Below is my response to: “Parents want kids graded to the letter”
Published by the Chicago Tribune 6-2-2016, by Diane Rado
For decades, education has been mired in a rut of students sitting in rows, teachers lecturing, and grades being issued based on how well the students can regurgitate the information pushed at them. As an educator with 20+ years experience, and currently the Director of Instructional Technology, I would like to address the parents whose backlash is causing districts to rethink their standards based grading described in the June 2 article, “Parents want kids graded to the letter”. This article could easily be titled: “Parents who want to prepare kids for the past”
Recently, we have seen positive changes in classrooms which create a learning environment which emulates the changing workplace our children will see in their future. New classroom layouts allow students to sit in groups and collaborate when needed, or use individual space when necessary. As an adult, do you want to sit in those school desks and read? Or to create an artistic drawing? Are parents complaining about changes in the classroom layout? No, because this prepares the child for their future, and benefits their child’s education.
In many classrooms, students are driving the learning process while teachers take on the role of facilitator. Teachers give instruction when necessary, then support it with reading material, and videos which the teacher created. This gives students the time and space necessary to explore topics more in depth, re-watch lessons when needed, and actually take ownership of their learning. Even more importantly, it allows teachers to better individualize their one-on-one time with students. Are parents complaining about their children learning more in depth and getting more focused one-on-one time with their teacher? No, because it prepares the child for their future, and benefits their child’s education.
However, when we finally see a change in an outdated grading system in Downers Grove SD58, Deerfield SD108, and many other districts; parents complain. Why? Standards based grading actually gives parents a clearer picture of what their child does, and does not understand. This gives everyone involved in the child’s education the ability to pinpoint where that child struggles with concepts or ideas, and allows teachers to develop strategies that can help the child succeed. When my child graduates with a 3.5 GPA, that doesn’t tell me that she still struggles with her grammar & writing skills. It doesn’t tell me anything she learned, or how she grew as a student. It only tells me that she learned how to do school pretty well.
Standards based grading also allows students to demonstrate their own growth. Colleges are beginning to use student portfolios as part of their admissions process because they want to see a student’s growth and progress, not just a number. As an adult,if I turn in a report that my boss feels is in need of revisions I don’t receive a C+ (or 75% of my pay) . Instead, I complete the revisions and resubmit the report. As long as I learn how to create a better report next time, I stay employed and continue my journey as a life-long learner. Why should our children turn in their report, be given a C+, and not be given an opportunity to correct their mistakes? With a grade based system, that report is a finished product, it ends up in a garbage can, and students don’t see learning as a lifelong process.
What if that report was published as a blog post? What if that student could look back at that blog post in 4 years to see how they’ve grown as a student? What if a college or an employer could see that growth? We need to stop looking at learning as race to the finish line where students with a 4.0 GPA are the winners. Did those students actually grow? Or were they always the ‘A’ students? As an adult, is there a finish line in your workplace? Have you stopped learning? What if you did?
If you are a leader in one of these schools who have instituted standards-based grading. Please don’t back down. Please don’t change what can create a better opportunity for our children’s future. Instead, offer opportunities for parents to learn about standard based grading (which I’m sure many of you have done).
If you are a parent in a school using standards-based grading, please take the time and any opportunity to ask questions that can clarify this new system. Good communication could solve much of this backlash. The problem is not about a new grading system, but with parents who don’t understand this change; a change which benefits their child’s education.
“We need to prepare kids for their future, not our past.” -Daniel Pink