I took yesterday off because I spent all day asleep and then had to go to work; it’s 1:43 as I’m starting to type this and I’ve only been out of bed for about three hours. This annoying goddamn just-wanna-sleep-all-the-time illness is getting old, folks, and the inexplicable sore throat it decided to throw at me yesterday out of nowhere isn’t fair. Also, there’s a chance I might have pinkeye again for like the fourth fucking time this year.
I will be the first in line to transfer my consciousness into a machine. There’s gotta be a mad scientist out there working on that. Get moving, dammit.
So, that in mind– let’s get this Tony Bennett post out of the way. Not spending time on my Facebook feed lately? Okay. He’s Indiana’s former superintendent of education. “Former” because he got tossed out on his ass last year, after all of Indiana’s teachers rioted against his lying, crooked ass. Turns out we have enough friends and relatives that the new Superintendent got three hundred thousand more votes than the new governor did. He then went to Florida, the worst place on Earth, which is where all of the world’s shit and evil goes to die. And less than a year later he’s had to resign that job because his evil lying corporatist ass got caught cheating, too.
You didn’t click on the link, I know; I’ll nutshell: one of the schools that Tony just knew should have been an A school ended up with a C under his new, bullshit school grading system. That school just happened to be run by an influential Republican donor, who just happened to have donated several hundred thousand dollars to the reelection fund that wasn’t enough to keep Tony from getting tossed out on his ass. The entire grade system therefore got revised until Tony’s buddy’s school got the A that he’d already predetermined it deserved. Meanwhile, several Indianapolis public schools in basically the exact same situation got taken over by the state for their poor grades. Coincidentally, I’m sure, the new system managed to lift the grades of several other
charter for-profit schools. Amazing, innit?
Here’s the thing: honestly? I ain’t mad. This entire “school accountability”/charter school thing has nothing to do with educating children. It is solely and singularly concerned with shoveling taxpayer money into the pockets of corporations and people who are already rich. The system is already so corrupt and evil to begin with that it’s hard to imagine anything that would make me see it as worse. I already knew these people were lying scum who were out to get me and enrich their friends. Additional proof of same isn’t gonna make much of a difference.
Wanna hear a secret, though?
All grades are arbitrary bullshit.
Lemme say that again: All. Grades. Are. Arbitrary. Bullshit.
We all know this, but we don’t like to talk about it much, because everybody likes to pretend that that grades actually mean something. But every teacher on Earth has at some point or another adjusted something because somebody who should have gotten some grade got some other grade instead. And if they haven’t done that, they’ve set their grade system up to prioritize some sort of behavior over some other sort of behavior. It’s all gamed, one way or another; the only thing is how honest and how transparent you are about it.
Lemme give some examples. The easiest way to grade is just to make everything worth the same number of points as the number of questions in the assignment. So if I give you fifteen questions tonight, that’s worth fifteen points, and the 50-question test is worth fifty points. At the end you divide the total number of points earned by the total number of points possible and then you have a score. Problems with this: one, it’s a lot of grading, and two, it leads to weird inequalities like Monday’s homework being worth a lot more than Thursday’s just because Monday’s worksheet had a lot more questions on it. It also leads to difficulties in quantifying anything that isn’t a worksheet or a textbook assignment, and makes grading things like essays a huge pain in the ass.
So, okay, use rubrics, or something? And make every paper worth X points, where some percentage of that is grammar, some is “style,” some is awarded for some nebulous idea of how well the essay adheres to whatever the essay was supposed to be about. You’re still making arbitrary determinations here about how much you prioritize papers over other things. You’re still gonna give the kid who turns in every single assignment but can’t write to save his life a “C” because his papers weren’t good enough, where Billy who is a decent writer but misses assignments and half-asses everything gets a “B” because papers are worth more than the assignments he skipped.
And you’re gonna make some sort of decision about how to change your grading based on your feeling that Kyle deserves a better grade than Billy because he works harder.
Let’s throw some special ed kids in the mix. What if Jenny’s got an IQ of 60 and doesn’t have a chance in hell of being able to do the same assignments that Monica can handle? Should she just automatically fail? Or do you alter your grading policies somehow to account for the fact that she’s doing the best she can do and that ought to be worth something? Maybe she on her best day on Earth can’t do better than Billy-the-halfasser can do. Should Billy get better grades? Is the sanctity of your precious grading system worth more than convincing Jenny that trying at school is worth something and tossing her a little bit of success once in a while?
What kind of person are you if you determine that not breaking the Rules of Your System is more important than keeping a kid from tuning out school altogether?
What happens if you give an assignment that you plan to grade a certain way and then all your kids bomb it? What if some of the kids who bomb it are kids who habitually get everything done right? Is that your fault? Can you change your grading system to give some kids better grades? Or just throw the whole thing out?
How do you tell the difference between Amber-the-A-student getting a C on something because your grading system was BS and Amber getting a C because she’s slipping? And, again, do you care about the difference?
How do you handle missing work? Do you accept it? Because you’d better be prepared, in some schools (mine’s one of them) to fail 2/3 of your kids if you don’t take late work and if you record it as a zero. Or do you have a “floor” beneath which no assignment can fall? Where do you set that?
For the record, here’s my grading system, for whatever it’s worth:
- I accept late work up until a formal progress report goes out; this basically divides a quarter in half, so you can turn in late work from the first half of a quarter until halfway through it and then those grades are locked. I send informal PRs home every couple of weeks. Late work gets docked two points from a turned-in assignment.
- Missing work is a 0. No turned in assignment receives less than 50% as a score unless it’s clearly halfassed or not finished. It’s incredibly rare for ANY turned-in assignment to receive less than 30%.
- Assignments from the textbook are worth five points, period, and are graded on completion. I do not grade them item-by-item and do not correct them. If they’re turned in and done roughly according to instructions (ie, work is shown, stuff like that) it’s going to get full credit unless I can tell you just wrote some shit down and hoped I didn’t notice it.
- Assignments from the workbook are worth ten points and are graded on partial correctness: in other words, I arbitrarily choose ten problems from the two pages and grade those. Not every problem will count. I grade the same ten problems for everyone, though.
- Tests are usually worth fifteen or twenty points and are graded completely. Occasionally I will give bonus points for spelling your name right if a test happens to have twelve questions or something like that. Tests are the only exception to the grade-floor rule; if you turn in a test with no correct answers you are going to get a zero for it.
- Occasionally I will collect morning bell-ringer work and grade that on completion; it’s usually worth a point or two and cannot be made up.
- Extra credit is crazy-rare and is only given if it’s available to everyone. I won’t make up an assignment for you specifically.
Here’s what I’m prioritizing: I put a heavy emphasis on effort, which is why those textbook assignments are pretty much automatic As if you turn them in. Similarly, the grade floor: if you try, you’re going to get some points for your effort. I accept late work because I feel like kids should be able to make up for their mistakes; I don’t accept it after a certain point because those mistakes should cost you something.
And, yeah, I’ve taken a look at my grades, gone “Damn, Chelsea should be getting an A, what happened?” and taken a look at how to fix it. Not to the degree that Bennett did, obviously; his shit was pretty egregious no matter how you look at it. But I can’t pretend I don’t get it. Because grades are arbitrary. Period. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise.