Making the Grade

When the pandemic shuttered schools, it also put grades on hold, and exposed an underlying problem frequently ignored before the crisis: A-F grades serve several different and conflicting purposes. In the latest episode of Have You Heard, historian of education and friend of the show Ethan Hutt joins us to discuss the origins of our high-stakes grading system and what we might do to fix it. Complete transcript available here. The financial support of listeners like you keeps this podcast going. Subscribe on Patreon or donate on PayPal.

One Comment

  1. I just finished listening to “Making the Grade” and wanted to share my thoughts, even though they may be rambling.

    I have just retired from 22 yrs of teaching 7th grader English in New Hampshire, where my school’s grades are competency based. You are right that the consistency of competencies through out different distrists, and their understanding of true competency based education, is a confusion that definitely exist. In our school, each discipline have their own grade level PLC (professional learning community). In these PLC’s, common rubrics, using our definitions for our different competencies, are develops for each unit taught. If I have a concern about one of my student’s work being between competent, C , or beyond competent, B, I take it to my PLC for a discussion. When we have a PACE project, our yearly NH standardized English test, with State created rubric ( don’t get me started on that rubric), the test is a writing prompt based on a different genre of writing (personal narratives, compare and contrasting, argumentative, a visual presentation on a topic, and more) we get together with the English district coordinator and double blind score students’ work. If our grade is off, there is a discussion that follows where each teacher’s states their evidence for the score. A decision is made, and through this discussion, we truly end up being on the same page with scoring. Our scores range from an IWS, insufficient work show, NYC, not yet competent, C, competent, B, beyond competent, and A, above beyond competent.

    Is our system perfect and follows the true idea of competency based learning, no, but it is a start. At the beginning, five years ago, there was a lot of kickback from parents as they all want their child to have the traditional B and A’s, but they are understanding the process better as time goes on. I use doctors to explain to parents. A Competent is like my GP, can handle everyday medical issues, Beyond I compare to my orthopedist who deals with more specific areas, to the Advance, my neurologist dealing with a very specific area. I want the “A” doctor to take out my brain tumor (true fact). I think it helps, but the concerns on grades are still there for students and parents. My perfect grading system would be not grades, rather proof of understanding through projects ie project based learning, but that’s another discussion.

    This was the first of your podcasts I had listened to, but now that I know of “Have You Heard”, I will hear you more often. Thanks for the thought provoking podcast.

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