Putting Learning Before Grades

I just want to communicate to you my plans for assigning grades during this 1st 9 weeks.  If you haven’t noticed yet, my class is probably very unlike any other math class your child has had previously.  I hope that’s a good thing 🙂  I’ve been teaching 8th grade math now for 4 years.  I’d like to share my views of public education, in an effort to help you understand my direction on grades.

First, since it’s inception, public education in the US has been about batches of students grouped by age progressing through grade levels together.  Every summer they get a break between grade levels, so the students can work on the family farm.  For the most part, that has been left relatively unchanged.  Students still attend school 180 days and then move on to the next grade, and very few students deviate from that path.  The problem, for me, is that teachers are forced to teach the entire year at ONE PACE FITS ALL.  And we all certainly know that not all students learn at the same pace.  As a result grades are given, in my opinion, to communicate to that student/parents just how much that student has learned.  At the end of the year, for the most part, regardless of what grades you earned, you get to move on to the next level.  There lies the problem, one that grows year after year.  If  a student has only learned “75%” of what he/she was supposed to learn one year, what chance does that give them of learning more than 75% the next year?  When you think about it, it would seem to put that student at a big disadvantage the following year, and so on.  Think about how that problem could grow year after year, particularly in a subject like math that builds year after year, gradually increasing in difficulty and skill set.  I have just described to you public enemy #1 for all math teachers 🙂  Unfortunately, in public education TIME is the constant and LEARNING is the variable.  I think that’s backwards.
As a result of public enemy #1, I feel that giving students a grade of A-F communicates very little about how much or what that student has really learned.  In fact, in previous years, the students who have demonstrated the most growth from September to May are my students that technically earned an F all year.  But unfortunately I feel that I failed at communicating to them just how much they had learned.  At what grade level were they on when they entered 8th grade?  What grade level were they on when they left 8th grade?  Perhaps they still didn’t make it to 8th grade level by May.  Being that I am “bound” to teach a set of topics and skills as an 8th grade math teacher, it becomes pretty difficult to remediate a number of skills to 120 students.  Not to mention the dreaded WesTest scores… I won’t go there yet.  But trying to teach 8th grade topics/skills to students who aren’t yet ready would generally lead to a lot of F’s in the gradebook.  So why should a teacher just record a bunch of F’s in the gradebook if the teacher already knows students aren’t ready for 8th grade math?  My philosophy is that I try to adjust the pace and allow every student the support they need and the time they need to demonstrate to me they can learn some of what I’m asked to teach them.  In fact, I think ideally a student shouldn’t move on until they can demonstrate that learning at 100%.  Would you want someone driving who scored a 75% on the driver’s test?

At the end of this 9 weeks, I intend to allow students the time to prepare a statement to me about what grade they think they have earned through the 1st 9 weeks.  I plan to present to them each standard that we spent time on during the 9 week grading period.  I also plan to present to them the HW assignments that were given to them as an opportunity to demonstrate their learning.  I’m going to ask that students consider each standard and reflect on how well they performed when asked to demonstrate their learning of that specific standard.  All of this communication will be done via Edmodo.  Edmodo is accessible at home and as a parent, you can even register via a parent code.  I plan to allow students adequate time to prepare their response and submit it to me.  My hope is that, perhaps for the first time, students may understand what that A, B, C, D, or F really means.  In addition to that, some students may be motivated to go back to something and prove to me that they can do better than they did the first time.  I’m OK with that and would certainly update grades based on improved performance.  I do all of this with one goal in mind, learning.  I hope to accurately communicate just what your child has learned throughout this year.  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.
Derek Oldfield

4 thoughts on “Putting Learning Before Grades

  1. i like this and very true!! i thank you for all the time you put into helping and communicating with the kids and parents!!! keep up the good work!!!

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