Well almost right anyway
First of all, full transparency. I think grades in schools are worthless. They really do not measure what a student learns; they only measure how well the student can figure out what the teacher wants as the take-away. And in most school systems they do worse than that. The teacher adds irrelevant ingredients to the mix, things like did the child do her homework, is he well-behaved? I frequently tell families of children, send your child to school clean, in cute clothes and well-mannered and the grades will go up. Why is that? Because most teachers can’t get past a clean, well-mannered student when it comes to mixing up that potion called grades.
Now Baltimore County Maryland is streamlining that recipe. For this school year students in Baltimore County Public Schools will be graded on test scores only. The County is calling that Standardized Learning because we live in an era when standardized anything in schools seems to be good.
The head of academics in the County says the approach is research-based. Another red herring! You tell me anything that you want to do and I can find some research that backs it up. So “research based” means little to nothing.
However, if a school district is going to continue the folly of giving grades, then I think this new approach in Baltimore County is a good one. Teachers may no longer include homework, effort, attendance, behavior or good looks (oops, I added that one) in the grading system. Grades will be based entirely on test scores, although students may re-take a graded task to try and improve the score. There is no indication of whether or not the re-take will replace the first grade or if there will be a grade penalty for the re-take. I like the idea of the re-take because it requires students to at least work to get the content rather than just taking the low grade hit and be done with it.
Some parents think the new approach is bad. They have said that without being rewarded for effort kids won’t try. Others have said that if students’ homework is not graded, students won’t do the homework. OK, so if kids can get good grades on tests without trying (now that says something for the difficulty of the test or the appropriateness of the curriculum for that student) and/or without doing homework, why do we care? And let’s be truthful. If I am employing someone, do I really care how much they try or do I just want the job done well. Doing a poor job with all the effort in the world won’t cut it. And doing a great job with little to no effort does not bother me as the employer.
Grades are dumb no matter how you reframe them. But if a system insists on having grades then Baltimore County is correct to try to keep the measurement as clean as possible.
Now if the system wants to go the whole way and REALLY get it right, it will define the learning objectives and then just measure whether or not the child can perform the objective. Oh that’s competency based instruction. That approach would remove the “almost” and just get it right.