Still Broken: Talented & Gifted Education

Still Broken: Talented & Gifted Education

A number of recent things have got me thinking about Talented and Gifted (TAG) Education services in our school district again.

These thoughts started when we learned at the recent senior meeting that one of the high school counselors was now being called a career counselor and would be the contact person for TAG students, Advanced Placement (AP) classes, Acceleration, Youth Options, and Course Options. Students can visit him to get help with registration for the above opportunities. It sounds like he is popular since his other counseling responsibilities were alleviated by the hiring of an additional student services school counselor. I came home excited for our talented and gifted student population, taking this as a “win” for the students a group of us had advocated for some years ago.

But, my excitement did not last too long, perhaps a few days to a week.  Within a very brief time, I found myself instead thinking about who was being serviced by this counselor and exactly what services were being offered.

A number of years ago, our high school (HS) went to a self-selection process for AP classes, instead of referral or need for registration approval by an assigned faculty member.  Our family found this former system faulty,  and within the leadership of the TAG Parent Group, a group I co-founded with other parents, we pushed for self-selection and deleting the need for the so-called “approval”.  This action was far removed from helping my oldest son, who ended up leaving our resident district shortly after being denied the ability to take three AP classes as a junior (he had taken AP Calculus as a freshman and AP US History as a sophomore). He was ranked number one at the time with a 4.33 G.P.A..  There was no need to deny him the opportunity of three AP classes except to weld administrative power over our student.  Subsequently, the district lost its claim to our National Merit Scholarship winner, who ended up being valedictorian at his adopted, virtual high school, as well as a Phi Beta Kappa inductee as a sophomore at his University, and a national Goldwater Scholarship Honorable Mention winner for student research who has already presented at an international level science conference and published a paper.  They were short-sighted, then. And, I am afraid that their sight has not improved.

I have had two more students qualify for TAG services at both the elementary and middle school levels as they progressed in school. Yet, neither have received anything in terms of service from our HS.  My second oldest son, now a senior, received a letter as a sophomore from the counselor at the HS who was going to service TAG students as part of a newly expanded position, two years ago.  This is the same counselor who was now  servicing only TAG students and enrichment opportunities. Unfortunately, it then happened that our student went on to have some difficulties caused in part by an overloaded schedule (which, admittedly, we allowed) and more so, because of insensitive teaching practices such as being called stupid in front of his peers.  Unfortunately, the TAG counselor did nothing to help rectify the insensitive and unhelpful instructional situation our son found himself in.  We learned, through self-examination and reflection, but with no help from the school’s administration or guidance office,  that our senior learns “differently” than most.  That, and only that, is what he is guilty of.  Stupidity does not come into play.  At all.

And then, there is my youngest boy, who is a sophomore at the HS this year.  He has consistently tested in the 97-99th percentile in mathematics on standardized tests since being a young elementary student. He accelerated in math to the extent that he is now taking AP Calculus as a sophomore. He used to be a gifted writer, having published several times, and in at least one adjudicated compilation.  In addition, his artful origami creations, a former passion, were included in a national travelling library exhibit several years ago through Origami USA.  Yet, he has never heard from the so-called TAG counselor at the HS.  He did not even get the “letter” than my second son received.  It makes me wonder if he was even referred by the middle school personell for continued TAG service – something he had benefited from since second grade, which in, and of itself, is another story. My experience has shown me that gifted education is embroiled in the politics of education, with support of the these students and their needs being highly questioned by many – but, sadly, mostly by educators, themselves.

In the spring of his eighth grade year, my current sophomore student was provided an opportunity to “double up on English” credits during ninth grade which was mis-labeled and mis-billed as acceleration but was not.  After some consideration, we refused this course of action which really attracted many by casting a wide net, and by reports was not well tolerated by some of the students.  One of the reasons for our refusal was that he was already accelerated in mathematics and was only one of five students who took pre-calculus as a freshman.  Enough was enough. However, it does seem that we should have at least heard from this counselor at some point last year. We did not. It has made me wonder if the refusal of the “accelerated” English took him off the TAG list that was sent to the high school prior to his entering last year.  It would account for the TAG counselor not knowing of him.

Middle school TAG services were not favored by my boys, with one of them even opting out of them during his 8th grade year.  Content did not focus on their high interest areas and both were self-directed enough in their learning to continue to explore new subjects or deepen areas of learning on their own.  We did not make a big deal about it and let them drop the time spent with the TAG teacher.  Unfortunately, she was a friend at the time and this made for an uncomfortable situation.  But, we allowed it.   And, to give some credence to her effort, they were not the most willing students, shunning attempts she made at engaging them in the topics of her choice, like the law and philosophy.  Still, dropping the TAG course content did not change what they are capable of achieving – only, it seems, who might possibly know of their specific, and perhaps, niche capabilities.

So, can you understand my wondering about who is being serviced by the TAG counselor at our HS?  Of course, I could name a few students. I have a long history of advocacy in this area with local students. I have probably helped other students more than my own and that is something I somewhat regret.  Unfortunately, in addition, I do not see much improvement to our system of providing TAG services (beyond self-selection for AP, and other advanced curricular offerings) than we experienced when our oldest son was still a student at our resident district high school – that was seven years ago.  The players have changed but the scenarios have pretty much remained the same.  It is too bad we have not come farther in helping our most academically talented students to succeed. I wonder if they still feel as alone as my oldest son felt at times.  I hope, at least that aspect has improved.

What I have come to realize is that despite whether this counselor knows of my youngest son or not, he will be challenged and he will succeed.  He took an online math class over the summer through a highly regarded national university that specializes in offerings for talented youth.  We registered him for the course and set up his study schedule.  He finished on time and did well.  He is a talented artist.  He took care of setting up his own independent study in art this fall.  I am sure the experience will be enjoyable for both him and his teacher.  We really do not need the TAG counselor.  But, I still wonder …… if my son is not on the counselor’s list – a student who qualifies for service, without a doubt, by many definitions – who is on the list?  Or are they just not reaching out to students at all now?  I am not sure I want to know.  And, if he is not on the list – why not?  It is frustrating to realize that a system I knew was broken seven years ago, remains so.  It is also liberating to realize that I do not have choose to try to fix it again.

 

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You Know Who You Are

You Know Who You Are

I shed a few tears before I even arose from bed this morning. It told me that my emotions were close to the surface. Today was the day I would officially end my twelve year’s of leadership as the founder and teacher of an after school garden club at one of our local elementary schools.

By 10 o’clock it was done. More tears escaped my lids, silently, as I told the principal in a gravelly, cracking voice I would not be back to lead the club. My emotions were on the surface. How quickly did they show! An activity that I was passionate about would no longer take place. Literally, several hundred students (400- 500+) have been served over the last 12 years. The numbers are real! I kept all the attendance sheets!  Hopefully, the seed of environmental stewardship was planted in some of their minds.

The tough part of this conversation was that I had to tell the principal why I was choosing to end the garden club. I had to tell her I felt unappreciated, undervalued, and disregarded. I had to tell her that I had started to feel like an intruder in a building filled with teachers with whom I was not connecting any longer. Gone were the days of receiving a smile and a “thank you for your time” from nearly every staff member I encountered.  Recently, I began to dread arriving to school for garden club. When I passed teachers in the hall, they would actually turn their head to avoid saying hello. Why? I do not know.  It is not one teacher but several, more than half the staff.

So, to the teachers who valued and appreciated my efforts made for the students and garden club – I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You will not be forgotten for letting a well-meaning parent, turned informal educator, bring her passion to the school community. The club was founded, in part, as an act of giving back.

And for those teachers who never said thank you, who would not smile at me, but instead would turn their head to avoid speaking to me, shame on you! You know who you are. I did not name you, but you know who you are. You are a large part of the reason Evergreen Garden Club has ended.

This is the reason I had to meet with the principal today. The culture of the building is not conducive to my dedication as a volunteer any longer. I met with the principal because it is her building and her staff. I asked that the culture change. There will be another well-meaning parent volunteer, or community educator, or informal educator that will want to enrich the students’ lives by an activity like garden club. They need to be welcomed and feel appreciated, regularly.  You know who you are! You need to change.

I shared how it was so strange to receive words of wonder, gratitude, and motivation from strangers in my coursework, on my blog, or from community members whose children did not even have the opportunity to be in this unique after school program. It was strange because I do not perceive the same degree of appreciation from teachers/staff in the very building where the activity was conducted, the grounds beautified, hundreds of students enriched, and hundreds of hours spent.

I gleaned two things from our conversation this morning. 1) “Perception is reality” – as stated by a former volunteer for the school district our principal previously came from, and 2) Even if you think someone has said thank you, say it again, and say it with a smile!

A smile matters. Saying thank you does matter – especially for a volunteer.

You know who you are.

 

A Student’s Heartfelt Gift

A Student’s Heartfelt Gift

I always wait with the students as parents arrive to pick them up from our garden club meetings. Invariably, there is a student, usually one of the younger ones, who becomes nervous that their adult will not arrive to take them home.  Pick up was from outside the school this week, as we planted the butterfly garden. And, this was the cause of concern for at least one of my students.  As dismissal time drew near, Lewis voiced his concern over his mom not knowing we were in the garden, not the library.  Intentional or not, this student also left his backpack inside the building, not following my direction to bring everything outside because we would dismiss from the garden. His concern grew as he realized he was the only one to have left something inside.  As more and more students were retrieved,  I told Lewis I would take him back into the library to pick up his backpack.

Just as we were headed up the hill, his mom appeared! I asked that she take him into the school to get his backpack and told him good-bye. It was our last garden club meeting. I could not bring myself to tell the students this. The twelve-year-old club has always been joined anew, each year, in the fall. So, I felt that emotions would be less close to the surface for both the students and I, if I chose not to let the students know the club was ending. To not tell, was a selfish decision, I know. But, one that I really felt was in the best interest of all.

Just as I was cleaning up, Lewis came running back to the garden. “Mrs. L., Mrs. L.,” he shouted, “wait!”  He ran up to me and immediately started digging in his backpack.

“I have something for you,” he said.

Digging, and more digging, in the bottom of the backpack. I started to wonder what it was that he had for me.  After a few minutes, he pulled out a penny, a dull, worn down, obviously used, penny.

“This is for you”, he said as he placed it in my hand. “This is for the future, so you can make a difference, and have people stop spraying pesticides. You can change the world.”

Wow! I really didn’t know what to say. These words of inspiration came from a third grader! He had listened to our lessons. He had synthesized the material.  He knew that the problem of habitat loss for monarchs or other species was a global problem. I smiled.

All I could say, was thank you. A big hug followed. But, the smile on my face told it all. The seed of environmental stewardship had been planted in at least one of my students. It was a great way to end our group. I always will treasure that penny and especially, the words that came with it.

What a heartfelt gift. While I never talked directly to the students about saving the world, it seems that is the message that was received. What a great idea! Yes, Lewis, save the world.

 

*The student’s name in this story has been changed to protect his identity.*

Soon to be Adrift

Soon to be Adrift

via Daily Prompt: Adrift

I assume at some point soon, I will be adrift. A club I founded and led for the last twelve years is ending. I am electing to end it, even though it is still very popular with the students. The club, an elementary garden club, is for any student in grades two through five at one of our local, public elementary schools.  Over the years, I have had any where from 25-63 students enrolled for our once a month meetings on horticultural topics. Of late, the club has become more based on environmental issues like monarch habitat decline and the loss of our forests.  We have even discussed cacao or chocolate and where it comes from and the social issues involved with the growing and harvesting of these beans that become one of the world’s most delectable treats. We could have spent an entire year on any of these topics – monarchs, forests, and chocolate.  Instead, we spend a monthly meeting discussing these and other topics of interest – corn, carnivorous plants, flower bulbs, milkweed, plant life cycles, bamboo, fruit trees, vermi-composting, pumpkins, and fungi, among others.

Over the last twelve years, the topics have consumed me. Hours upon hours have been spent preparing the lesson plans and activities to accompany the lessons. We usually have an interactive discussion for forty-five minutes, followed by a hands-on activity, based on the topic, for forty-five minutes.  The lessons are interdisciplinary, meaning that I bring in components from math, language arts, and social studies, not just science. Math questions related to our garden club topics have been developed and distributed for a school wide raffle for the last three years.  Children’s literature is brought in with stories by authors such as Tomie dePaola on the legend of the poinsettia and the story of popcorn. Haiku on bees were written this year and several are to be published in a national compilation. Vocabulary is expanded as I explain my love for words and what a particular one means. Cultural practices such as three sister’s plantings, and maple syrup collection are introduced along with geographical representations of the habitat of carnivorous plants or the location of migration for monarchs in the spring and fall. There has been something for everyone, and anyone, who has an interest. The more I read and search to prepare my lessons, the more I learn and the better I can discuss the information with the students. If there are questions, we find out together. I have never pretended to know everything. Yes, garden club has consumed me for the last twelve years.

Now that I have made the very difficult decision to end the group, I am starting to wonder about what will replace the hundreds of hours spent each year working on developing and teaching  these lessons, new math questions, activity assemblages, care of the butterfly garden, and communications with staff, students, and parents.  I expect for a while, I will be adrift. I think it will be alright. I need time to think about how and where I can next impact our youth to become environmental stewards. I have always wanted to publish my curricular materials. Now, there will be time for that. I have started to speak at conferences and meetings about developing a garden club. After all, we were successful – we ran for twelve years. I have been asked to be a guest speaker for local community groups and classrooms on topics especially close to my heart, like monarch habitat conservation. There are 18 more graduate credits for me to complete before obtaining my Master’s degree in Environmental Education and Interpretation. Maybe, I can take an increased credit load to finish. I just know none of the empty hours will be spent preparing for garden club.

Yes, I expect to be adrift soon and for the drifting to last for a while. My hope is that it will not last too long. My passion for teaching about the environment will soon anchor me in a new place so I can plant more seeds of environmental stewardship. The drifting will end and I can be consumed again. I just need to walk through the door.

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Preview: If you are interested in why I have chosen to end this club, please return to the blog tomorrow for my post regarding the end of garden club. Thank you!

Inspired by the Daily Prompt: Adrift

Humiliation? Never.

Humiliation? Never.

Recently, my social media feed offered a repost of an edutopia blog article I had read last year. It is one of those articles worthy of re-reading, re-posting, and re-sharing. Previously, I had shared the article with an administrator in our school district.  The reason being is that we experienced some long-lasting effects of student humiliation.  A humiliating incident in a math class last year, early in the semester, in which a teacher called my son “stupid” in front of his peers basically caused him to “shut down”.  Consequently, he did not get much out of the class he was taking, had no interest in going to this very sarcastic teacher for help, and resulted in a year-long bout of lowered self-confidence, periodic anger, and self-doubt.

Last month, I thought we were “over the hurdle” as it had been almost a year since the incident and my son seemed to be “holding his own” in his subsequent, but now current, math class. However, after having to speak to the guidance counselor about changing  an elective, the past experience with this teacher was broached again, bringing about more tears, and a renewed sense of anxiety.  I think my son was thinking, “will they ever remember me for anything other than what happened last year?” Well, the  answer to that is they have and they will, as some other very nice opportunities have been sent his way by the same guidance office. In addition, the teacher he has for this year’s class in the same subject area projects a much different attitude, has gotten to know my son, and has taken steps to individualize his instruction. It appears he is a conceptual learner and approaches new information from a big picture vantage point, rather than spiraling up with details to understand the concept in the way most students learn. It is unusual, but can be worked with by a compassionate, knowledgeable educator.

So, why do I write about this today? There are several reasons. First, it needs to be said that as parents, we are very supportive of our childrens’ education. Academics come first in our house and our boys know that. However, with that said, we also believe that our teachers must get to know their students.  This was one of the most grevous errors leading to the experience of last year. Assumptions about our student were made. They were incorrect. This particular teacher taught one way, in a manner that was not conducive to our son’s learning style. However, instead of finding ways that might help him, she used sarcasm and humiliation. This was not acceptable. I do believe she might have been willing to help him by reinforcing what she had gone over in class, but would have not done so by using a different demeanor or by approaching him without sarcasm.  He was unwilling to approach her for help because of the way he had been treated in class – with humiliation.  It is due to the inappropriate use of humiliation in the classroom that I write about this subject today.

Finally, I will leave you with a few thoughts to consider as you teach.

  1. Do not humiliate your students, for any reason.
  2. Use a variety of teaching models/styles in your presentation of material.
  3. Connect with your students. Get to know them.
  4. Think about whether your teaching style is meeting the learning styles of your students. Work to reach as many students as you can using various models.
  5. As a parent, speak up if you find something does not seem right, using the chain of command, if at all possible.
  6. Do not be afraid to remove your student from a situation in which he/she is not learning, if you feel that would be best. We did not do this, as my son did not want to be removed from this class. In hind sight, we should have, as we have seen that he did not absorb much because he could not get past his feelings toward this teacher and her classroom style. However, our district policies state the a student will receive an “F” if the class is dropped after the first two days of the term. This was also a consideration in our decision.
  7. Work to change district policy to enable fair and reasonable choices for students, not only teachers, regarding course changes.

Thanks for the opportunity to share blog posts on Slice of Life Tuesday: TwoWritingTeachers!

A Personal Metaphor: Shared for Slice of Life Tuesday

A Personal Metaphor: Shared for Slice of Life Tuesday

Slice of Life Tuesday crept up on me this week. Notably, we’ve had the college graduation of our oldest son and the death of one of our dear cats, Clark. Additionally, I’ve seen many posts about summer learning, and even written an educationally themed post mid-week on Positive Behavior Intervention & Supports (PBIS).  Our fruit trees are blooming, blue birds are nesting, and I cut the grass for the first time in many years, just to help out my husband, who is swamped with projects of his own right now. But, since my head is spinning, I thought I would offer a creative piece I wrote for a course that just ended on teaching and learning. The writing was an assignment, written and completed ess than two weeks ago. While I did not look forward to writing this piece, it began to gel as I wrote. It is an exercise that upon completing, I was filled with satisfaction and more sure that it was a worth-while endeavor. What follows is my personal metaphor for teaching and learning. Thank you, Professor Cook!

I am an Adult Monarch Butterfly!

The Monarch is a rare creature, delicate looking but strong, brave, very self-directed, and whose life depends on one plant. There are four life-cycle stages: 1) egg, 2) larva, 3) chrysalis, and 4) adult. Life is a journey in more ways than one. It is these traits that I identify with as I have learned about monarchs over the last 14 years. I also identify with the process and value of transformation, something both the monarch and I have experienced. I hold the belief that teaching needs to be transformative, not transactional, when working with students. In the book, Models of Teaching, the authors tell us many ways in which we can adapt our teaching to fit the needs of our students, allowing for transformation to occur (Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun, 2015). Adaptation is critical, whether it be for a nurse turned stay at home mom turned non-formal educator, a student learning in a system that does not teach how he/she learns, or the monarch attempting to survive lack of habitat. As authors Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun put it on page 365 of this book, “significant learning is frequently accompanied by discomfort.” Without adaptation (following the discomfort) and transformation, there is no learning and consequently, there is no life.  “Learning means changing.” (Joyce, et.al., 2015).

As an Adult Monarch Butterfly, I have passed through these stages, and changed – not just developed, but truly changed along the way. The stages are akin to a human’s developmental stages. While the timeframe each stage possesses varies according to the species, I have passed through the stages, just like the monarch. Each stage is essential and has significance.  Without the stage before, there can be no further development, or “next” stage.

We are all “eggs” at one point in our lives. The baby stage. Comparatively, my “egg” stage was longer than a monarch but still short. As a child born to a teacher and self-taught data manager, I was curious, intelligent, and introverted – a shy wisp of a thing who only aimed to please my teachers and my family.

Hatching out of the egg, the monarch larva eats its eggshell first and then the milkweed leaves on which it was born. Milkweed is the monarch’s only nourishment, as knowledge is mine. My eggshell were the lessons of my family, loving parents and grandparents, as well as a cherished sister. As soon as I had a taste of knowledge, my hunger for it grew. Just as a monarch caterpillar eats more and more milkweed, I hungered for more and more information. Through my primary and secondary education, and my initial college degree, my only food was information. I thrived on it. It was readily available – everywhere. I dined on it daily, as it seemed to be the only food I needed. During my college and graduate school programs for nursing, I fed my thirst and hunger by devouring more science and facts, nourishing me as I grew, needing no other food. Work was secondary to learning, just as moving from milkweed plant to milkweed plant is secondary to eating for the monarch.

There are five stages of my development as an educator that coincide with the five instars of the Monarch caterpillar. Essentially, the caterpillars are still the same being, but are getting larger. Just as I was the same being, only gathering more information. During the first instar, I was home learning from family during formative years. The second instar for me were my K-12 schooling years. The third instar was spent getting my baccalaureate degree in nursing. My fourth instar was getting my graduate nursing degree and working as a nationally certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. I was “plump” with knowledge by then, just as the caterpillar is plump from devouring milkweed. Finally, the fifth instar was a period of self-examination, staying home with my children, volunteering, and developing enrichment programs for students.  I reached the 5th instar stage about 14 years ago while searching for more food (knowledge). The fifth instar monarch caterpillar is huge, increasing its size many times over since birth, just as I increased my knowledge many times over. This happens until a signal is received from nature for the caterpillar and inspired by acquired knowledge of nature for me.

I pupated (Stage 3) and metamorphosis took place as I left my nursing career behind to emerge as a teacher. Although, I believe that being a teacher is what I was meant to be, just as the monarch caterpillar is meant to be a butterfly! It is a new life!

Being an adult monarch is hard. I flit from student to student never really having them as my own (as I am an informal educator), but needing them and developing relationships with them along the way. They are the source of my purpose and my inspiration. This is just as the monarch butterfly flits from flower to flower, needing their nectar and visiting with them for sustenance, leaving their beauty behind to find another.  Both of us are fighting for survival, me as a non-formal educator, and the monarch, as it seeks habitat.

My quest for knowledge has been entirely self-directed, just as the long journey of migration is completely self-directed for the monarch. I must be a late season adult monarch then, one who must sustain myself for the long journey to Mexico that lies ahead.  It has become apparent that my journey will be long as well, as a non-formal educator.

I know I will not survive all environments as some do not accept me or provide me a welcome place to share the results of my nourishment (their classroom). The monarch cannot survive without milkweed or habitat. In the same vein, I will not survive if I cannot share the results of my metamorphosis – knowledge, a love of learning, adaptation, self-direction, and transformation – in essence, passion. These are traits all students need to navigate the educational system today.  Traits we hope to impart through modeling and models, such as myself, that it can be done.

If I am lucky enough to survive, (and I might not as they sprayed my garden home with pesticide today – truly, they did), I will continue to try to inspire our youth to care for the home we share – our earth.  It doesn’t matter what country you travel to or call home, the U.S., Canada, or Mexico – such as the monarchs as they migrate, we need to provide and care for those that are with us; Butterflies or Students. This means adaptations to fit their needs. If students are not learning with an inductive model, try direct instruction; if students are not learning with direct instruction, try experiential or project based learning. It is up to us, teachers or butterflies, to adapt to our surroundings.  Right now, we have a better chance than the Monarchs. We both need our youth to survive. Let us provide the right environment or habitat.

I believe that a major tenant of all the models discussed in the text Models of Teaching (2015) was transformation.  We want our teaching to be transformational for our students. This means being vulnerable. It means learning new things from each other and adapting to new methods and new surroundings. This is no better described than in The Power to Transform by Stephanie Pace Marshall (2006).

Another theme of all the models in the text, Models of Teaching (2015), was teaching students to learn and use strategies, the strategies we model as teachers.  Strategical adaptation is as essential for learning as it is a survival tactic for monarchs. Unfortunately, as they are not sentient beings, monarchs do not have the ability to be strategic. We do. We must.

In so far as I have transformed myself, I wish to be the inspiration for future transformations and encourage others to fly as far as they can.

I am an adult monarch butterfly.

References:

Joyce, B., Weil, M., Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of Teaching,06). 9th edition. Pearson, Boston,       MA.

Marshall, S.P. (2006). The Power to Transform. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ.

Grades: Do they measure learning?

Grades: Do they measure learning?

via Daily Prompt: Measure

Having students who work hard and do well in school, I always bought into the premise that grades measure learning. With years of experience in education, and the advent of digital grading systems, where every little grade book entry can be seen 24/7, now I am not so sure.

Lately, I have given much thought on how we measure growth in our students. In an earlier post, I described how our school district went to an 80/20 summative/formative grading system this fall. Each teacher had to enter grades in the digital grade book in one of these two categories, with these weights. As the year has progressed, I have noticed that many of the teachers have taken to using the “multiplier” next to the grade value to change its weight. Wow! This makes it really confusing! It also led me to wonder if the students realize some assignments are being given different weights. From what I saw in a couple of classes last term, there is a lot of play here. Some teachers are not changing the weight at all – with everything being weighted with a multiplier of 1.0 for 80% or 20% depending on whether it is a summative or formative assessment. Some, like one class my freshman is taking, had weights in the summative varying from 1.0 to 2.67! What? 2.67? Why use those numbers to measure the worth of an assignment? It seems subjective and highly variable.

Maybe all the play in the variability of grading has always been there, but with the advent of digital grading, it is there for all to see and examine on a daily basis. It has had the undesired effect of making me mis-trust and question the system. When a measure of learning is decided upon, I do not think it should be “played with”, at least not mid-school year, as is what is occurring with the multipliers. Are we really measuring student learning or something else? Are you getting the impression I am not a fan of digital grade books? You are right! I am not.

Then, there are the mis-entries. Why are there so many mistakes with the digital grading systems? At least 3-4 times a term, or half-semester, my boys have an anxiety provoking experience upon seeing a grade wrongly entered on their infinite campus gradebook page. Just last week, my freshman went to school to find out if he really got 54/80 (67%) on an exam last week or it if was an error. By mid-morning it was corrected to his reveal his actual grade of 78.5/80 or 98.1 percent. Relief! I could almost hear and feel his emotional response from him at school, 2 miles down the road!

He had been doing well all semester so it seemed like the grade we saw the day before was an error. When questioned, he expressed surprise, having thought he did well on the assessment. It was just a mistake. That’s all. Easily corrected with the touch of a few buttons on a keyboard. And, I agree that students can learn from mistakes, even grading mistakes.

But, here’s the thing. While I know teachers are human and make mistakes just like everyone else, these mistakes seem more and more common. It makes me wonder how much thought or examination is put into entering the grades. Wasn’t it suspicious that a student doing well should all of a sudden have such a poor grade? I think that might have been looked at and seen better using an old-fashioned book and pencil entry system.

These thoughts are just the tip of the iceberg in my head forming over grading policies, change in policies, how we teach, and how we measure student learning. There will be more to come. Stay tuned.

Inspired by the Daily Prompt: Measure