Thursday, January 26, 2017

Rubric's Cube, or How Uniform Grading Policies Saved Western Civilization

Rubrics are perfect, or so you'd think if you heard the nonsense I do at meetings. And teachers have now lost quite a bit of discretion over how students are graded in city schools. There was a memo that went out from the chancellor, there was a meeting of the principals, and evidently this memo is tantamount to the Ten Commandments. Thou Shalt Tell Students Exactly What Basis Marking Has. Thou Shalt Not Have More than 49% in Subjective Measures.

I've always taken a holistic view of grading. Even as we entered an electronic age of grading, I was able to adjust percentages by counting some things more than others. For example, I am not unaware there is a whole lot of copying of homework. By assigning short answer homework a weight of 1, and written homework a weight of 2 or 3, I've been able to compensate a little for that. I also didn't think it was that bad that kids could earn high grades for simple completion. After all, if they failed tests and failed to participate, they simply didn't pass the class anyway.

My layout for grades has been 50% tests and quizzes, 25% participation, and 25% homework. I gave participation grades each semester. This has now been expressly prohibited by the geniuses at Tweed, who of course know better than those of us who fritter away our time actually teaching New York City's 1.1 million schoolchildren. So I will now have to give these grades more frequently and maybe write a rubric expressly explaining what it is for. This will result in more work for me and exactly the same grades. And frankly, short of posting Bill Gates-style perpetual video surveillance in the classroom, there will be no way to ascertain whether or not I am just making stuff up. (You know, like there's no way to determine whether or not supervisors make stuff up about the Danielson rubric.)

Our new department policy, if I recall correctly, is 50% tests, 10% quizzes, 20% participation and classwork, 15% graded homework, and 5% non-graded homework. This will help me not at all. This will help my students not at all. However, it will put uppity teachers like me in our place. How dare we presume to assess our students ourselves? Discretion is for professionals like Carmen Fariña, who made a brilliant success our of her school by hand picking all the students in a process nearly selective as that of Harvard. Me, I teach whoever they put in front of me. I try to do the best I can by them, my system worked fine, and now it's complicated for no good reason.

Why can't I make tests and quizzes one category and simply give tests more weight than quizzes? What if I think frequent quizzes are more important than tests and give me a better picture of where my kids are at any given point? Do I now need to test more frequently? And how can I do that when the school now says I can only test on certain days every week? And since supervisors are always quacking about formative assessment, why do tests now need to count for 60%? Isn't language, which I teach, largely about oral communication? Aren't there abundant tests in my students' home countries, don't they pass them and yet arrive here with little or no ability to communicate in English? Doesn't that argue that a test-based standard is not optimal? Do you judge the English ability of people you meet by how well they score on tests?

And let's go a little further into the woods now--do you think that I teach the same as everyone else? Do you want me to? If so, why not just stick a computer in front of the class? If not, why on earth would you think that assessing students subject to my voice is exactly the same as assessing students subject to another? Is it possible that I might, perish forbid, take the tack that actual day to day communication and survival are more important than how you do on the preposterous NYSESLAT exam about Hammurabi's Code? And if I actually do go the Hammurabi's Code route, how can you make sure the tests, quizzes, and whatever I give will make my students really know Hammurabi's Code?

Another argument I've heard is that teachers keep poor records and therefore need a tight rein so as to correct that. Let me tell you something--people who keep poor records do not need a more complicated and/ or convoluted grading system. If people keep poor records, under this system their records will get even worse. My nature is a little sloppy, but I've had college professors who sat on tests for 6-8 weeks, and then tested us on things without letting us know whether we understood the basis for them. I hated those teachers. For that reason, and also to cover my proverbial keester, I overcompensate. If I give a test, it's like a hot potato. I have to get it graded immediately, no matter what, and I almost always get it back to students the next day. I know if I don't do that they'll probably never be returned at all.

It's too bad that teacher discretion is given such short shrift. I very much believe teacher voice is a thing like writer voice, and that it varies teacher to teacher. Do some teachers work better for some kids than others? Yes, of course. But doesn't it benefit kids to learn how to deal with a variety of influences, even some they don't necessarily like?

Why does everything and everyone have to be exactly the same? How on earth does that help anyone, particularly in these times of "alternative truth?"

blog comments powered by Disqus