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Bee In My Bonnet: Morning Minutes, April 12, 2016

Got a bee in my bonnet this morning.

What? Quarter three grades are due today.  In the semester system, quarter grades are midterm grades, which means they are an update on progress only; they don’t “count.” Semester grades are what matter in the end.  Still, whether they count or not, grades create a great deal of anxiety and frustration for students, parents, and teachers. But they don’t have to. Teachers have and make choices with their grading policies.  As I have intimated in other posts, teachers essentially exercise complete autonomy when it comes to their grading policies. As such, grading policies–for better or worse–literally vary from teacher to teacher.  And that means, in the end, the policy is just that–the teacher’s.  There is no real oversight, no over-arching, universally-binding policy that promotes or protects fairness among grading practices.  They are exclusive and idiosyncratic.

So what? Well, with absolute autonomy comes the precarious potential for abuse, creating circumstances that are perhaps punitive, unfair, or frustrating.  And while I do believe there are some teachers who consistently evaluate their grading practices with students in mind, there are many–too many–who cling to policies that have little or no basis in regards to fairness or actual achievement. In many cases-sadly–practices and policies are punitive, seemingly settled in the philosophy that the only way to teach responsibility is through punishment. If the assignment is late, then they need to learn a lesson, so they have to be punished, and that will teach them the ways of the real world, teach them responsibility. BS. As Tom Schimmer, grading guru, suggests,

The grading rules we create—zeros, late penalties, homework scores, attendance—will undoubtedly frustrate achievement. These are rules we create, and even if these rules are in policy, they can easily be undone. If we wanted to, we could, but we don’t. It’s time to reflect on what rules and routines might be getting in the way of our students being recognized for their true abilities. Our rules can distort achievement levels to the point where it is hard to find thetruth in what a student knows or doesn’t know; can or can’t do.

We need rules, but our rules need to be vehicles for learning, inclusion, and support. We have a choice in how we respond to irresponsibility. We have a choice in how we respond to academic dishonesty. We have a choice in how we respond to the vast array of situations and circumstances that come our way. I’m convinced that the punishment paradigm will not produce the academic epiphany. When our students fall short, they need teaching, not punishment.

Now what? Well, if you–student or parent–find yourself frustrated with a teacher’s rules for grading, ask questions and demand answers.  As you seek to understand a teacher’s practice, here are a few questions that might help.

  1. On what do you base your grading philosophy/practice?
  2. What is your late-work policy? Why?
  3. What do grades reflect in your classroom?
  4. Do you allow retakes or corrections on assessments? Why?
  5. What is the purpose of homework in your classroom?

Yes, it’s only quarter, but soon enough it will be semester, and by then it might be too late–which really isn’t true either, just another “rule” that we hide behind. Grades can always be changed.  In a system with no real checks or balances, students and parents need to advocate for themselves.  If something seems unreasonable or unfair and you find yourself frustrated, don’t accept that nothing can be done because of an arbitrary rule. Do what you are entitled to do and ask questions. You have a huge stake in this.  Don’t settle.

Okay. I feel better.  Happy Tuesday, all.


One Reply to “Bee In My Bonnet: Morning Minutes, April 12, 2016”

  • Power to the people! Thanks for making all of us more aware of what is really happening in classrooms all over America.

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