of these areas encouraging it. Rather, it is to get done Ch. 1-10 by the end of the semester. That is all that the Supervisor cares about. The inherent problem, is that 90 minutes everyday is not the same as every other day for a year. So, some teachers cram curriculum without any recognition of mastery.
This Grade Issue is absoutely a joke and subjective as identified above:
-Let’s teach kids that no effort still gets you a 50% score (Can I say let’s encourage kids to think they deserve grades without earning them!!) What effect will this have on athletes with E’s? (a 50% is definitely going boost a grade of many athletes)
-Homework is only worth 10%: don’t do homework, it doesn’t count although it definitely reinforces the daily lessons. This is ass backwards to what we should be doing. Instead make it reasonable and maybe 20-30% or a better idea is to let the teachers who are educated with Master degrees make professional decisions and be treated like the professionals they are.
-Cookie cutter approach in Harford County: The dumbest thing I see. I have kids and neither was a robot yet they grew up in the same household in the same community. So, we make the same schedule for all the county, (regardless of parent and teacher input) which makes no sense since each school lost some of its uniqueness. Now, one set grading system for all curriculums, all the classes, all the kids. Why??
-Do different majors grade the exam same in college? Of course not!! Should math count tests more, sure they give more while Soc. Stud may rely on different type of assessments. How are you going to grade the performing arts department?
-What about the classification of assignments? We technically assigned it and started it in class, so I can count it as classwork but it was completed at home? It gives us a reason to create a new position at the Admin Building: Assignment Interpreter.
-Here is the add:Pay: more than a teacher Value to the students: Zero
Teachers value to the students: Priceless
If you are a teacher or a parent, let the BOE know this is screwed up. I always look at the lesson of a zero now becoming a 50%. I don’t want my kids to learn you get a 50% or half credit in life by doing NOTHING!! Is that what we want in our athletes and students.
Patricia Lewin says
I fully support grading for mastery vs. grading for compliance. It astounds me that there continues to be so much confusion regarding a 50% to 100% scale. I continue to hear educators and parents alike state, “So, if the student does nothing, they get 50% credit?” as if the 50% were the same as the old grading system. If we reduce the current grading range of 0 to 100 to 50 to 100, 50% would = zero!!!! If this is so difficult to understand, why don’t we use a 0 to 50 point scale where 50 = 100%? The whole purpose of reducing the scale is to remove the statistical imbalance of receiving a failing grade. All other grades have only a 10 point spread, 90 to 100 = A, 80 to 89 = B, 70 to 79 = C and 60 to 69 = D, but an F = 0 to 59. Where is the statistical significance in that? I am surprised all statistic teachers haven’t fought against this for years. If a teacher gives a quiz of 10 questions, and the student gets half of the questions correct, the student would fail on the old system, but with the new system the student would receive a C or 25%. The new scale would be 40 to 50 = A, 30 to 39 = B, 20 to 29 = C, 10 to 19 = D and 0 to 9 = F. If we operationally define “mastery” for instance, a “C” means that the student is able to demonstrate in the most basic fashion understanding of the strand or benchmark. A grade of “B” would mean that the student not only understands the strand or benchmark, but also can apply the skill in more than one context. A grade of “A” means that the student understands the strand or benchmark, can apply it in more than one context and can generalize it to other situations as well. A grade of “D” would mean that the student shows inconsistent evidence of some understanding of the strand or benchmark and a grade of “F” means that either there is NO evidence i.e. the student hasn’t produced any work product, or that in spite of work production it is clearly evident that they have no understanding of the strand or benchmark. Once we can all agree on a definition of mastery, grading would no longer be an issue.