This blog entry may seem to come out of the blue, but it stems from discussions I have heard happening in our community. Although I haven't been able to add much to these discussions, I have taken sometime to reflect and ponder just what I think about a Christian high school being established in our community because I really needed to wrestle with idea to find some clarity before entering the discussion.
The reading of this week’s articles for my M.Ed. program couldn’t have been timed better! I guess sometimes maybe God is with me in my procrastinating:)
Today I received an email questioning my use of the categories on my writing rubric for the categories in the grade book. To clarify, the categories in my grade book are as follows: Ideas => 30%, Organization => 30%, Conventions => 25%, Peer-revising & Editing Participation => 10%, and Presentation =>5%. Then I started my reading for this week and the two events found me graveling in the questioning of my colleague and the use of rubrics in the classroom. What came of that is below:
According to the critique of my categories, parents would much rather see categories that are more “tangible” (even though not one parent has contacted me with this concern). Here was the specific suggestion: I think parents will want to see tangible outcomes like final papers: 30%, drafts, note-cards, outlines: 20%, etc. It wasn’t an argument against rubrics (because, in fact, it is required that I return each paper with a rubric), but more the questioning of why I would use those categories for the grading categories—because parents might not understand what the categories mean tangibly.
But I think this points at the problem—the purpose of rubrics is lost when the rubric isn’t used throughout a course--as tool for instruction, as well as the determinate for the final grade. Often this happens because, as Erickson points out in, Why use a rubric when a checklist will do, “When rubrics were developed, it was not for the purpose of giving a grade but for assisting in student learning by providing descriptive feedback”. So that is how a lot of teachers use them—to give feedback. But then they let it stop there. As a result, the actual grade book operates more like a checklist, which Erickson points out should only be used when introducing skills—not when students are showing mastery or overall understanding of concepts covered. Sadly, in this way the grade book can often times turn in to a checklist evaluation on whether a student can turn in work on time (rather than an indication of achievement toward the content objectives).
The perception seems to be that evidence of the student’s learning is important during the process but the final grade needs to be numbers added together to equal a number or letter that can be compared to another number or letter. As a result, learning through feedback ceases at the close of a quarter or a semester. I find this frustrating and concerning because it could potentially cancel out many of the positive aspects of using rubrics in the first place--mainly, students being able reflect on and evaluate their own growth over time(Instead they are lurched back into the ranking game when final grades are posted.).
A second potential causality of focusing final grades on what are listed above as “tangible” evidences (or those things that can be evaluated in list format) is that it could devalue the learning that takes place in the act of using rubrics as tools during the learning process. Ross Brewer, Ph. D., writes, “Important research shows that teaching students to be strong self-assessors and peer-assessors are among the most effective educational interventions that teachers can take. If students know what is expected and how to assess their effort as they complete their work, they will perform at much higher levels than students who do not have this knowledge.” If the teaching of self-assessment and peer-advising is a valuable part of the learning process but plays no role in the final grade, I don’t think it will take long for students to realize the disconnect and lose motivation to continue working hard at self-assessment and peer-revising. If they can be a part of the process along the way and use the categories of the rubric to self-assess, shouldn’t their input and those same categories be what is sent home on the final report card?
I realize that meeting this expectation is easier to do in theory than in reality (I will be the first to admit I live closer to the idealist end of the spectrum.). Grading systems are set up and a lot of parents rely on the knowledge of the system to understand the performance level of their student. However, I do not think that is an unsurpassable obstacle. Often times parents’ understanding and expectations can be managed through educating and explaining the objectives and goals of moving toward alternative grading categories or grading scales. Because in the end, shouldn’t it be about what helps kids learn and grow best, not complying to a recognizable system simply because it is recognizable?
Links to all the, Go and See Study, sessions.