Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Lower Your Educational Standards? That's Plain Ol' Ridiculous

A while back in this blog, I lambasted the Dallas Independent School District (in multiple posts) for allowing students who flunk tests, miss deadlines and neglect to turn in their homework the chance to make up the work without penalty. But I never expected in my wildest dreams (nightmares?) that the same thing might happen in Plano:
Plano school officials are exploring a policy for middle schoolers that would not dock grades for cheating or late assignments. And teachers wouldn't grade some homework at all.

Plano ISD officials had hoped to roll out the new policy next school year, but the changes have been delayed because several teachers raised concerns they wouldn't be able to hold students accountable, according to documents and e-mails obtained by The Dallas Morning News.

But for some parents and teachers, such policies lower expectations and soften consequences for students who don't do work.
That's right, this is happening in Plano, a district whose name has--up until now, I suppose--been almost synonymous with high standards. So much for that...

OK, let's hear them out for a second. Their explanation:
Plano's proposal brings up a question that other districts are asking: How should assessment enhance student learning?

"A lot of the times, our grading practices are things we do just because that's the way we've done them historically," said Jim Wussow, who oversees the district's secondary curriculum. "We've been examining why we do what we do."

Plano administrators hope such a policy would encourage teachers to shift their focus from delivering grades to providing individual feedback to help make sure students are mastering concepts. They also say the rules would also create a uniform grading policy across middle schools.
So on the one hand, you've got this sort of touchy-feely grading system that could work, except that it flies in the face of the No Child Left Behind/standardized testing-intensive model that seems to be foisted on school districts by the federal government. Am I the only one who thinks these two methods don't go together at all?

And of course, the linked story doesn't include a single positive reaction from a parent, and they--along with the teachers themselves--are the ones who will ultimately have to buy into this policy. And I don't see this happening, because the whole thing just looks like a gigantic train wreck:
Some of the proposed policies run counter to how Plano's middle school teachers currently assign grades. For example, students caught cheating receive an automatic zero or failing grade on that assignment. Instead, teachers and school officials would set a different consequence so that student behavior doesn't pull down grades.

Students would be given homework, but teachers wouldn't grade all assignments.

Students who turn in late work wouldn't receive a lower grade under the proposed policies, in an effort to get students to finish the work rather than just take a bad grade and move on.
So much for higher standards. And I have to throw in this one silly quote from an education professor who is far enough away from this as to not really be affected by its outcome:
The philosophy behind Plano's proposal is not aimed at diminishing student accountability or reducing academic rigor, said Jim McMillan, an education professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Recent research shows that assigning grades by themselves, without teachers providing consistent and specific feedback, doesn't aid student progress, he said. He supports policies such as the one Plano is considering.

"When you don't turn in your assignment, it's more of a reflection of responsibility than what you know," he said. "It's hard when you try to combine those into a single grade."
Hold on, Prof--isn't responsibility part of the equation as well? We're supposed to be preparing people to be productive as citizens and in the work world; if someone has all the knowledge in the world but is totally irresponsible, that's not exactly being productive.

RIght now, this only is expected to apply to middle schools, but how ready will these kids be for high school if expectations are lowered like that?

And pardon me for harping upon my pet soapbox issue again, but this is obviously a policy that was proposed without input from a single teacher. This is just one more reason to get all the administrators out of their ivory tower for at least one class period a day. Require them to at least partially be teachers again, and you'll see decisions being made that are much more tailored to the needs of teachers and students, rather than those of politicians and bureaucrats. (And if an administrator no longer has the talent for teaching--or never did--then get 'em outta there. I consider that to be a feature, not a bug, of my idea.)

(Portions of the above are paraphrased in a cross-post in the comments section to the linked story at the top.)

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