Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Standards-based grading and the role of effort

I've only recently discovered the blog What It's Like on the Inside (check it out, it's great reading for anyone interested in standards-based education). A December 6 post about standards-based grading and effort prompted me to leave my first comment - it helped that I happened to have the time and energy at the moment, too! In writing this comment, I really liked the idea that hit me at the end about the "concentration gradient" of studies and effort between schools and society as a source of power for educational systems to effect societal change (much akin to the findings that electrochemical gradients are a source of energy for cells). I figured I'd publish my thoughts here so that I am more likely to build on them in the future.

So, here's my comment on "There is No Spoon". Thanks, "Science Goddess", for some very thought-provoking posts!

"I work at a school with a standards-based approach, grading and curriculum. I'm only in my second year on the job here, but "late work" and "make up work" are issues that really displease quite a number of our faculty. While I support, to some degree, the separation of effort and outcome, I do think that a complete divide between the two is extremist reductionism and a mistake; so much of the success that we've observed in others and experienced personally as adults comes not only from skill (and sometimes not at all), but almost always from hard work. It's frustrating to deal with teenagers who don't value effort, particularly when so much effort is required for good teaching.

I also think it's important to acknowledge that discipline - in this case, a lower grade - can (possibly) be a learning experience. You're right to point out that high school students aren't college students, but it's also right to point out that effort does matter and that a lack of effort does deserve negative consequences. We only allow students to meet expectations at the lowest level on their late / make-up work -- reserving the higher grades for students who do their work on time and with good quality. We're also making time this year to discuss our policies on effort - what we call "academic initiative" standards - to figure out what we can improve, with the goal of getting more students to meet with more success in their classes (on-time and the first time). We're tossing around ideas of linking effort to eligibility for honor roll, co-curricular participation, and academic support structures ... and maybe even making it a part of the summary grade calculation (yes, we grade each standard individually).

But the simple truth - as Roger points out above - is that we need more effort from more of our students to get the outcomes we desire of and for our students. It is, and should be, an uphill battle - the "concentration" of studies and effort in a school setting should be greater within that community than we find in the general public. Establishing such a "gradient" is the critical source of power that enables educational systems to disrupt the equilibrium state of these variables in society. So the question that I wonder about a lot is: how can I support my faculty in their never-ending uphill journey?

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