When I was growing up, a local amusement park awarded students free games for every “A” on their report cards. My school’s unique letter grades — “E” for excellent and “S” for satisfactory — always led to a confab between the manager and the cashier before our chits would be awarded.
If my children showed up today with their complex standards-based report card of numerical ratings in multiple categories, I imagine a two-day summit with pie charts, fever graphs and calculators would be necessary to figure out who was doing “A” work and deserved a free spin on the Tilt-A-Whirl.
I had much the same reaction to the release of the state’s new school rating system, which was rolled out earlier this month accompanied by a 40-slide explanatory PowerPoint.
With 19 high school and 14 elementary and middle school indicators, the new Georgia College and Career Ready Performance Index gives parents far more information about their schools than Adequate Yearly Progress, which essentially told them whether the school passed or failed based on reading and math scores.
“Everything does not hinge on a single test score,” said state school Superintendent John Barge. “This is going to paint a very clear picture for schools, districts, parents, communities and business leaders of where a school is performing across the board. This accountability system now drives school improvement. Schools know exactly where they need to improve on these indicators.”
The state DOE’s efforts to broaden the scope of school grades mirrors the same rationale that schools have cited in adopting rubric or standards-driven report cards: Traditional grades don’t tell you anything about the difficulty of the subject matter or how hard a student worked.
I understand the limits of the traditional “A,” “B,” “C” and “D” grading as it doesn’t communicate the standards being met. Using baseball as a comparison, does an “A” indicate the pitching arm of an Atlanta Brave, or that of a local high school player?
As a teacher told me, “Grades rarely tell the difference between the student that applied themselves but struggled versus the smart but lazy slacker.”
So, schools have turned to providing rubrics that reduce the skills and concepts taught in a class into smaller and more precise components that are supposed to be easier to evaluate and give parents a greater sense of what their kids can and can’t do. Performance on each standard or rubric is measured, often on a four-point standards-based score, with “4” indicating complete mastery. In my own system, which has adopted the International Baccalaureate program, students are scored on 0-6, 0-8 and 0-10 scales.
On a rubrics report card, English, for example, is broken down into content, organization and style and language usage, each of which is assigned a numeric value. In math, the components are knowledge and understanding, investigating patterns, communications and reflection.
But we have gone from overly simplistic to overly complex.
Typically, there are no narratives on these new report cards, no comments from teachers in plain English stating that while Janine needs work on sentence structure, she’s doing well in organization of ideas and is creative in her topics. Just a lot of numbers, which don’t add up to a clear picture for many parents of how their child is faring. (With all the standards that have to now be graded by teachers, adding comments would add hours to the task.)
As a mother told me, her son was an “A” student in elementary school, but was earning low numbers on many of the rubrics on his middle school report card. While that suggested to her that her son is now a “C” student or worse, teachers assured her that her son was doing well.
Many school systems still provide letter grades with the rubrics because parents want them. I can understand why. They are familiar, they are simple, and they can be understood without a three-page handout or a 40-slide PowerPoint.