Monday, October 10, 2011

Standards and Expectations

I recently read a collection of essays entitled Students' Voice: What Makes a Great Teacher (published by the AP College Board).  In the essays, the students' describe their greatest teachers as having qualities such as:  a contagious passion for learning, caring deeply for their students,  finding various ways to make the learning relevant to students and "never quitting" on students.

One of the essays attempts to address the  issue of having "high expectations" of students.  Here is an excerpt from a student testimonial:
Mr. Seltzer expected us to produce quality work every day. He graded our work harshly, checking grammar and punctuation and making sure our writing was clear and direct. Low grades were common. When I saw my low grades at the start of the year— in the 70s, when I was used to 90s — I realized that I could easily fail the class. By the end of the year, I had an 80 average. Though this was lower than I was used to, it meant more to me than a 90 from another teacher. An 80 from Mr. Seltzer was a real accomplishment.
In my opinion, this quote dangerously blurs the notion of  having high expectations of our students' work and setting high grading standards for our students.

It appears that Mr. Seltzer has high expectations of his students.  He wants his students to produce high quality work.  I believe that all effective teacher share this attribute.   Generally speaking, teachers who set high expectations of their students and provide them with  the necessary supports to achieve those expectations are highly successful - students rarely disappoint.

The situation, as described in the quote, becomes a little scary when the teacher appears to set his own grading  standards.  For me, this type of scenario is problematic for the following reasons:
  • The apparent large "gap" in practice from one classroom to another is symptomatic of teacher isolation and silos of best practice or "malpractice".
  • This type of inconsistent grading practice within a school ultimately creates confusion among students and parents and can be the source of unhealthy stereotyping.
  • Quality teaching and learning should not be left to chance in a school.  Students enrolled in the same in course, taught by multiple teachers, should expect have to a measure of consistency in grading, assessment and pedagogy.
So how can we mitigate against these inconsistent "high" grading standards?  Here are some solutions that I propose:

Outcomes Based Grading - linking grades to specific learning outcomes in a deliberate and concrete way.  I recommend reading this great article from ASCD on standards based grading.  In my opinion this is the best way to authentically capture student grades that are consistent and reliable.  The students in Mr. Seltzer's class deserve to be graded according to the mandated learning outcomes -consistently applied within a school and/or department.
(A disclaimer: Attaching letter grades and percentages is not the best of way to measure and inspire learning.  Nonetheless our current education "system" requires us to do so.)

School Wide Grading Protocols
Having clear and common expectations when grading students is something we have implemented at our school.  You may want to see our school's grading policy here

Collaborative Grading
Teachers coming together to examine, review and grade student work promotes collaboration, common standards, and consistency.

As teacher practitioners,  our students and school communities are are best served if we are clear on the difference between having high expectations of our students and clear and consistent standards when grading our students.

Still figuring it out.....

1 comment:

  1. Ultimately, the standards for achievement should be consistent across sections of courses taught by different teachers. It’s okay to differentiate the instructional approaches to suit an instructor’s delivery strengths and/or the students’ needs. In the end though, students and parents should know that x mark indicates x level of performance in the course (and not that a relative performance metric based on the idea that a ‘hard teacher’ makes a mark more meaningful).