Last week we looked at grades, how they are computed, and some of the problems with grading practices in schools. We ended with this:
Grades like John’s 68 are often used to make academic placement decisions. In most school systems, John would have to repeat algebra rather than going on to geometry because he “failed” the class. If John were an elementary or middle school student and earned failing grades in core classes because he didn’t do his homework, he would stand a good chance of failing the grade and having to do the entire year over again.
How should a parent do? The questions that parents should ask the teacher in this situation are these:
Ask to see:
Here are some educationally appropriate interventions and accommodations for students who master the material but do not complete all homework assignments. Parents can propose these solutions in IEP or 504 meetings, or simply ask teachers to differentiate for their child.
Challenge 9: Zeroes
Sit down with your child and compute some hypothetical final grades.
Make a list of any five numerical grades.
Add them up, and divide by five.
Make one of the grades a zero, then add and divide again.
Children are usually amazed at what just one zero can do to their grade in a class.
Another grading practice that is closely related to zeroes is giving a student such a low grade at midterm that it is impossible for that student to pull it together and pass the class. Teachers are just shooting themselves in the foot when they do this, because when all hope is gone, that student has no reason to do anything in the class other than make trouble.
Let’s look at an example. Jerry had a lot of problems at the beginning of the school year. He was often tardy or truant, he didn’t study, and he didn’t do homework. When the first quarter report card came out, here were his grades:
English 43 Civics 51
Algebra 52 Biology 60
Jerry has been working with a counselor and decides he wants to get his act together. He’s finally motivated. What grades would he need to get in the second quarter to get a 70 in all of these classes and barely pass them?
English 97 Civics 89
Algebra 88 Biology 80
Jerry immediately sees that English is a lost cause, and he doesn’t have much of a fighting chance in algebra and civics either. The only class in which he might be able to pull it out is biology. What would you do if you were Jerry? I can tell you what most young people do – they give up. So much for turning over a new leaf. Goodbye to motivation.
What makes the difference in biology? Why is that the one class in which Jerry has a chance to succeed? Biology certainly isn’t easier than the other classes. The difference in this example is that the biology teacher uses a 40 point scale for grading – a scale from 60 – 100. No student ever gets a report card grade below 60, because grades below 60 are a hole that nobody can climb out of. The biology teacher believes that students should still have a chance to succeed as far into the semester as possible. He also knows from experience that kids who don’t have a chance to pass a class are a thorn in everybody’s side because they have nothing to lose.
Check out the grading policies at your child’s school? Are the policies punitive, or do they reflect an overriding interest in learning and mastering the academic material?
This article is excerpted from The Savvy Parent’s Guide to Public School.
The Savvy Parent’s Guide to Public School is an invaluable resource for parents of school-age children. Alice Wellborn offers a practical guide to help parents navigate the frustrating world of public education. Designed to empower parents to work effectively with teachers and school administrators, the book provides parents with the information and tools they need to become strong partners in their child’s school community.